Paper Dresses to Die For

Like many girls, I grew up with vague fantasies of being a clothing designer. With Barbie as my muse, I sewed some pretty fierce couture creations. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Fast-forward to now, and I’m channeling my love of fashion into mixed-media found paper dresses that are even more fun to make—like this one, which I honestly wish I could wear.

Infuse your mixed-media paper dresses with your unique style—contemporary, romantic, punk, or retro!
Infuse your mixed-media paper dresses with your unique style—contemporary, romantic, punk, or retro!

Apparently I’m not alone in my love of turning pretty papers into scaled-down clothing. The Fall 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine is all about using recycled materials in mixed-media art, and two artists, Jennifer Collier and Candy Rosenberg, created designs from paper that you absolutely cannot miss. They are stunning, with so many fantastic techniques that you’ll love learning.

The Fall 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors has great mixed-media recycling and repurposing projects like these.

Inspired by these amazing pieces, I thought about what types of materials would work for paper dresses, and decided on using vintage ledger pages for a skirt, and sheet music pages for a blouse. A couple of things to note: When working with paper, especially vintage paper, make sure it can stand up to whatever you have in mind. For example, these papers will be painted, pleated, and sewn, so brittle papers won’t do. Also, for paper projects that involve folding, cutting, sewing, etc., I like to practice with models first, using copy paper. That way I don’t waste the good stuff if I mess up.

Four ledger pages were cut to 8″ high by 8¼” wide. To give the papers a little style I painted them with a wash of light blue acrylic paint mixed with a little water—I wanted the writing on the papers to show through. Brushing this mixture on will warp the paper bit, but not to worry, it will eventually flatten out and give the paper a little body. I then stenciled on a design with acrylic paint, and added paint splatters in dark blue and white. It’s a good idea to create a couple of extra painted sheets, just in case one goes awry as you’re working with it. You can always use the extras in other projects. If working with wet media, let everything dry while you practice pleating next.

Working with sturdy found papers, leave them as is, or art them up with paint, ink, pastels, and more.

You can leave the found papers as is, of course, or decorate them with any mixed-media techniques you like: monoprinting, drawing, stamping, doodling, etc. Whatever makes you happy. In Jennifer Collier’s article, “Found Paper Dresses,” she shows how to create sewn pleats with paper—a fantastic technique with great results. Because I was creating a skirt, I wanted the pleats at a slight angle. I made a mark 1¼” from the right edge, and folded it to that mark, angling it down a bit.

Practice making pleats on copy paper to become comfortable with the technique.

The fold underneath was smaller, about 1″. You can see from the photo below the angle of the second fold.

As an alternative, you can leave the skirt panels flat and add interest and texture with cut-outs or appliqué.

I continued pleating in this fashion, creating three pleats per piece, but didn’t worry if the pleats weren’t perfect. In fact, I think they look better if they’re not even, since they look more natural. The same pleating technique was done in reverse for the right side of the skirt. I made two more panels the same way for the back of the skirt. The pieces should be about the same width when pleated, but don’t make yourself crazy trying to make them exact.

Pleating makes paper look more like fabric.

Jennifer’s sewn pleat method for paper dresses is incredibly easy, and following her instructions I sewed down every pleat near the fold. Love, love, love the effect. If you don’t have a sewing machine you can sew the pleats by hand, or just draw stitches along the fold.

Adding stitching to pleats makes paper dresses come to life.

She adds another great touch to her paper dresses—piped trim. Yes, she developed a method for making piping from paper. Can you stand it? This was also simple to do, and her tip for what sewing machine foot to use made it foolproof.

I made four pieces of piped trim using decorative cardstock and pieces of jute, then trimmed and sewed each one to what would be the middle portions of the back and front of the skirt.

Who knew you could make piped trim from paper?

Here’s a close-up, just so you can see how amazing this is. The piping adds such great detail and dimension.

In paper dresses, as in fabric ones, details make the garment.

Another detail was added to the skirt: punched paper hearts at the hem. In her article “Steampunk Corset,” Candy Rosenberg overlaps punched decorative paper pieces to form the bodice of her corset, and it’s such a great look. I punched small hearts from the sheet music, turned them upside down, and glued them to the hem of the skirt.

Paper punches make great embellishments for paper dresses.

When you make this project, you’ll quickly realize that paper dresses lend themselves to all kinds of details, like the ones Jennifer and Candy created. Don’t be afraid to tap into your inner fashionista and make something fabulous!

For the blouse, I sketched a pattern on copy paper, cut it out, folded it in half, and trimmed it up to make sure it was symmetrical. Using this template I cut two pieces from vintage sheet music, then trimmed the pieces down the front a little off-center so I could overlap them, creating a seam down the center. I drew a little collar, cut the pieces out from the same cardstock I used for the piping, and glued them onto the blouse. The front of the blouse and the collar pieces were machine stitched. One template was cut from sheet music for the back, and another collar piece was sewn on. Jennifer’s article includes a link to download all the pattern pieces for her dress.

Sketch several tops to see which one works best for the skirt.

Almost time to get this dress sewn up! I positioned the left and right skirt panels where I wanted them, with a little V-gap at the bottom, and stitched across the top of the skirt to attach the pieces. The back panels were matched up and stitched as well. A small piece of gauze fabric was glued to the inside of both skirt pieces.

Adding gauze gives the dress great texture and a little movement.

The front and back blouse pieces were stitched across the top and the sides, then glued to the outside of the skirt. The skirt was stitched along both outer edges, and any excess paper was trimmed away. Small flat-back pearls were glued to the blouse front for buttons.

Real buttons can be used, too, just make sure to sew them on before sewing the front and back blouse pieces together.

Here’s another great technique from Jennifer: paper button loops. Those are super easy to create, and I made one for the skirt back and added a pearl.

The back of the dress should look as good as the front, so a button loop and pearl were added.

The blouse seemed a little flat in comparison to the skirt, so I stuffed it with a small piece of gauze to give it some dimension.

A piece of silk ribbon was added at the waist, and my dress was done. I see a whole wardrobe of paper dresses in my future, and I’m also thinking of ways to incorporate these techniques in other types of mixed-media projects. I’d love to use the piping to frame a collage, or stitch it to a book page. Here’s how the dress looks from the back:

This dress is ready for the runway!

I hope you have fun creating your own paper couture collection, and don’t forget to check out Cloth Paper Scissors Fall 2018. Our lookbook preview shows you what’s in the issue!

Want to build up your ephemera stash for projects like this? Book artist Rachel Hazell reveals the five best places to find ephemera in this blog post!

Turn ordinary objects into stunning mixed-media art! The Fall 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine has imaginative projects waiting for you.
Learn imaginative ways to turn found papers into works of art in Painted Paper Art Workshop by Elizabeth St. Hilaire.
Turn collage into couture with 22 fashion projects using mixed-media techniques in Collage Couture by Julie Nutting.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques, Paper Art and Zen Doodle

One thought on “Paper Dresses to Die For

  1. Jeannine, you did an awesome job! Thank you for the detailed instructions. I have a feeling there’s a fashion designer out there who will catch on to this and start designing clothing that looks like the dress you made of paper. You are not the only woman who would love to wear that dress–and others like it! Gorgeous!


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