Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recycled Cemetery Flower dresses

(Above: Two flower dresses made from blossoms recycled from cemetery dumpsters and trash cans. Click on image to enlarge.)

In less than a month the fourth annual Columbia Design Leagues' Runaway Runway fashion show will be held. It's on Thursday, April 29th at the 701 Whaley Street. I've never been to one of the earlier events. I've never actually been to a fashion show....much less a fashion show of recycled garments. Yet, this year I'm entering the competition with a dress created from recycled flowers and leaves from local cemeteries. (NO...I never take flowers from the graves...just the dumpsters and trash cans! YES...They've all been dissected and thoroughly washed. These are the flowers I used in my recent solo show at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios!)

(Above: Leaf Dress. Click on image to enlarge.)

I'm a little intimidated. I've never made up my own pattern and I haven't stitched anything remotely wearable in over two decades. Even when I attempted to "make some clothes", it wasn't a serious pursuit...probably because I wasn't very good at following directions! The event, however, isn't a "serious" competition. There's a video from last year. It looks fun and very well attended. I have a model. I have two dresses. Why two? I asked a nice young lady to model for me. She's at least six foot tall and a size two; she looks like she is a professional model instead of an assistant art gallery manager hoping to get into a good school for an arts administration master's degree. She'd already agreed to help with the judging for the event...but she said she'd wear one of my dresses! Thus....the longer one for her; the shorter one for a dance major about to graduate from the University of South Carolina who will walk the runway for me.

But....I didn't know what I ought to wear to this event. Finally, I decided to be a "leaf" and made the totally green dress. After all, this is supposed to be a fashion show with a conservation conscious. What better garment that a "green" one. I also have a pair of dyed-to-match green shoes recycled from my younger sister Sonya. Sonya must have worn them in a friend's wedding party. They are PERFECT. By the way, Sonya has invited me to teach in Salzburg, Austria...for the Cultural Studies Academy. Check it out HERE!

So....how did I make these dresses? Well, first one must have a bag full of artificial flowers from the cemetery. These were collected over several months....by dumpster diving and searching the insides of all the trash bins....NEVER from a grave site. All the artificial flowers were dissected and the fabric carefully washed and dried. I used them in my recent solo show. They've been stored in clean kitchen trash bags.

(Above: First layer of flowers laid out on the adhesive coated, water soluble stabilizer. Click on i image to enlarge.)

Next, I used Mobuka's adhesive coated, water soluble stabilizer. I cut out two dress shapes and attached flowers to it. Above is a view from one direction; below is a view from the other direction.

Then I stitched a grid. This grid worked to attach the ground layer of flowers to one another...forming a fairly solid piece of floral fabric.

(Above: Stitching a grid over the first layer of flowers. Click on any image to enlarge.)

After stitching the grid, I switched to free motion embroidery....stitching little circles in the center of the assorted flowers directly on top of the grid....covering the entire surface.

(Above: Free motion stitching assorted flowers on top of the grid of flowers. Just a little spiral in the center....clip the thread....go on to the next flower....covering the entire surface. Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above and below: The reverse after all the flowers were free motion attached to the garment. Notice the circular shapes. The flowers will protrude on the front. The grid will hold the first layer of flowers together as a "ground" underneath. The "interface" looking "white" material is the adhesive coated, water soluble stabilizer. It dissolves and rinses away when exposed to a lot of water with agitation. Click on images to enlarge.)

I attached flowers all over both sides...then stitched the two sides together at the shoulder. I left both sides open. Then, I dissolved the stabilizer. It took lots and lots of water....more than one rinsing....lots of agitation.....and finally everything was melted away. Thus, the dresses are entirely made of recycled artificial cemetery flowers and thread. Nothing more. Totally washable. Very wearable. Perfect for spring. Photos with the models are coming!

(Above: The reverse of one side of the dress before being dissolved....notice the grid that holds the foundation flowers together and the little free-motion spirals that attach the blossoms. Click on image to enlarge.)

I hope this event goes well. I'm excited!


Michel McNinch said...

I like the leaf one the best!~ Beautiful. Please take pictures of you wearing it!

Elizabeth said...

You should be very pleased!!!These are wonderful! i drive by a cemetary every day where the palstic flowers have blown across the street and are caught in the woods- you ahve given me ideas!!!! Perhaps I will goa nd de litter the woodsa nd create a spring purse with a recycled cloth lining from a salvaged piece of clothing!!!! Can't wait to see the modeling shots!!! You will look fabulous in the green dress! Like a woodland pixie!!!!

ArtfulExpress said...

Susan, wow! These look like you must have plucked the magical clothing of a faerie from her, perhaps while she was taking a dip in a pool... very creative and lovely, though I do like the green one best :)

Rhonda L Hall

Doris said...

This is so cool.... I sent you an email the other day responding to your Facebook request. I almost never login there anymore.

Christine said...

Susan, you're the ultimate recycler, I love all the dresses. I think the coloured ones need tiny fairy wings to go with them on the models though, so pretty !
Thanks for sharing, I might link to this post on my own blog if that's OK with you?

Cathy said...

Really a cool idea! Very original!

Annica said...

So you are going to be in Austria for three weeks this summer. Great!
The dresses are to die for... Sorry bad joke, I know.

Wendy Coyne said...

You never fail to amaze me Susan, I love your cemetary dresses, I love the fact that you go dumpster diving in a cemetary, but I really really love your generosity in sharing your ideas and techniques.

Guzzisue said...

yes, please model the dress :-)

lindacreates said...

How exciting Susan! I can't wait to see you in the green dress. What fun.

Wanda said...

Oh yes...I definitely want to see you modeling these!! ha ha But make sure you have the proper footwear!! Seriously though...wow. These are absolutely incredible. I've never even thought of something like this, much less seen it. And I now have bragging rites, I'm sure, that I took those sewing classes with you at Mrs. Datt's!! I, on the other hand, DID make wearable clothes. And two stuffed frogs.

Wanda said...

Oh yes...I definitely want to see you modeling these!! ha ha But make sure you have the proper footwear!! Seriously though...wow. These are absolutely incredible. I've never even thought of something like this, much less seen it. And I now have bragging rites, I'm sure, that I took those sewing classes with you at Mrs. Datt's!! I, on the other hand, DID make wearable clothes. And two stuffed frogs.

Eric said...

This is incredible. I would never have thought to do anything like this. Both of the dresses are beautiful.

Mary Anne Enriquez said...

Incredibly resourceful, creative, AND they look spectacular! You inspire ME so much!

Trish Goodfield said...


Mandy said...

These are so gorgeous. Would love to see photos of the dresses being worn. And I would love to own one of these - especially one like the leaf dress. I don't suppose you will be making any more to sell will you :)

Karen DeCosta said...
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Karen DeCosta said...
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Karen DeCosta said...
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Susan Lenz said...

The Internet is an amazing and public tool. Sure, a person can write a comment and post it on someone's blog (or post the same comment three times in a row) That person might later regret having shown their words in public with their profile photo and then deleted them. Yet, these words still find their way into the email of the blog's owner. In this case, that's me. Ms. Karen DeCosta wrote and deleted the following message:

"I have never in all my life passed a graveyard, where people go to preserve the memories of their friends and family, and thought to myself "I wonder if I could make a fabric out of all these flowers." I am just astounded, and shocked. I am more astounded and shocked that people are promoting this and saying it is a good idea. I am all for recycling, and the idea behind it is creative with the plastic flower print, but these flowers were left for dead children, wives, fathers.

And while I am aware you cited you never took flowers off graves, instead went to the dumpsters behind funeral homes for your supplies, their sentiment and their purpose remains the same. What a grim and horrifying thing.

Just.... wow."

Well, Karen, I have the power to repost these words. I'm no stranger to controversy and I don't expect everyone to appreciate or approve of all my work. I have future plans that involve much more shocking imagery. None of my former or future work has or ever will be created for purely shock value. In fact, I had no idea that people would react negatively to my Grave Rubbing art quilts when I first started and I certainly never thought there would be any objection to removing artificial flowers from cemetery trash cans and dumpsters (not from behind funeral homes!)

After all, each petal was put into the trash cans BY THE PEOPLE WHO HAD BROUGHT THEM! They tossed these flowers, not me! Generally, people throw out the old flowers when bringing new ones! They sent these old floral arrangements to landfills where the polyester would take centuries to decompose. This is a normal practice. Those throwing out the flowers were likely not thinking about the environment or their deceased loved ones when they plopped the flowers into the bin. They had replaced their tokens of memory with new flowers. The old ones meant nothing more to them ... which is why they sent them to landfills.

I prevented this wasteful action from happening and no disrespect was intended.

So ... go ahead and be shocked. I'm quite sure my future work will perfectly horrify you and that's okay with me. I am involved in a concept. The concept involves memory and the days we have left on earth. I chose to deal with these difficult subjects in ways that do make some people uncomfortable. Art is often like that.

If you chose to spent your time being outraged, so be it. That's your choice. It was also your choice to write the comment you posted and later deleted. It was still public, even if for only a brief while. It was still sent directly to me ... three times. It is my choice to admit publicly that there are those, like you, who don't find my work engaging in a positive manner.