Artist and designer Kerry Fitts pledged to use only recycled materials once she learned how many gallons of water are used to put together a new cotton T-shirt: 500.
"That's the impact of making something new," she says. "That's huge."
Come Halloween, costumers will scramble to put something together for a one-night-only event. Money and materials (and gallons of water) get no more than an evening's worth of use before they're locked in the closet. Fitts challenges Halloweenies to construct creative costumes using recycled or salvaged clothing.
When not teaching workshops on making the most of old or used clothes, the New Orleans Craft Mafia member and Bayou Salvage artisan creates accessories, jewelry and clothing made from repurposed materials. Fitts also parades in Krewe du Craft, a small group of crafters who use only hand-made or recycled throws in annual parades.
"Green doesn't have to be limited to yuppies, hippies and patchouli," she says. "It's really about economizing and re-visioning old material. It's efficient, it's economical, and it can be sexy, cute, attractive."
How did you get started doing this?
My main thing has always been an artist and a thrifter. I've always used vintage clothing materials because they were the best quality and the least expensive. And I've always been a big thrift store shopper. About 10 years ago I started hoarding all the great things I've found, so I turned those into apparel that I could sell. I turned things into new items. That's Bayou Salvage. I was always interested in recycling, but I started finding a lot of rusty metal and wood, so I started creating sculpture, things like that. It just went from there.
What kind of projects are you working on for Halloween?
There's no better way to celebrate than with a recycled costume. Instead of going to a big-box store and buying something made with flammable materials from another country, we have such great resources in our thrift stores for a vintage Halloween or Mardi Gras costume. One of my favorite things to do is take an old prom dress and cut it off in the middle and turn it into a cape — perfect way to be a princess or a Little Red Riding Hood. Or you can turn it into a monk's costume by cutting off the arms and dying it, wrapping it around the waist.
How does someone get started?
There are so many resources for people who don't have a car or consciously don't drive. I'm really big on thrifting and found objects. Look at the stuff you're not wearing. Then look at the colors you have to work with. Start making connections between that and costume ideas. One idea that's really hot is from Where the Wild Things Are. That's a very simple sweatpants-and-shirts ensemble. You can take shredded fabric, tear it on the bias and attach it on a seam down the back and feet, make a crown, and then ...
Totally. What's really important is looking at what you've got: T-shirt materials, which we all have. You get them for free or have ones that you've been holding on to forever. T-shirts are just so easy. You can cut the material and it doesn't fray. There are so many things you can do just by cutting the neck from a T-shirt, especially if it's too big for a child to wear. You can turn it into a dress or a cape, just by cutting the fabric.
(The Craft Mafia) did a workshop this summer at a summer camp, and the students were working on reading and writing. We made them create a lesson plan for how they were going to turn their T-shirt into a costume. They were super creative. They made ninjas out of their T-shirts — we called them the T-shirt ninjas. They found a way to use every piece of their T-shirt for the project in their costume.
For an amateur costume-maker, what's the best way to stitch?
Glue gun. You can never go wrong with that. Or just a simple needle and thread from the drugstore. A stitch of thread is so much more powerful than other rudimentary stitches.