One day in 2002, as I retrieved my daily newspaper snuggled in its blue protective bag, I noticed the quality of the bag was much heavier than grocery bags and I began thinking about the hundreds of bags that are used at my house every year (365 to be exact) and I was intrigued how I might recycle these bags. This became a community project because all the neighbors agreed to save their bags that protected our news from rain and lawn sprinklers.  Everyone was eager to participate and soon enough I had bags of bags. Winter was encroaching on the warm Fall days, so, it seemed appropriate to design a knitting project. I enthusiastically created a few sketches of a garment that I could knit, however not being an experienced knitter but a highly skilled tailor; I began the 3-month journey.

I sliced the bags into ribbons by starting at the top of the bag and spiraling the scissors down around the bag, resulting in a nice long strand of plastic. I tied them together and then wound into balls just like yarn.  I began the knitting at the bottom with a ruffle, which was a handful to manage, because my needles were just not long enough to handle the length of ruffle necessary in my design. [I was unaware the ruffle could have been constructed in gussets, then stitched together] I, unfortunately, compromised the design because of lack of knowledge and reduced the length of the ruffle. Of course, as hindsight is 20/20, I should have pressed on until I discovered the solution for the humongous ruffle. I am convinced the impact would have been visually stunning.  The small ruffle was achieved by knitting three then purling three stitches and I recall having over 70 stitches for the ruffle and to make it full like in my design it would have had to be 140 stitches.

To create the body of the dress, I drastically decreased the stitches as I began the garter stitch.–the ruffle was not added on, it is all one piece.  The original dress was only 17 inches and I never dreamed of making a real dress, as my intention was only to make an art piece for display purposes only. Knitting became my companion throughout the cold winter months by the fireplace, I knitted row after row in a garter stitch, because it is mindless but extremely relaxing and meditative as I watched the snow drift to the silent ground. For you, who are not knitters, a garter stitch looks the same on both sides, inside and out and is by nature very stretchy.  The more I knitted/meditated   my vision-acquired lmeaning, and a real dress seemed not only feasible but also inevitable.  I approached the armholes and neckline with much trepidation, as I was clueless about designing knitting patterns.  I looked at a few books for ideas but I was baffled how to shape and create the openings.  When one knits with wool yarn, steaming and shaping is easy but plastic would melt under the heat of an iron, thus, I  had  shaped it by length and number of stitches. For a little background information in 1980’s I created wedding and formal wear. I loved recycling vintage wedding dresses into modern dazzling gowns. Here 20 years later I am striving for the same elegance with plastic.

I took my blue-bag-knitting-creation to a local yarn shop for some advice on completing the neckline. The project was too edgy for such traditional knitters, consequently I forged through by trial and error; decreasing stitches, ripping out the unsuccessful ones, and beginning the row over. Low and behold, I reached the shoulder seams and it resembled a wearable dress, which surprised even me. I dug into the recesses of my past on how to seam the sides together; as a young mother, I knitted sweaters for my toddler. Voila, it was like riding a bicycle; I did not forget the skill.

The dress was completed and when I was invited to display my artwork at a Minnesota art exhibit, I took it as a conversation piece.  A fellow artist from Yale University was looking at it and as I explained the process, she was intrigued and asked to try it on. She was exuberant over the idea of recycling plastic especially into some usable from newspaper rain bags.  Over dinner, we planned a catwalk début for her and the dress; we employed the help of a musician for house music, a photographer and a filmmaker from Brooklyn, NY, assisted in choreography and the famous stoic attitude of models.

It is thrilling to see the winter’s work dancing down a catwalk and being received in such a delightful manner.  Thank you Longleaf neighbors! Also, thank you, Darin and Shannon White, Larry Cole , Lilly and my dear artist friends Kristen and Gregg for pushing me forward.


One Response to “Recycled Plastic”

  1. Nicola Says:

    Gosh Deb, I just found this page (where have I been??) and this dress really rocks!

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