Drawing Machines: Paper Dress

For my conference project, I decided that I wanted to try to make a dress entirely out of paper. My goal was to see if a material much more rigid than fabric would be able to create a flattering piece of clothing. My original ideas for the dress looked very different than the final product. I created one initial rough sketch:

I quickly realized that this much detail was quite ambitious, but I at least had decided on my materials. I would primarily be using a large roll of black pleating paper to form the dress. So, I created a second sketch:

I started to measure out and pleat the skirt. I brought this sketch to a critique with a sculpture teacher, who encouraged me to push the meaning of the piece further. Because of the nature of the class, I was so focused on the material and making that the primary importance of the piece. After seeing some of my other work, however, the teacher told me she was very drawn to the textures of some wet folds I had made.

We talked about how this texture felt very reminiscent of the natural world and started to think about how this dress could be imbued with themes of the environment and ecology. At this point, I was feeling so inspired I decided to take the dress in a totally different direction. Rather than the rigid pleating I was planning to do before, I wanted the whole dress to have this texture. I cut a dress form out of paper that I thought would fit around me and started creating a lot of these wet folds on black paper.

When it came time to start constructing the dress, I was getting very frustrated. The paper I chose was not malleable enough to properly form to my body, the under-dress wasn’t fitting properly at all. So unfortunately, my goal of all paper wasn’t going to work out. I was given advice to create the dress form out of Saran Wrap because it is moveable and could form much easier to my body. I did this and it worked so well!

I then cut a line down the back so I would be able to step out of the dress. I added some extra allowance and stapled paper along the parts that would be overlapping. I then stapled together the bottom of the dress to secure, and added Velcro dots as a closure on the top. This allowed the dress to be taken on and off with ease. The final step was to adhere all of the wet fold pieces to the dress form. I am very grateful that my good friend Abby came to help me with this process, especially as I did not use a mannequin and was modeling the dress through the entirety of its creation.

I ended up walking around and modeling the dress at our visual arts showcase. It was a bit uncomfortable but it was nice to see people’s reactions in person. Overall, this dress was really enjoyable to make. It was the first piece of clothing I have ever created so it was really fun to just experiment, fail, and keep going, especially since I was using paper. Since I knew it was a strange material to begin with, I didn’t have too high of expectations, so I wasn’t really frustrated at all. I am proud that I made a final product that feels genuinely cute and reflective of my personal fashion sensibilities.

Author: Bella Supak