September 7, 2013

Mr Freeze Part 5: Body Suit II

First off, welcome all the new readers! It was wonderful to meet so many of you at STGCC last weekend and it was so great to chat via reddit the weekend before. I hope something here is useful for you. Let's get to it!

Change of Materials

I said in the last section on the body suit that I'd be making the suit from neoprene. Well that didn't happen for a few reasons. First, neoprene is really, really hard to get in Singapore. I tried dive shops, fabric centers, rubber factories, other bloggers, and online shops overseas, but none could help me find a color/thickness/quantity/texture that could possibly work. So in the end, I went with a black 3mm thick neoprene from Spotlight, intending to paint it. Unfortunately, my experiments with painting it were only partially successful: successful in that I eventually found a color/texture I was happy with but unsuccessful in that the paint seeped too deep into the neoprene and killed its elasticity.
Add to this that it's just a really warm, insulating material, and I decided it was time to give up that dream and go searching for other alternatives.

The Real Deal

In the end, I found a fabric I really like while just browsing through a fabric district in Chinatown, so now it was finally time to sit down and make the real suit. The lady at the shop called it "Stretch Cotton," but it totally stretches, burns and melts like a synthetic fabric. It's definitely a blend of some kind. It's a bit shiny, has different tones of grey on each side, and is super duper cheap. The only downside is that it snags easily, so I had to be careful.

So! One important thing I learned from looking at the test body-suit was that the lines of the seams were really quite important to the design. I decided to make them pop out more like in the design by adding piping in most of the seams. Piping is basically a long, thin length of fabric wrapped around a length of cord and attached between the two pieces of fabric in a seam. I learned how to do this from (aside: Coletterie has some of the best sewing tutorials I've seen - super good stuff.) The general consensus with making piping is you cut the fabric on the bias (meaning diagonally) to make sure it can stretch and bend neatly around corners. However, I cut this particular corner as the fabric I was using for the piping (i.e. the back side of the main body-suit fabric) was plenty stretchy just cut straight.

In the picture above, you can see the obvious underwear section with some piping in some seams, a pile of piping, and all my cut out pattern pieces. From here, it was the long process of sewing it all together. Well, most of it together. If you look at the design image, it has an alternate material (armored kevlar/vinyl/something) for knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders. My plan was to sew all the pieces together that would be made with the main fabric, then make the pieces out of the armor fabric and then sew them in. This was a big mistake. Why? Because it was way, way easier and more precise when attaching a complete arm or complete leg to a complete torso than it was to fill in holes in that incomplete connection later, dealing with bad alignment or misplaced easing (easing is where one piece of fabric is stretched or gathered to sew to another of a different size). I'm never doing it this way again. In the end, I removed the arms, added the shoulder pieces, then added them back. It was a bunch of wasted effort, but a good lesson learned. You can see how badly it was aligned before I redid the arms below. You can also see how the piping helps the seams pop. A whole lot.

Unfortunately, I didn't take many good pictures of the fabric armor bits as I made them, but they're basically made like the rest of the suit, meaning panels of fabric with piping between. The only difference was that I then sewed the complete armor sections onto a bit of eva/craft foam to give it some rigidity and padding. The fabric is some shiny, textured silk fabric that I thought looked appropriate to the rest of the body suit.

Looking back, I should have either chosen a softer/stretchier fabric or a stiffer foam, because the fabric reshaped the foam more than the foam kept the shape of the fabric. Ah Hindsight. There is a lot of it the body suit. I suppose this is only my second major sewing project, so that's forgivable, I hope. As with any time we make anything at all, next time will certainly be better in a hundred little ways. Here's to improvement with each failure and pulling something cool out of a void of knowledge.

Later, we'll revisit this to talk about painting, because a decent paint job will make anything look better, especially cloth. Next time, we'll get more into the chest armor that you see a bit of in the above picture. I'll talk about how I did the texture, painting, and adding of non-foam detailing. Fun stuff.

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