June 19, 2019
by Irama Artmann
Once upon a time, a little girl had a dream. She dreamed of being an Alice-in-Wonderland-Fairy-Princess, dancing around the fire under the glow of the moon all night long. Also, she wanted the entire dress to be made from unconventional, already existing materials, challenging her creativity and craftiness and leaving no footprint behind.
This year, her dream came true.
Nearly a year ago, the idea started shaping. I began to envision a dress to turn my “princess-for-a-day” dreams into reality at the annual Forest Ball here in PachaMama – a night devoted to embodying your inner essence through the creativity of costumes. Originally inspired by the firm texture of coffee bags and a vision to create the entire dress out of them, I started to discover the beauty in all kinds of discarded items: wrappers, packaging, all sorts of things that show up at the PachaMama Recycling Center. I made a visit and got inspired, and saw how this place was adding so much color to the vision.
To start, I spent hours online trying to choose a hoop-skirt to build the dress upon, until I decided I couldn’t just take a shortcut and order more plastic from China. Eventually the concept crystallized: it had to be made completely, totally, 100% from scratch. And more than that, only from things that are generally regarded as garbage. Beauty from waste. A true effort to Leave No Trace. Spending no money on it, except for a few small craft supplies to fix all of the pieces together (glue, staples, and safety pins). Years of watching Project Runway – especially the unconventional and avant-garde challenge – has clearly left its imprint on me.
The materials began to manifest, starting with a pile of irrigation tube I found next to the road, which was perfect for the hoops. I had a mess of Velcro I salvaged years ago from a big cleanup (clearly waiting for this perfect occasion), and an almost completely buried piece of shadownet in a corner of my garden. The dress was on its way.
I had been scrolling through Pinterest for a while – I couldn’t be bothered with following accurate step-by-step tutorials of how to build your own hoop-skirt, but the seed of inspiration was planted and in one moment it all became clear how to manifest it.
I made 4 hoops of different sizes to create the volume of the skirt that I had pictured. I then connected them with strips of velcro to create the shape. Probably for the first time ever, I actually made use of my dress mannequin… it wouldn’t have been possible without it. Then the shadownet was cut up and sewn into a “skirt” that fit over the hooped structure and secured with safety pins to the Velcro strips to keep everything in place. Then it was time to attach layers over layers of material, starting at the bottom moving up to the waist.
I had been collecting coffee bags from the other residents, to use them as the main “fabric” of the dress. I cut them open and shaped them into rectangles, glued them together to create many meters of material, then folded them into pleats. The inside of the bags is sealed, so I faced it out to add some shine.
To add color and to honor my love for combining different and unusual textures, I also used some pink and transparent bubble-wrap, a bit of semi-metallic mosquito screen, and a heavy duty silver foil bag which was packaging for nuts. All of these were pleated and attached with hundreds of individual safety pins to the shadow-net skirt.
For the top, I used another bag. I turned it inside out and upside down, cut openings for the head and arms, and adorned it with more ruffles.
I didn’t realize until I danced the night away how much of a dream this sustainable fashion fantasy had been that had so perfectly come true. To create beauty out of nothing, and tap into ancient times of womanhood. The best part: once I’m ready to let it go, I can take it completely apart again as it’s all held together by safety pins.
I’m under no illusion that clothes made from paper bags will save the planet or change the world, but I was blessed to see the wonder and awe in the sparkling eyes of the children, not just for the princess-like appearance and the fun they had with the bubble-wrap, but also as they honored the creativity and craftiness of this creation. It felt like planting a seed to nourish inspiration, to rethink, to reuse materials, to challenge creativity, to improvise before automatically just discarding garbage to the waste bin or buying new crafts materials for their next project, but to consider what could be alternatively used. Our children’s starting point regarding waste-management and consumption habits is on a much higher level of consciousness than ours at their age, and nourished with this kind of inspiration, time will tell what they will come up with.
I’m grateful to the community for contributing materials to help birth my dream into a reality. For all of the eyes that could honor and love the spirit that was poured into this project. The joy and fun I had at the Ball like this is beyond words. Golden magical moments, especially when 8 little kids sat around me in a circle, in awe and so excited about popping the pink bubble wrap in my skirt.
See more about PachaMama’s eco and sustainability efforts here.