Studio Saturdays: Recycled Mixed-Media Art

Recycling things into art is as old as…well, art. Artists are expert at seeing an item’s potential beyond what it was intended for. Whether out of frugality, necessity, or the need for a creative challenge, artists continue to raise the bar transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Recycled mixed-media dress
My recycled mixed-media dress. C’est chic, non?

I made this mixed-media three-dimensional dress out of recycled ephemera and other bits, and while I did hand sew part of it, no fabric was used. Instead, channeling my inner Project Runway contestant, I used a rug mat, map, book pages, trading stamps, a watch part, and more to create the skirt, top, and embellishments. Recycling ordinary materials is not only fun, it makes you see things in a different way, and compels you to experiment and discover new techniques—and that’s an adventure I’m always up for.

Recycled dress
If I could only wear it.

A rubber rug mat made perfect sense for the skirt. The material is flexible yet strong, and can be painted. I used turquoise acrylic, and I trimmed the hem into a scallop shape. To create a tube, I planned to glue the long ends together with heavy white glue. That resulted in a huge mess—nothing stuck together—so I cut off the glued ends and considered stapling it together. While searching for the stapler, I found a box of brads. Yes! I could use the brads to hold the seam together, and the brass fasteners could double as buttons. I pushed the brads into the openings in the rubber and trimmed the prongs.

I sewed a gather stitch at the top of the skirt with waxed linen thread, but heavy-duty sewing thread would likely do the job nicely. I left about a 1″ opening for the blouse.

Recycled art skirt
The skirt was made from a rubber rug mat, which I painted.

Patience and a bit of daring are essential when it comes to working with recycled materials. You’ll be a pioneer with almost everything you work with, as you figure out how a piece can be attached, colored, cut, bent, torn, and otherwise altered. Whenever possible I trim a piece of the material off, or sacrifice a duplicate item so I can experiment with it. I trimmed an extra piece of the mat and painted it to make sure the acrylic would work before I painted the skirt. I should have tested the glue as well, but by that point I was deep in the zone.

For the overskirt I used pages from a vintage book. I chose one printed in 1821; before about 1830 book pages were often made of linen, cotton, or a combination, making them almost fabric-like. The pages can tear if you’re not careful, but they can also be sculpted much more easily than paper made from tree pulp. I scrunched the pages to make them look like wrinkled fabric, flattened them out, then whip stitched them to the waistband.

Skirt from book pages
The overskirt was made from book pages.

I used two pages for the front, and two for the back, overlapping them like petals. Here’s the back view:

Book page skirt
I layered two pages for the back of the overskirt.

Next, I worked on the blouse. Having a little experience in making clothes came in handy as I sketched a basic V-neck sleeveless blouse and used that as a template to cut the pattern pieces out of a vintage map. Since I wanted this piece to be fairly sturdy but malleable, I cut matching pattern pieces out of strong but thin rice paper and glued them to the wrong side of the map pieces with glue stick.

Blouse made from a map
The blouse was made from a vintage French map.

I cut out triangle-shaped darts in the front of the blouse and glued the sides of the triangles together, then glued together the shoulders and sides of the front and back pieces. To narrow the waist I cut darts in the side seams and re-glued them. I inserted the blouse into the opening at the top of the skirt and stitched it to the waistband with regular sewing thread. Since I knew I’d be covering the waistband with a belt, I didn’t worry about making the stitches perfect.

I went back to my stash to see what else I could recycle to embellish the dress. I cut apart a page of trading stamps and attached them to the bottom of the overskirt with French knots.

Trading stamp embellshments
Vintage trading stamps made great embellishments for the skirt.

I cut out images from playing cards and tied them to the skirt as well.

Recycled skirt
Motifs from playing cards served as decoration for the skirt.

For the belt, I used a torn-out spine from an old book. Since that was a bit brittle, and I wanted the belt to curve, I glued a strip of rice paper to the back of the spine peice. A watch part was attached to the belt’s center with a brad, and the whole thing was adhered to the waistband with heavy white glue.

Recycled belt
A belt was made from a book spine and watch part.

The blouse was embellished with cigar box labels around the collar, and I added a little chunk of ruler in the front.

Recycled blouse
A close-up of the blouse. I’m really proud of those darts.

I enjoyed making this piece so much that I know I’m going to add to my miniature recycled wardrobe soon.

Recycled dress
Almost anything can be recycled into art.

I’m inspired by how artists are able to look at the mundane and see the marvelous, and I know you will be too when you check out the techniques and ideas below!Start re

Art Lessons 2016: Volume 5 with Rae Missigman: Recycled and Re-Inked Texture Transformation Stitch Alter Recycle
The Altered Book
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Cloth Paper Scissors March/April 2014 Paperplay
Upcycled Silverware Hook
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Find more mixed-media resources at the
Cloth Paper Scissors Shop!



4 thoughts on “Studio Saturdays: Recycled Mixed-Media Art

  1. It was great seeing you again at AJLive this year. I loved the event as much as my first time. You are a wonderful host / MC. And I love this Project. I always save treasures (junk) to recycle. I America going to try this project for sure. It will also give me a way to use up that rubber mat stuff I have loads of. Brilliant!


    1. Hi, Denise, great seeing you too! Thanks so much for being part of the event, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for the kind words about the recycled dress–it was so much fun to make. Upload your work to the Member Gallery so we can see it!


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