I’ve been busy making a fairytale dress from a stack of unwanted books for the Bookbarn out-of-print fashion show. It’s going to be judged on Friday by Maisie Williams (Arya Stark in Game of Thrones) We met her at the dress rehearsal and she was lovely.
This is all about how I made this paper dress…..
I heard about the fashion show and it sounded like really good fun. I’d been working pretty hard to build up Oshun stock for festival season and thought I’d treat myself to a couple of weeks off work to have a go at making a fairytale dress from paper. Every person or team picked out a domino from a bag, which matched to a number on a bookshelf with stacks of books for us to take home. We were also allowed to choose any three books from the bookshop. This was the most difficult thing – it was impossible not to get distracted! There are so many books! Seriously, it’s worth visiting only to be amazed at how many books they have. Not only that, they only cost £1 each. Along with the books we were given, we also bought several others.
I already knew I was going to make something with a fairytale princess feel, so I looked for books about castles and found three that were ideal.
I got started straight away and made a base for the dress from cotton. (I bought a whole roll for £5 in a Dunelm Mill sale about 12 years ago, but have hardly used it because the pattern is pretty horrible! I can’t resist a bargain.) I also spent several evenings, whilst watching telly, folding many many many many pieces of paper – fan-style, like all the ones I did as a kid. I’d been given several natural history books, so I had lots of pages with green, so I used these to make the bustle and train to go at the back of the dress, with the plan that it would stand out because the rest of it would be black and white.
These fans were a complete pain (literally) to sew onto the cotton. I pierced each one with a ball-ended pin, which helped to get the needle through the thick paper, but some needed some extra force. (For some reason, I found the best tool for the job was a metal sink plug!) It took three full days to sew the whole bustle. I was so bored of it by the end. All of radio 4’s comedy programmes on i-player kept me going. Then I stapled the fans together so there weren’t gaps.
Usually I use net or stiff fabric to give volume and full-ness to a skirt, so the best equivalent I could think of doing, was forming a cone shape with the paper and making a row of them so it would look a bit like a wide frill. These I stapled onto the fabric. Right, I’m rambling on, so I’ll go through the rest of the process as quickly as I can. Next, I glued some of the black and white pages of stately homes and castles together to form a long line of them. Then I used a fancy decorating edging punch along the edge and glued it on over the cone frills. For the sides I used pages from an older book to cut petal shapes with pinking shears and inked all the edges with green ink so they stand out from each other. I overlapped them and glued them on, along with smaller ones for the final layer at the front of the skirt.
I’d used thick sturdy elastic in the waistband, but the paper still pulled the skirt down. I didn’t want any embarrassing accidents on the catwalk, so I added fabric braces to be sure that didn’t happen! And onto the bodice…
It’s one thing to make a fabric pattern to fit your model, but it’s something else when there’s paper stuck to it! The softer, older paper was torn up and glued over most of it, but inspired by medieval dresses, I decided to try something different on the front section. I cut up strips of the newer black and white paper and wove them together (again, harking back to Infant school days). I cut off the spines of 4 books and sewed them on like boning of a corset. Ribbon loops were sewn on at the back so it could be laced up.
Final touches were flowers across the neckline and under the bust, which I was able to cut two at a time in my clever Spellbinders die-cutting gizmo.
Lots of layering and scrunching and a paper fastener to hold them all together. Around the waist I made another kind of flowers with the help of you-tube. Cut into spirals and twisted with tweezers and glued into place. Little curled strands of white paper were an added touch. More fancy hole punching on the shoulder straps and the frill at the bottom. The final embellishment were die-cut butterflies which I glued on here and there on the cone frills. Lastly, I glued lots of pages to the inside of the skirt, as due to the high-low design, that horrible print on the fabric was visible.
And that’s it. Phew! I really enjoyed the process, and it felt quite indulgent spending time having fun cutting, twisting, weaving, twirling and gluing paper. I’ll admit, I was glad when it was finished though!
So last night was the dress rehearsal for the fashion show and I got to see the other entries. Everyone had come up with some brilliant ideas. One had lots of big, cleverly folded flowers and was called The Hanging Gardens of Babylon; another was a cute child’s princess skirt; another had intricate snowflake-style cutting; one was entirely woven; another had origami dresses on it and another had paper incorporated into a cool punky skirt and corset. Everything’s going to look fabulous on the night and now I’m really looking forward to it.
If you are interested in purchasing the book dress, it is for sale at Threads of a Fairytale. It would be a perfect World Book Day costume!