Blue Wrap Sheath Dress

Sunday, July 13, 2014
Sustainable fashion – a knit sheath dress using recycled blue wrap (front view)

Every two years the Fashion Design and Merchandising Department at Framingham State University hosts a design competition to make garments and accessories by recycling "Blue Wrap". Blue Wrap is a highly durable polypropylene fabric that is used to wrap medical supplies and instruments. The event is held primarily for students, but faculty and staff are encouraged to contribute, to showcase their work. Last time, I experimented with making "yarn" from Blue Wrap, and I designed a knit purse, made with this yarn, that you can read about here. This year, I was thinking bigger, and I wanted to make a dress.

I chose to make a classic sheath dress, which seemed to me to have the perfect fashion silhouette. However, throughout the process, I strugged with myself to keep it simple. I repeatedly had to restrain the impulse to add cables, lacework or other embellishments -- just because I could -- rather than letting the textured knitting that was created with the Blue Wrap yarn speak for itself.

I do not draw well so I do not have sketches. However, in my mind I saw a sleeveless, close-fitting dress that accentuated the waist and tapered from the hips to the hemline. When everything was finished, it was one of the rare times that the design vision in my head was executed exactly as I had visualized it. The addition of cap sleeves was the only important deviation from the original inspiration.

Usually when I make an item, it is intended for a specific person. But in this case, because I had no idea who would need (or want) a dress made out of Blue Wrap, I fit the garment to a size 8 dress form. I also had NO idea how much Blue Wrap yarn the dress was going to require, so I cut, and I cut, ........ and I cut. 100g is frequently the amount supplied in a commercial skein of yarn. So it was an interesting coincidence to find that a sheet of Blue Wrap measuring 35" x 35" produced around the same 100g of yarn. It took 3 1/2 hours to make each ball of yarn, and I didn't feel secure about starting to knit until I had made nine of them.

Sustainable fashion – making yarn using recycled blue wrap (cutting blue wrap into yarn) Sustainable fashion – making yarn using recycled blue wrap (balls of blue wrap yarn)

I liked the knit fabric that was produced in my previous project, so I used the same needles. Just to verify that I would get the same gauge as I did last time, I worked a new sample. Once I had a new knit gauge sample and measurements from the dress form, I started to calculate and to knit. I have not written a pattern for the dress (and, as of now, I don't intend to) but here are the major design and shaping details:

  • The dress was knitted in one piece from the hem to the shoulder seams.
  • The dress has only one seam from the end of the zipper to the top of the slit at the center back.
  • There is a 4" slit at the back of the dress to help the tapered bottom of the dress to fit over the hips.
  • There is 0 ease -- the dress was knit to the measurements of the dress form.
  • I made a muslin mockup of the top right half of the dress to determine the neckline placement and it was at this point I changed my original idea of a sleeveless garment to one with a cap sleeve.
  • I took the knitting off of the needles and made fittings at three major junctions: the hips, the waist and the shoulders (just before grafting the shoulders together).
  • There is a 22" zipper hand sewn into the center back.

    Sustainable fashion – a knit sheath dress using surgical blue wrap (hip fitting) Sustainable fashion – a knit sheath dress using recycled blue wrap (waist fitting) Sustainable fashion – a knit sheath dress using recycled blue wrap (shoulder fitting)

    The knitting was fairly straightforward:

  • The entire dress is knitted in stockinette stitch. The yarn has tabs made by the fused ends of the Blue Wrap. Although I used these tabs as an embellishment on the purse, this time I chose to hide the tabs by pushing them through the fabric to the inside.
  • The shaping for the body of the dress was done in the side seams, with paired increases and decreases.
  • The front and back of the dress were grafted together at the shoulder seams.
  • The edge of the hem was finished with a row of single crochet. The neckline and sleeve edges were finished with a knit selvage edge.
  • The dress used up a little less than 400g of my Blue Wrap yarn supply, which was less than half of the amount that I had cut.

    People often ask me how much time an item took to make, and I rarely know the answer. The same was true of this Little Blue Wrap Dress. I am willing to design and redesign, to work and rework something until I am happy with the result, regardless of whether that takes 2, 20, 200 or 2000 hours.

    Sustainable fashion – a knit sheath dress using recycled blue wrap (front view) Sustainable fashion – a knit sheath dress using recycled blue wrap (side view) Sustainable fashion – a knit sheath dress using recycled blue wrap (back view)

    I love this Little Blue Wrap Dress. I may have to use the leftover yarn and knit one to my own measurements!