I was in an art show for the first time this summer! (Summer in question is August 2023.) A place in my community was having an art show and I reached out, expressing my interest. I thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase my work and network with people who know people who are maybe hiring. Job searching hasn't been pleasant. I showed a fair mix of work. I showed eight pieces total. One butterfly painting, four flower paintings, and three textile designs. I designed the fabrics and ordered swatches and put them in picture frames. Then I put hats I made with the fabric to show what it is. (Side note, I'm working on setting up a shop to sell my things.) The organizer said we could sell stuff so I made scrunchies and bucket hats to be sold. There was a lot of rushing around in the week leading up to it as I prepared for the show. I was literally laying out my paintings to figure out my setup at 11 pm the night before the show. I ended up selling a couple hats and some scrunchies which made me optimistic about selling them and maybe one day being able to pay the bills with my art. I had a lot of fun!
In June 2023, I worked with Fabscrap, a fabric recycling organization to make something really cool for pride month. They wanted to uplift members of the LGBTQIA+ community who work with them and use their materials. As someone who is aromantic, asexual, and agender, this sounded like a great opportunity to do a cool project (that might also look good in a portfolio but more importantly to do something fun. I reached out to them when they first posted about the project in the middle of May to ask more information and sent in my application the same day. I was feeling inspired and started sketching concepts before I even knew if they would want to work with me or not. I was delighted to find out a couple weeks later that I was accepted. They had me schedule a time to come and "shop" for fabric at one of their locations. I use the term shop loosely because they were giving me 10 pounds of fabric for free, but I still had to go and select the fabric I wanted.
I mentioned that I started sketching out concepts the day I sent in my application. I had three main goals in mind with my concept sketches.
This is the concept that I really wanted to go with
I wanted to play with the idea of the neckline being high enough that you can wear a binder underneath without it sticking out unintentionally, but also having an open back to purposefully show the presence of a binder.
The fun thing about Fabscrap though, is that you don't really know what fabrics they have until you get there and see for yourself. I came up with backup designs just in case they didn't have enough yardage for a gown or if they didn't have any fabric that felt like the material I was going for. Luck was on my side though and I found just what I was looking for. I'm not sure what material it was, but it felt right. When I folded it, I was pleased to find it was plenty of fabric. I didn't get to measure it until I was cutting out the pieces but when I did, it was just over 5 yards. The majority of the time I spent choosing fabrics was trying to find the colors of the pride flag that I thought would be good for the accents. In the end, I found a really interesting mix of colors and textures.
Now that I had the fabric, I started making my patterns and doing a muslin sample. This project would be my first time doing a dress with an open back. Additionally, with the open part being such an intricate shape, I felt more comfortable doing a sample before cutting into the fabric. My first sample turned out pretty good. It fit well and the open back was a nice shape. The main things that needed adjusting were the neckline and sleeves. The neckline had room to be lowered. I wasn't happy with the sleeves though so they had to be entirely reworked. They weren't puffy enough. After a couple more tries and eventually adding a crinoline layer (with the crinoline sourced from my excess material from my job at the time), I got the sleeves as puffy as I wanted.
Before we get into the gown, here's a rundown of the key features, including ideas that I added on later
I thought it would be interesting for the dress to be versatile and be able to be worn in different ways, as there's no one way to be queer
Making the base of the gown was pretty straightforward. I sewed the pieces together to make the gown and hemmed it to be floor length. I have a pair of vans that are rainbow and black checkered that I thought would be fun to wear with the gown.
For the removable panel options for the back, I cut out fabric in the shape of a heart and sewed lining to the back. The black one was the same material as the base of the dress. For the blue, pink, and white one, I cut strips of the three colors and sewed them together in the pattern of the trans flag before cutting it out. These pieces would later have snaps sewn to them. There will be snaps on the inside of the dress surrounding the open heart, allowing the panels to be removable and switched out as I please. One of my favorite parts of this project is that I now have a big fabric heart in the colors of the trans flag.
I think it just over halfway through June where I realized I misunderstood what was expected of me. I thought I had to finish this project during the month of June and they'd be showcasing what the people they chose to work with made. Instead, they were just highlighting artists and organizations who work with them throughout the month and the fabric was a thank you in a way. There was no deadline for this project. That took a huge weight off my shoulders as on top of this, I had two jobs at the time and I was working about 30-45ish hours a week, on top of spending about another 15-20 hours a week working on this project. I was tired. I'm impressed by my ability to have gotten the patterns, sample, and base gown in final fabric done in June considering these restraints, but I'll admit that this project fell to the backburner in July. I was tired and I missed painting, as I hadn't gotten to paint in about 2 months. As of September 2, I still hadn't gotten to finish the project. All the parts that are left at this point need to be hand sewn and that's the just going to be a pain to do.
For the buttons, I some black buttons from Fabscrap and painted them. I painted them white first before going over each one with a different color of the rainbow. These would be sewed on once the rainbow accents were added. (Put whether or not I liked how they turn out.
I should note that I did have some leftover fabric that I was unsure what to do with until one day I was out shopping and I found big canvases for $5. For $5 I could get a 24" by 30" canvas. I bought a few, even though I only had ideas for one. I thought they'd be interesting, especially considering I usually work on extremely small paintings, rather than extremely big. My idea: a butterfly. But not like the rest of the butterflies I've been painting. I wanted to do the same concept, but instead of using paint to fill the wings, I'd use leftover fabric from the project.
To get the rainbow accents, I cut out small pieces of fabric in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. I gave them a clean edge and pinned them to the gown to figure out the placements. Then I hand sewed them down.
Fabscrap is an orgaization that I love and I'm incredibly thankful for the opportunity they gave me to work on this dress. To learn more about fabscrap, click here!