Thinking Outside the Bolt


A few years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to take a workshop with Cat (Catherine) Chow, a contemporary artist who uses unexpected materials to create amazing art-to-wear pieces. Imagine an evening gown made out 1,000 interwoven one-dollar bills, a coat made from plastic I.D. bracelets, and garments made from flat washers, dress snaps, or even twist ties. Each piece she creates is amazingly and painstakingly constructed. Working with such unusual materials really makes you think about garment construction and shaping in a new way.

In the hands-on workshop with Cat, she gave each participant one deck of playing cards and a box of brass fasteners from an office supply store. She challenged us to make a wearable piece using only those two materials. No tape. No scissors. No needle and thread. We had 3 hours.

I have never had 3 hours fly by so quickly. It’s not easy to come up with something creative using these unusual materials! You start out having absolutely no idea what to do. Cat came around to each person and asked thought provoking questions. What if you played with folding the cards or tearing them? What about molding them into curved shapes? How can you use the pattern on the playing cards in an interesting way?

At the end of the three hours our group modeled our creations for Cat. I was amazed at how different each person’s piece turned out. One woman made a purse with a handle. Another made a vest. There was a hat, corset, and a belt. I made a crazy neckpiece/choker. It was a fascinating challenge to design a wearable item in this way, using innovatively using materials, and being forced to use creative problem solving to come up with something interesting. It was immensely liberating and really fun.

So the next time you need some inspiration for a sewing project, try “thinking outside the bolt”. Play around with some non-fabric materials to get your creative juices flowing. It will take your mind to some really interesting places and just might be the catalyst for making something amazing.

If you need some visual inspiration to get you started, check out these fantastic images by photographer Ted Sabarese (from one of my favorite sites TrendLand), featuring clothing made from office supplies. Have you ever seen Post-it notes, computer wires, erasers, and folders look so good?

I’m getting some ideas already….

Happy sewing,




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