Decades ago, while working on a large order of chairs, another carver and I were brainstorming ways to speed up the layout process for knee carvings. Three-dimensional curves make using flat patterns difficult. And the thought of laying out 24 knees freehand was more than a little overwhelming.
When using flat patterns around curved shapes you inevitably get wrinkles that distort the shape of the carving. In order to get something that remotely resembles symmetrical, you need to “wrinkle” the template exactly the same for each side. What if there was an easy way to make the pattern follow the same curve as the knee of a leg, or the surface of a turning?
To begin you need a flexible material that can be easily shaped to snugly fit over a turned or carved element, and it has to be able to retain its shape. The material needs to be able to have slits cut into it to define interior lines while remaining intact, so it needs to be easy to cut. And it can’t wrinkle – wrinkles cause asymmetry and that’s not a good thing.
We tried many different materials but none seemed to fit the bill. Somewhere in the conversation “Silly Putty” was mentioned. You know, the stuff you spread over the Sunday comics, peeled it up and had a mirror image embedded in the putty? (Yeah, we were easily entertained back then.) But the concept of putting something flexible over the surface and peeling up a pattern was what we wanted. With that we could sketch one half of the carving in place, then create a reversible template directly from it. What we came up with is an extremely simple way to make curved, flexible patterns, or templates.