Worry Prosthetic Sewing Leather

A project log for Musical Prosthetics

Interactive wearable sculptures which translate the wearers body movements into sound.

Kate ReedKate Reed 08/28/2018 at 16:220 Comments

At this point I felt like I was ready to start experimenting with real leather. I knew that felt and leather wouldn’t act the same, so I could only expect so much of my prototype to work with actual leather materials. Nevertheless, I felt like I was ready for the next step and I headed down to the fabric store to try and buy some leather. I was looking all over the store for leather and couldn’t find it anywhere because I was looking where all the rolls of fabric were. What I was not expecting is that leather is bought by the pelt, which in retrospect seems obvious, so instead of being in rolls like regular fabric, it was hanging from hooks at the ends of the aisles. A bit gross. I went through the pelts, trying to find the best bang for my buck and ended up with a beautiful burnt sienna leather color. There is definitely going to be enough of for my entire project. I would say I bought a whole couch’s worth of that single leather. Next, I headed over to the scrap bin and tried and find some different color variations of leather to mix in with my project. I found a few larges bunches of various white leathers, so I started to mix and match. Once I bought all that leather, I felt like I could visualize my project in a whole new way.

I brought the leather home and started to experiment with it. One pleasant surprise was learning that I can sew leather on a sewing machine. I had thought I was going to need to hand sew everything, but it turns out I just needed to buy leather sewing needles for the sewing machine. Leather is much stiffer than the felt, and really does what it wants to do. I realized my design was going to change massively from my felt prototype, so I went back and figured out how to make it work with the leather. I cannot fold the leather in the same way that I can fold the felt. I did some sewing prototyping of how to connect two pieces of leather, looking at not only at what physically works, but also what looks best. 

I decided to sew two pieces of leather back to back and then trim the seam afterwards. This gives the leather a really clean and intentional look. I then decided to just go for it, and try my best to recreate the felt prototype, knowing that it wouldn’t be exactly the same. I started to create the leather in pieces. Sewing the leather was very hard. While the sewing machine saved my hands from the pain of hand sewing, it was not stress-free. I went through 15 leather sewing needles throughout the project. Every now and then the leather would just be too much for the sewing machine, and things would get clogged and break. But eventually, after many, many hours, I had my prosthetic looking good.

For the most part the prosthetic built itself up from the hands to the back. I did have a few design variations on the back that requires some more felt prototyping until I finally came up with a design that I liked. The final back design connects the arms with two flaps that speak to the idea of a hunch back but also the idea of wings and being set free. Once I had all of the parts made, I started to sew the parts together, which was very stressful. Each part consisted of 7-9 pieces of already sewn leather, so It felt like I was sewing together giant stacks of leather. It was very difficult to stay focused, and not lose track of where I was in the project with the sewing machine. After I had done everything I could do with the sewing machine, I completed some loose ends with a little hand sewing. I ended up purchasing some leather hand-sewing needles, which made a huge difference! These needles have a little blade on the side of them and they go right through the leather. I still needed some pliers to pull the needle through, but for the most part they went through pretty easily.

Once I had the leather parts of the prosthetic done, I put it on a human, and saw how it fit a real human form. I realized that the sleeves were going to need some elastic to keep them on the wearer’s arms, so it was back to the fabric store to buy some elastic. I went through and bought two different thicknesses, unsure which one I would ultimately use. I ended up using both thicknesses and sewed it onto the sleeves in as many places I could. I then put the prosthetic back on a human and it was falling with the body much nicer.