Exhibition features recycled, repurposed fashion

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MANCHESTER — At a time when some fashion brands are releasing new pieces every week, the Southern Vermont Arts Center wants to remind people there are environmental and social impacts to their shopping choices.

"Unusual Threads: Stitching Together the Future of Fashion," on exhibit at the arts center's Wilson Museum till June 23, showcases sustainable clothing and accessories by around a dozen designers and artists.

The show also includes 20th century Vermont garments on loan from the Bennington Museum, which demonstrate the marriage of aesthetics, craftsmanship and durability.

The approximately 50 contemporary pieces on exhibit present examples of recycling, repurposing and the use of organic materials.

Casey Stannard, who teaches apparel design at Louisiana State University, hand-dyed used wedding veils to make the skirt of a blue ball gown. She used fish scales to decorate the bodice.

Stannard also made a slip dress using an old, yellow camping tent. The piece is titled "Elevating Scraps 2."

Anna VA Polesny, who runs an art studio in Northampton, Mass., jazzed up worn denim jackets by adding colorful embroidery. The back of one jacket depicts a butterfly set against a multicolored surface; the collar is accented with tiny flowers.

In another room, a collection of children's and women's clothing utilized quite unexpected materials: grocery store receipts and plastic bags.

Sharon Myers, of Brattleboro, sewed together receipts to make a halter dress and used a gray plastic bag for the neck strap. The receipts, which were apparently ironed to make some portions darker in color, resembled stone-washed denim.

For one girl's dress, she braided pink and gray plastic bags to create the skirt.

Myers's work, according to the exhibition information, incorporates the creative challenge of transforming everyday waste, such as single-use items, into "something entirely new, wearable, and beautiful."

Anne Stiebing, a resident of Gaysville who is drawn to both man-made and natural "found objects," created several necklaces, some with auto parts as pendants. There's a gasket strung with beads and another with a bracket as the centerpiece.

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Robin Lane, who owns her namesake clothing store in Manchester, is shining a spotlight on organic textiles. Her casual and smart-casual ensembles on display feature materials like silk, linen, cotton and wool.

"Using the gifts of the natural world to complement our lives remains the driving force behind my label," Lane is quoted as saying in the exhibition.

She wants her clothes to "age beautifully" while having made minimal impact on the environment and the clothes producers.

The Bennington Museum pieces, dating to between 1901 and 1959, were made at a time when fashion began to become more attainable courtesy of fashion houses and boutiques. Yet clothes then — crafted meticulously with quality materials — were worn over several years and seasons.

The exhibition organizers believe people today can learn sustainability from these old practices.

"It's really about looking back at history and seeing what people used to do and seeing if we can try and recreate that again, because those pieces were gorgeous and they were in people's wardrobes for years and maybe even decades," said Anna-Maria Hand, the exhibition curator who also serves as Southern Vermont Art Center's gallery director.

"You can see where they made little incisions or added some fabric where they gained some weight, or it may have been passed down to a sister or a daughter, and they remade their fashion to fit the times," she said in an interview.

The exhibition pieces were showcased in the arts center's first fundraising gala for the season, "Rags to Runway," held May 10. The $150-per-ticket event included a panel discussion on sustainability and contemporary fashion, as well as a photo booth and raffle prizes. The art center declined to divulge the amount it raised at the fundraiser.

Hand hopes "Unusual Threads" inspires visitors to think about their consumption habits and what becomes of the objects they discard.

Clothing often ends up in landfills, she said, so consumers should think more about reusing, reselling and repurposing, as well as supporting textile-recycling places. She said more fashion labels are also now offering buy-back programs for pieces purchased from them.

"Thinking in the next 50 years," Hand said, "what happens when we've used all of our resources? We will have to remake and reuse and recycle, because we won't have any of the resources that we used to if we keep depleting those resources now."

Tiffany Tan can be reached at ttan@benningtonbanner.com,

@tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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