Recently I did something outside my comfort zone that I’ve never done before. I heard about the West Asheville Refash Project through a Facebook group a few weeks ago and was immediately intrigued–a refashioning contest, structured like a Project Runway challenge. As plans for the event solidified I noticed that Altamont Brewing, a local brewery/restaurant in our neighborhood, was hosting. The idea of being in a friendly space that I was already familiar with and, let’s be honest, the notion that drinking while sewing was encouraged (they specifically informed us of that ahead of time, haha) made the whole thing a little less intimidating.
I wanted to challenge my creative sewing-on-the-fly and refashioning skills, as well as deal with my social anxiety/shyness by getting out and doing something different, hoping to make some new crafty friends along the way. All I knew when I first agreed to participate is that designers would work in teams of two, and that each team would be given a bag of scrap fabric/old clothes and 3 hours to create a new piece of clothing. We were told to supply our own sewing machine, thread, and other practical sewing notions and were asked to bring whatever creative decor we had lying around: fabric paints, flowers, feathers, beads, sequins, hot glue gun, etc. I wasn’t sure how skilled the other competitors would be and I didn’t know any of the people involved.
We arrived at 2pm on a Sunday, grabbed drinks, introduced ourselves, and then began by splitting into teams of two, drawing names from a hat. Lo and behold, my partner ended up being a real life princess! Well, sort of. She’s actually a crafty lady named Stephenie who makes costumes and has a business entertaining as Disney princesses at birthday parties and other events. I’d seen her Facebook page before and the beautiful costumes that she makes, so I knew she had some serious sewing skills. So far so good!
Next each team had to select a trashbag full of fabric. Each bag contained a couple of large pieces of raw fabric, plus some old clothing items and fabric scraps. As we sorted through our haul and discussed our game plan we both agreed that we should make a dress. Stephenie was keeping in mind the judges’ criteria, especially the specification that the final result should “speak” to the judges in some way. As we discussed the embellishments that we’d each brought she realized we had all the makings of a nature-themed dress at our disposal and I loved the idea. Animal textures, lots of brown and green, and an abundance of flower and feather decor.
With only 3 hours to plan and execute our runway design, we decided to keep the construction simple and go all out with our theme. While we didn’t bother with attempting a practical creation, we still put all of our energy and imagination into creating the most fabulous nature dress we possibly could. As we began to get into this idea my partner also realized she just so happened to have antlers with her supplies which she could use to make a matching headpiece. Seriously, anyone who lives in the Asheville area knows that you can’t go wrong with animal headpieces. I myself own a monkey hat, but we’ll talk about that later.
To construct our masterpiece, we began by using a purple cocktail dress as our base to work off of. We sewed the green satin fabric to the hem of the dress to lengthen it, and then cut a new asymmetrical hem leaving it floor length in the front with a long train in the back. Once we had our basic assembly ready we began cutting up a pair of brown shorts, a brown suede top and black faux fur into mountain shapes which we pinned all the way around the bottom of the dress to create a fabric landscape. We sewed down our mountains, and then we broke out the hot glue. Is it weird that we each brought hot glue guns and they just so happened to be exactly the same? It was obviously meant to be!
We worked well as a team, splitting up the work to where we were both going almost nonstop for the whole 3 hours. We cut and pinned together, then took turns sewing the main components, with one of us doing additional cutting and preparation while the other sewed. Stephenie took up the outer layers of the cocktail dress to create draping and added some branches cut from scrap fabric to the front and sides of the dress, while I handstitched the white scarf to the neckline and straps of the dress for a cloud-like effect. We then hot glued like maniacs, adding flowers all along the tree branches and up the back seam of the train, accenting the top of the dress with feathers, and even throwing in a bird and butterflies.
We finished our dress with mere minutes to spare and by the time the whistle was blown several of my friends had arrived to cheer us on, yay friends! As I started to see other contestants’ designs I noted that some were better sewn, clothes that you could actually wear on a daily basis but still super unique and stylish. Others were more elaborate and fancy, but not at all practical, like our crazy nature dress. One team managed to construct a beautiful lace-up corset top for their dress (don’t ask me how, I am not that skilled), while another made the cutest matching hat to go with their outfit. All of the designers came through with something truly impressive and there was a great vibe to the whole event.
I won’t say I didn’t second guess my decision to participate leading up to the big day, feeling like I might be a bit out of my league, but when all was said and done I felt completely in my element and really happy with our creation. The time flew and I had a blast. The winning design was based on judges’ and audience votes. And now, ladies and gentlemen, your winner of the 2015 West Asheville Refash Project…
Stephenie and Amelia with Fancy Nature Dress! 😀 😀 😀
It was a bit scary at first, but I lived to tell the tale, made new friends, and even brought some fierce competition with my awesome princess partner! What a fun way for Asheville’s refashionistas to come together and breathe life into forlorn old fabric scraps and tossed-aside clothing.