Crafts Crafts

Recycled Clothing Project

A few months ago I was if I would mentor a friend’s daughter in a school project. She wanted to make an outfit out of recycled materials.

Claire had her friend model the outfit while she talked about the details of the project

When I first got together I clarified what she meant by “recycled” — did we have to make it out of garbage or old chicken feed bags (which would have been totally cute and possible)? She had in her head either using recycled materials or “repurposed” materials. Her original thought was to make a dress out of paper clips. I thought that sounded a little “revealing”, so I said what about making an under-dress out of duct tape? I figured if we doubled duct tape over on itself we could sew the strips together and it would be super strong. Plus, the seams of piecing the strips together would create an added element to the outfit. My old pattern-making days for Simplicity came in handy and I made paper patterns out of paper and we used that to make the three pieces for the top; a single piece for the front and two pieces for the back with darts and an industrial-style side zipper for a really close fit. Duct tape doesn’t have any give or movement so a pull-over top wasn’t an option.

However, once we started trying to piece the paper clips together we realized what a nightmare working with them was. We made rows of squares of 4 clips all linked together, and then pieced them together to another section creating larger sections. They tangled easily and the clips shifted around and it was very frustrating. Even though Claire is a tiny little thing, I imagined trying to create an entire dress out of these paper clips would drive us both into the loony bin. I decided making a dress out of bubble wrap might work pretty well, and adding layers of ruffles, layering pink bubble wrap with clear bubble wrap would make it more interesting.

One night it occurred to me that we could make shoes too for a complete outfit. I drew Claire’s feet on paper and cut pieces of plywood into rectangles a little larger than her feet were. Then I stacked the plywood together, used a lot of wood glue and clamps, and ended up with big wooden cubes. These I cut out with a band saw and then roughed out a wedge-style heel and sanded them to get the final shape. I found a great pink suede hat on eBay that we bought and cut up, sewed them into straps and screwed them into the base of the shoe with Claire standing on the base. They were truly custom-made for her feet.

It was a fun project to work on. I wasn’t able to go to her presentation of it as I had my own children’s concert that night.

Coincidentally, when my sister and I were in the Atlanta airport to come home from the BlogHer Food conference there were several display cases of recycled outfits. I wish I’d seen them before the project and not after; there were definitely some good ideas I could have used.

The dress, handbag and shoes below on the left were made from canvas scraps and are decorated with flowers cut out from coke cans. The coat, below right, is a used coat covered with “fake fur” made with film from cassette cartridges. The larger ruffles on the sleeves and collar are from video tape. I cannot imagine how difficult that was to make!

The dress and shoes below are decorated with paper cutouts!

The outfit below left is a tribute to the car industry: The jacket, skirt and blouse were created with material from a soft-top convertible. The “faux fur” on the jacket was made by curling electrical wire and hand-sewing it to the lapel. The outfit on the right is made with inner tubes from bicycles! Circles were cut out and sewn onto the shirt and were cut into fringe and sewn into the bolero. Larger inner tubes from car tires create the undulating fabric on the skirt. The base of the shirt, bolero and skirt are all sewn from torn hotel sheets.

If you want to read more about this recycled project that I saw on display at the Atlanta airport and others, click the link below:

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