Diamond Panels

It's been a while since I've done anything for my VW bus, so I figured that I would take a weekend or two, pick a small project, and get it done (so I at least was making some progress). At the time, it was still too cold to finish painting, so I was forced to pick something else. I was running out of things I could do without having a fully painted bus, so I was almost forced to pick door panels.

Learning how to diamond pleat

I knew that I wanted to do diamond pleated door panels, but I had no idea how to make that happen. Then I stumbled across this post that described exactly what I was trying to do. It's pretty basic, in theory, but a lot harder to execute in practice. The materials I worked with were upholstery vinyl, on top of 1/2 inch thick foam, which in turn was on top of muslin. In the post above, the guy also uses some upholstery denim and glues it to the foam, but that's a step that I skipped (and it hasn't made a difference, at least for my application).

With materials in hand, it was time to create a test panel (I'd never sewn before, so I needed to get accustomed to the machine and learn some technique). The project kicked off the way most of my bus projects do: with a beer.

Because nothing is so manly as getting drunk and doing some serious sewing.

The first step in doing diamond pleating is to pick your diamond size. My diamonds are 3 inches tall and 1.5 inches wide, I chose those numbers because most of my panels had a width that were divisible by 1.5 inches. After you decide what size diamonds you need, then it's time to cut the material to the right size. The panels will shrink a bit when you sew them, so be sure to add some extra material on all sides. I found that they would shrink by about 2 inches every foot wide, and 1 inch every foot tall the panel was. But just to be safe, I always had an extra 2 or 3 diamonds to each side to work with.

Ok, so you've figured out how big to make the diamonds, and you've cut the material. Now what? Now it's time for some math! Starting in the bottom left corner, I drew a small mark every 1.5 inches along the bottom of the material, and then a mark every 3 inches along the left side of the material. If you've set up your material to be divisible by the width/height of your diamonds, then you're smarter than me. I usually tried to do that, and then a botched cut would leave me just a little bit off. So what do you do? Math! Well, not really math, but still. Depending on your diamond proportions, each of the lines you have will be a certain distance apart from each other. So all you have to do is set up a ruler along your last line, and draw a point anywhere on the material that is that distance from the last reliable line. Draw a line through those two, and now you should have a mark on the top that you can draw your points from. Make sense? It's kind of hard to picture. So here's some pictures:

On the right: the first set of lines. The left: the lines heading the opposite direction.
The whole panel, lines in progress

Ok, so after drawing the dots and connecting them to make lines in both directions, it's finally time to start sewing. So layer all the materials together like I mentioned earlier, pin them together in a few places along the lines, and go to town! One of the things that they mention in the tutorial that I read was to start in the middle of the panel and work it either direction. Since the material will shrink, starting in the middle ensures that you won't be taking all the material to one side unintentionally. Do all the lines in one direction first, and then move on to the next direction. After the first direction is done, it doesn't seem to matter if you start in the middle of the panel for the second set of lines, as the material isn't going to move much.

That's some intense concentration!

Pro tip: Don't suck

One of the things that I learned the hard way was: when you are doing the first set of lines in either direction, you need to make sure that all the materials are sitting on each other nicely. If your vinyl isn't flat on the foam, then you'll end up with a diamond that is more puffy than the rest, or you might run into a diamond that will want to fold in on itself once you do the second set of lines, because there's just too much material there. Here's an example of not keeping the material nice and even:

See the folds/uneven peaks? That's because the material wasn't even when I sewed the panel.

And here's an example of what happens once you go back over those uneven parts. Some times you can force the material to pull straight, so it doesn't look too bad, but other times you get:

Note the pinched corners.
And here's what happens when an entire line gets mis-sewn

So, that was an entire panel that I had to redo. In fact, it was the largest of my 4 panels, which makes it even worse. It couldn't happen on the back hatch, oh no, it had to be the sliding door panel. Such is, I guess...

Here's what a panel should look like when it's done.

Attaching the panel to... the panel

The final step in all of this, once you're left with a completed panel, is to create something to which we attach the upholstery. In my case, I used hardboard that was around the same thickness as the panels that I pulled off the bus, cut to the same dimensions. The first panel I chose to attach was the back hatch, so I didn't have to worry about cutting any holes for hardware to poke through, but keep that in mind before you attach the panel to the backing. Do you need to cut a hole large enough to wrap the material through it? Or can you get away with cutting the material flush and use the hardware to cover the raw edge? It depends on your hardware, so check first!

I used a spray adhesive that was so old that the can was rusty, but it held things together pretty well. I'd recommend doing a test spray before you attach your panel, using a piece of the foam as a test. You want something that will stick well, but won't eat away at the foam.

After I sprayed the entire panel with the adhesive, I wrapped the panel over the hardboard and attached it with a few staples. The staples are only there to hold it until the adhesive dries, after which they aren't going to make much difference. Here's the panel, as I attach it:

The back of the panel after adhesive/staples
The finished product, a little dusty from the bench
A close shot of the panel. Note where the diamonds start on the top/bottom.

And that's it! I have to attach the rest of the panels to their hardboard, but the hardest/most time consuming part is over! The next step is to attach them to the doors with some self-drilling screws, and that'll be that! The next time I have pictures up of the bus, maybe you'll catch a glimpse of the finished products?