Blue Wrap Couture: From Waste to Art

Here is Melinda’s story on her evolution of ideas and design which inspired her submission to the Lake Macquarie Sustainable Neighbourhoods 2019 Waste to Art Exhibition.

Melinda shares with us her background and fascinating inspiration for how her wearable piece, Blue Wrap Couture: From Waste to Art, materialised using waste as a valuable and available resource.

Melinda’s Background

My love of clothes started when I was young. I was always drawing fanciful dresses and costumes. My mother tried to teach me the basics, but it was so labour intensive, and I wanted it finished in an hour! The type of dresses I wanted to make were not quick.

I was put off from sewing at school because the teacher didn’t like the way I did things. I had to unpick it and do it the right way. I didn’t believe there was a right way to anything in clothes.

My fashion design and sewing career sat on the shelf for a long time. I got a safe job as a nurse in the operating room. I still sewed randomly, as the fabric was expensive, and I was learning techniques to achieve the results I wanted.

Start with Reuse and Upcycle

Blue Wrap Couture
Blue Wrap Couture Dress

While living in the USA for 11 years, I sewed & sold scrub hats and clothes for my daughter as a hobby. Returning to Newcastle, I began to sew for fun again and would up-cycle things I found at op-shops.

At work, we came up with a challenge – to make a Melbourne Cup outfit from the blue Kimguard used to wrap the instruments in for sterilisation. Due to the amount of wrap used for sterilising, there was plenty of it to make something spectacular.

I’d been holding on to a costume pattern that required a large amount of fabric. The availability of blue wrap was the perfect chance for me to make a dress from the 1800s. I had so much fun!! The Kimguard sewed together really well. I made an outfit that was semi-inspired by the races in My Fair Lady.

Change of Colour

In June 2016, I again challenged my colleagues and the whole hospital to make an outfit from Kimguard.

I pulled out another pattern – an 18th-century French court-inspired dress that required 20 meters of material. Collecting this amount of Kimguard was a long process and took about two months to gather.

The costume pattern was quite a challenge a “Robe a la Francais” inspired by Madam Pompadour. Luckily for me at this time the instrument wrap was a beautiful mauve/pink colour. It was a little less decorated than the exquisite court dresses they wore during that time, but when I wear it, you want to swish when you walked.

I’ve worn it to three events now and is in desperate need of retirement as it’s five years old and showing a little wear and tear, but still beautiful.

Flowers & Shimmery Packaging

Blue Wrap Couture: Wearable Art
Blue Wrap Couture: From Waste to Flowers

In 2017 I challenged myself to make something “wearable”. The hospital was trialling new procedure packs with a wonderful array of colour that inspired me to make flowers. It took about a month each of cutting out flowers and glueing them on to the dress. I used a flower scrapbooking punch to stamp out the centre of the flowers – about 80 of them.

It took a while to collect the suture packets – the little silver foil packets we open to get the suture for the operations – as you can only use the wraps of items we open before the patient enters the room.

But it was worth it. The flowers looked beautiful. There are little shimmers when the packaging (centre of the flowers) catch the sunlight. It made me feel so pretty when I wore it on Melbourne Cup day.

Desire to Create

In 2018, I wasn’t going to make a dress. I didn’t want to pressure myself but there was something inside me telling me to make “this dress”. I can only describe it as an absolute need or a deep longing. It was almost like I had a vision.

The dress was a little Cinderella and a little Jacki wedding dress. I started sewing, without a pattern. The idea was just kind of flowing. It’s one of my favourites so far.

The skirt is so large it requires three petticoats to give the skirt the fullness it deserves. The skirt alone would need 30 to 40 metres of fabric to make! Luckily, I have a readily available source of materials!

2019 Waste to Art Exhibition

I started on 2019s dress earlier than usual because there was going to be a lot of cutting & gathering for the skirt frills and experimenting with boning and corsetry. I finished it by September.

I entered it in the Waste to Art exhibition without thinking that I wouldn’t have it for the Melbourne Cup. So I quickly made another simple one. When I put it on, I felt pretty and floaty, and that’s how a good dress should make you feel.

2020 Waste to Art Exhibition

I have a couple of costumes to enter for this year’s Sustainable Neighbourhood’s Waste to Art. All of my costumes and dresses will be period-inspired.

More Upcycled Sewing Creations

Blue Wrap Couture: From Waste to Art
Blue Wrap Couture: From Waste to Art

In February this year, my friend asked me to “swan around” in my French dress at the Alliance Francaise French Twilight Market. I made a Robe a la Polonaise (sort of a day dress) for my sister to fit with the theme and a court dress for my daughter, one out of bedspreads and the other curtains. Complete with the boned petticoats to hold the skirts out, (my daughter called them her side bongos) all from materials I found sustainably at op-shops.

I plan to make Tudor style dresses for the Renaissance Festival in Sydney later this year but considering the health pattern (COVID-19) we are in right now, it may not be until next year. Just like the French dresses, I’ve found beautiful fabric and curtains from op-shops.

It’s a slow process trying to find the exact thing you need or want to create the look from op-shop supplies, but so much more satisfying when you look at the finished piece and know it was all up-cycled.

It’s been an invaluable learning experience and a lot of fun!

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