They don’t say “the clothes make the man” for nothin’. What we wear speaks volumes about our class, occupation, status, who we are, or more accurately, what we want people to think we are.
Plastic Ball Gown (view 2) by Jamie Kuli McIntoshThe long-term changes that have occurred in the standards of popular fashion amaze me. Had I been born a century earlier, I might be wearing something in the style of this gown (minus the plastics, of course) for my everyday dress. I simply cannot imagine doing anything productive in such a get-up. And these days, we run around practically naked!

This Plastic Ball Gown is the pièce de résistance of my portfolio so far. It is the work that best conveys my philosophies about recycling, society, fashion, gender, evolution of culture, all that.

The Pattern

For years and years I used paint as my primary medium, and I still love to paint, but as soon as I conquered the mechanical frustrations of my first sewing machine, I transitioned to cloth and textiles very quickly. These days I’m mixing these two together fairly regularly.

I think I bought the pattern for this dress before I knew what I was going to make it out of. I just knew I had to buy it. When I try to remember how the idea for a project started, it’s always difficult for me to recall which came first–the desired material to use or the intended form that it will take. With this one, I’m pretty sure the form of the dress came first. I just had to decide what it would be made from.

Material and Form

At the time this idea was hatching, I worked at what some would call a “manufacturing plant” and others would call an “art studio.” We made prosthetics. For me, this place was a gold mine of re-usable waste products of all sorts. Some of these materials are still in my garage, waiting for a purpose.

Plastic Ball Gown (detail) by Jamie Kuli McIntosh - photo by Kurt Gohde
One of the waste products was the protective film from squares of plexiglass, which I’m sure they still throw away in profuse amounts. The color of this plastic film captivated me, especially amassed together as it was in a trash can. One of my co-workers who worked with the plastic graciously started saving it for me. I lovingly packed trash bags full of it into the back of my car.

I’ve found that one of the most fun aspects of working with unconventional “art supplies” is the problem-solving aspect: being inventive and creating something refined from the pile of chaos before you. There were several initial frustrations when I tried to fashion these slippery squares together, but I got plenty of practice during the phase of sewing all the squares into long strips and then into large sheets to resemble yards of cloth.

The plastic came in two shades of blue. One was a little bit lighter than the other because it was matte; the brighter blue was almost completely sheer. I suppose this had a purpose in manufacturing the plexiglass, one being on the “front” and one on the “back” (who can tell the difference anyway?). In person, these slight differences in color and texture helped to create contrast in some areas, which really highlights some of the features on the gown.

For instance, the bows on the sleeves were made with one layer of the clear blue plastic, which helps them to stand out from the sleeves that are made of two-layered matte plastic. I used blue thread throughout the entire construction, and used a decorative scallop stitch on my sewing machine to emphasize certain areas like the hem of the skirts.

Modern History

The opposition of the modern plastic materials with the historically accurate “framework” of the dress design is something I find very appealing. If you’ve ever seen the fabrics that actual historic dresses were made from, they are anything but plastic. Plastic Ball Gown (view 1) by Jamie Kuli McIntosh - photo by Kurt Gohde And they are anything but sheer! The plastic of this dress creates a “stifling” feeling that must be similar to wearing all that heavily quilted brocade fabric of yore. But the plastic is very light and flowing, almost gravity-defying. The fact that the materials are recycled is an extra added bonus.

The Plastic Ball Gown is a women’s size 5, and is displayed with a corset made from 225 mustard packets. (I could write a whole other article about the corset which I made for underneath the dress, because the process for constructing that was a different task altogether.) This piece was on display at the Morlan Gallery for the “225: Composite & Compliment” exhibition at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky, and also at the “Recycled Matters” exhibition at the Lexinton Art Leagues Loudoun House Gallery.

I’ve also posted about this on Craftster if you’d like to read more and see more photos.
Good News! Photography of my artworks are now available for purchase at ImageKind. Click the link to see more photos of the Plastic Ball Gown and other works.