Earlier this year, I was asked to collaborate with a non-fashion artist to create a garment Locavore, an event hosted by the Kirkland Arts Center. I was teamed with an artist named Deborah Scott, who creates contemporary interpretations of classical paintings, in the figurative narrative tradition. Our challenge was to take a painter’s dropcloth and turn it into a garment. We needed to feature the dropcloth heavily in the final piece, but we also needed to incorporate both our design aesthetics. I was inspired by an Emilio Pucci Pre-Fall 2012 piece I had in my inspiration folder and so I created this sketch of the dress.
This was one of the first times I just sat at a coffeeshop and let my hand draw what it felt like, not planning it out so much. I had no idea what the pattern might end up looking like, but I love how it turned out in the end.
The next step was developing the image for the garment. We had decided to use one of Deborah’s paintings for the ‘underdress’ and then cut away the dropcloth to reveal the painting underneath. This was not appliqué, but required first planning out where the cut outs would go by drawing on the garment, then stitching over the lines and then carefully cutting away the top layer, being conscious not to cut through the second painting layer.
Because actually painting on cloth would create a really stiff garment, we decided to use Spoonflower to translate the painting to fabric. I have mixed feelings on the results that Spoonflower sent us, but it worked out okay in the end. We only ordered two yards (!) so I had to really lay out the pattern pieces creatively to get it to all fit. It all worked out, but if our model was any bigger, I’m not sure this would have ended well!
After stitching the basic garment together with the wrong side of the dropcloth against the right side of the printed cotton, it looked like just a dropcloth shift.
A ruler and washable marking pencil are invaluable in laying out where each cut out will go – though I started using a pencil in the end because the blue was too faint for me.
Mid-front panel, stitched and cut out – so exciting!
This style of cut out takes a lot of small movements with the the dress on the sewing machine. At each corner, the pressure foot needs to be raised, garment turned and then the foot lowered again. I think there is an attachment on some machines that quilters use where your thigh can press a long lever that raises and lowers the pressure foot – that might be helpful for a dress like this.
Those little scissors were the best tool! This project would not have been completed without them!
I initially installed a zipper under the arm (you can see it in the above pictures), but realized that the head-hole would not be large enough, so I ripped it out and placed an invisible zipper all the way down the back – a very good decision! I also found out that it was best to install the zipper last, as moving around all the shapes on the sewing machine was hard enough with flat pieces, let alone a cylinder.
Front of dress, midway through cutting out. For both the stars and the hexagon pattern at the bottom, I initially drew the shapes out on paper and then traced around them on the dress. Otherwise, I just used my ruler or free-handed the shapes! And that’s about it to creating this look – it’s a pretty simple technique that just takes lots of time and patience to complete.
I love the overall look you can achieve with this technique – it looks like a patterned fabric from far away, but then reveals the high level of detail as you get closer.
Finished front and back views, on the model! More pictures here, from Rachel Sumner!
The dropcloth liked to shred after being cut because the material has such a loose weave. I liked the frayed look, but I spent lots of hours trimming the dress of dangling threads – those look so messy!
The orange binding was a last-mintue addition because I chose not to do sleeves and had not cut out facing for the dress (the inside is a mess, but no one ever has to see that 🙂 ) but I like the way it turned out, especially since orange was kind of our highlight color!
photo by Rachel Sumner
There you go! Now you can make one for yourself!