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What’s your state garment?

Maine's garment is fashioned from pinecones.

Project Runway gives its fashion designers some unusual challenges, and the contestants produce surprising results. Robin Barcus-Slonina, a multi-disciplinary artist, has developed a personal goal to rival any of the Project Runway challenges. She decided to create an iconic garment design for each of the 50 states in the United States. She calls her challenge The States of Dress Project. While traveling the US, she has designed garments that she feels exemplify her view of the state.

The garment in Minnesota, a state with a huge corn-growing economy, was made from corn husks. The dress she designed for Iowa is constructed from prairie grasses, a vegetation that’s quite common in Iowa. Maine’s dress is made from pine cones–easily found in Maine’s pine forests. Navada’s garment is made from cassino chips stitched together much like yo-yos in honor of LasVegas. Wyoming’s dress was made from willow branches.

I found her view of New York to be quite interesting, and her NY garment to be surprising. If you didn’t know it was made from garbage bags, you might think it was a new courture design! She explains:

“When thinking about what to create for the New York edition of the States of Dress project, I didn’t hesitate a moment to imagine garbage. The first time I ever visited New York was during a massive garbage strike, and I have never seen mountains of garbage piled so high on busy city sidewalks. I was raised in Chicago, where we have alleys to hide our garbage. I was surprised to discover that New York is a city without alleys, resulting in every home and business -even the fanciest restaurants- leaving their piles of trash right outside their front doors on the sidewalk. Even when there is not a garbage strike, the garbage bags lining the sidewalks in New York take some getting used to. However, by no means did I want to create something “ugly” for this metropolis of art, beauty and fashion. I therefore strived to create a “couture,” jet-black, fashionable New York dress, that just happened to be made from garbage bags. To me, this piece represents all the contrasts inherent to New York: wealth and poverty – beauty and trash.”

I don’t know which garbage strike Robin is referring to, I’m sure there have been many over the years, but I do remember the strike in 1968. It was a 9-day strike, and the daily TV news reporters showed mounds of trash everywhere. Those images can’t help but stick in your mind, so if Robin just happened to be in NYC during a strike, I guess garbage is a reasonable designer selection.

It will be a while before Robin is finished with her challenge, but we’ll be watching with eager anticipation for the next segment.



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  1. Stitichy | | #1

    Project Runway or not, this article has little to do with sewing and belongs on an art website. Or a Halloween costume page. I understand the creativity but find it ugly.

  2. User avater
    KarenJ | | #2

    I agree these garments are more art than sewing-related but I loved the article. By the second paragraph I found myself wondering what kind of dress I would sew to represent a state. (Yes, I would sew it and it would be wearable.) The article even got me more excited about my own personal skirt-of-the-month challenge. I was just going to sew a new skirt every month of 2011 but now I think I'll try to get the skirts to represent the month in which they're sewn. Good thing I haven't started my January skirt yet!

  3. User avater
    LuvThreadsMagazine | | #3

    OUTSTANDING article!

    Creativity serves as inspriration in every form.

    Thank you April, you share wonderfully eclectic things with the readers of Threads Magazine.

    After too many years of making the bookstore pilgrimage I actually became a subscriber, and you're efforts are part of what motivated me to do so.

    As for the New York gown modeled in the back of a garbage truck - PRICELESS!

  4. antonija | | #4

    I am SO happy that they didn't make the Wiscosin dress out of cheese. White pines are perfect--ubiquitous and soft-needled.
    I agree about Iowa and Minn--I was surprized to see the corn dress for MN--I expected them to be reversed. Or IA to be corn, and MN to be wild rice!

  5. Clothdog | | #5

    That's the great thing about the web--tons of room for everything, easy to skip what doesn't interest you. This project is funny and cool. I might have suggested that the dress for my home state of Minnesota be made out of snowflakes (we have an infinite supply this winter), but of course then it could only be worn in a freezer. ;-)

  6. DorothyC | | #6

    As a New Yorker, trash bags would not necessarily been my first choice but I loved Robin's creativity. Black is so NY ... though white shopping bags probably would have been an easier sell to most women.

  7. Kurou | | #7

    I am disappointed by her decided representation of New York State. Maybe she was hoping to be edgy and creative with a twist of Zoolander "Derelicte" style, but it's a representation of an actual state, not a Hollywood comedy film. Had she ever left NYC area she would have seen that there is plenty of beauty in the state like the Adirondacks, areas along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, the Finger Lakes region, and much more. However, I am not at all surprised. As others have mentioned, too often do people think "New York" means the city and that the state ends at Albany. There are so many other things she could have used to represent the entire state besides trash.

    I have no interest in sticking around to see her representations of other states. I cannot imagine what she will choose or how she will justify it.

  8. morningsidegirl | | #8

    Like many others who have left comments, I find the "iconic" New York dress to be off-base for several reasons. First and foremost, New York is a STATE, as well as a city (and a county, to be nit-picky). Too many people mistake the city for ALL of New York, and those who live in the vast area outside the 5 boroughs have every reason to resent that. The pity is that too many of those mistaken folk were born in the 5 boroughs and can't get their heads around the idea of a larger and far more diverse entity - New York STATE.

    As bad as that error is, to depict my home town (yes, I was born in New York City, in New York County, too, to be precise) as a collection of refuse sacks - well, there are museums, galleries, universities, parks, neighborhoods, etc, etc. - so many things that have been overlooked in this cheap shot view of an endlessly changing location (the city, in this instance).

    I believe it takes a certain depth of creativity to include so much in one piece of - well, whatever. I hesitate to call it "art", as I have a perennial problem with defining that term. We'll call it a work. Better that the point of view expand to include some of the immensity of "New York-ness" that was overlooked, to its shame. More work and less of a "low blow", if you please.

  9. bzsewing | | #9

    It's all a bit tongue-in-cheek fashion. I live in Arizona. What's our state dress? Cactus?

  10. User avater
    copperwoman | | #10

    A perhaps too obvious choice for Oregon:
    A dress with a skirt made of successive layers of umbrellas -maybe with alternate layers of tye-dye and Pendleton plaid.

  11. Liza_lu | | #11

    All of the people who are complaining about New York being a whole state and not just a city seem to have no problem with Nevada being represented by only one of its cities. Nevada does not equal Las Vegas any more than New York state equals New York City. It's not about your ego, but what each state means to this individual.

  12. graypeape | | #12

    very interesting. inspiration can come from many places, what inspires a sewer need not be just sewn items. i do like the NY dress, tho trash wouldn't have been my first choice. i think it looks kinda cool anyway :)

    just remember everyone has different tastes, that's part of what makes us interesting.....

  13. User avater
    MorningRose | | #13

    I teach for a creative problem solving program that encourages the use of 'trash or found' materials for all props, scenery, and costumes so this idea is something I can definatly use for myself and the kids I teach.
    I also do costuming that definatly does not always use 'traditional' materials.
    I do agree that many of these desings are not asthetically pleasing to me (I can think of many ways I would have used the same materials to get a very different and wearable look) but I love seeing creativity in all it's forms.
    Thanks for the variation in articles!

  14. User avater
    AmyBaby | | #14

    These are very nice representations of the states, keep up the good work! And it is just typical that the new yorkers would complain, that is just who they are! Just Keep Smiling.


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