Making Summer Feel Swanky

In October, The Indianapolis Museum of Art challenged us to take everyday recyclables, trash, or unusual materials and create a garment.  I spent a week going through my house, pulling everything out of its case/cover/packaging and creating a huge mess trying to think of what I could make, trying to find some medium I possessed someone else might not have.

On the final night I opened an antique steamer trunk and stumbled upon a 32 foot long stretch of high-fiber stock paper canvas photography backdrop, rotating between 14 colors.  Yes, at one point in my “Jane of All Trades” lifestyle I ran a photography studio and for some unknown reason I kept the backdrop.  But what could I do with paper?  Will this even move right?

I started playing with it, plying it and it sewed surprisingly well.  While sketching various ideas focusing on the brighter colors, I developed the idea to combine the backdrops with origami flowers.  I had never made anything out of origami past a cootie catcher in third grade.  It can’t be that hard, can it?

Needless to say I ruined 23 pieces of origami paper before one flower came out right.  I immediately went back to Michael’s and stocked up on paper.  On the drive home I realized I wanted to put more than one style of flower onto the dress.  I began experimenting and realized I would have to again go back to Michael’s and buy more paper.

I learned how to make five different kinds of flowers but stuck to the quickest and easiest ones to make, a water lilly, the jasmine napkin flower and an eight petal button-hole flower.  I mean easy and quick as in an average time of 6-10 minutes per flower,  if it didn’t end up smashed into a ball and tossed across the room.  I wound up with 842 flowers and five laundry baskets in the living room floor, a bare mannequin and the possibility to make paper cuts the next big trend.

Over the next 48 hours, I finally learned how to sew princess seams into heavy paper canvas without ripping the paper, breaking my needle or puckering the material too bad.  I then learned how I was going to make the skirt happen…and realized I was going to be sleeping in the living room on a rotational schedule if I was going to meet this deadline.

By the time I was satisfied with my first creation, I had spent 103 hours folding, sewing, cursing, bleeding and sewing 637 flowers in 15 sizes and 3 styles to the dress.  Luckily for me, my model was the exact same size as my mannequin and the top fit like I had sculpted it to her body.

Watching the dress move down the runway renewed my love of design and fashion.   We had to cut the bodice off my model and while I tried to save it, I ended up being left with a skirt hanging awkwardly in my studio closet with no idea of it’s future.  It would sit there and taunt me.  Over conversation with House of 5th’s Truen Jaimes, the idea of a window display came to mind.  The dress is bright, powerful, popping with color and would definitely catch the eye of a passerby.  But where?  Where in town is the perfect place to host the idea that would appreciate the uniqueness, hometown artistry and actually let me put it in the window?

I could only think of one place, IndySwank.  I crossed my fingers, sent the e-mail and fell over when it was openly received.  Maybe out of excitement or maybe because to sweeten the deal I offered to bring TWO dresses to the window.

I started working right away on the second piece and developed an assembly line style production of the origami.  Mountain Fold, Valley Fold, Corners in.  Stop.  Repeat 300 times.  Corners out.  Stop.  Repeat 300 times.  So on and so forth.  Luckily I had kept some of the flowers from the original dress!

I began shaping bodice ideas against my form and when I thought I had hit jackpot, I quickly realized that paper canvas doesn’t always want to work the way fabric does.  Eventually, I came up with two bodice ideas, one consisting of two separate pieces.  For your amusement, I’ve included a photo in the gallery of how to tell your idea is not meant for paper.

It’s the thrill of working with a new medium, problem solving and pulling the occasional McGuyver stitching move that has made me fall in love with the art of paper.  While researching the history of origami, I also began researching Japanese designers, techniques and the cultural importance of this art form.  This project has strongly influenced other work I have done and opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of fashion as art.  I’ve even become known as “The Origami Dress Girl” and I’m quite alright with that.

Indianapolis sits with the amazing possibility of establishing our own identity right now and the city is collectively moving to do this, with strength in numbers we are embracing our artistic talents and making the nation turn their head.  Thanks to amazing boutiques like IndySwank, artists have avenues to showcase and sell their work, build vital connections and show-off.  Yes I said it, let’s show-off!

I want to send a big THANK YOU to Jennifer Rice Von Deylen and IndySwank for graciously allowing me window space last month.

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One reply on “Making Summer Feel Swanky”
  1. Avatarsays: sue mcmullen

    This is so very pretty , yes it would for sure catch my attention as I walked by the window ! I would most likely be the one standing there gazing in and looking rather awkward trying to figure out how you did it!
    I am excited to see what you bring to Little Green Bean Boutique!

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