Wonder what to do with those plastic bags? How about whipping up an award-winning dress?
Chevelle Sleaford, a junior at Shepherd High School, turned plastic shopping bags from Target into a stylish summer frock, complete with matching clutch, as her entry in a state competition of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America organization.
Sleaford’s Target dress and presentation captured first place in the “design and recycle” category, where the 17-year-old competed with about 20 other entrants during the group’s March convention in Billings.
“I was totally not expecting to win,” said Sleaford, who is planning to study graphic design and theater in college. “I think it’s quite an honor.”
The first-place finish means Sleaford and her dress will compete at the FCCLA national conference from July 10-14 in Anaheim, Calif. FCCLA, formerly called Future Homemakers of America, is a nonprofit organization for young men and women in family and consumer science education. Sleaford joined FCCLA’s Shepherd school chapter this year.
Sleaford’s adviser, teacher Shaye Skovgaard, who will accompany Sleaford to the national convention, said they hope to raise about $700 to help pay for the trip.
Sleaford got the idea for a shopping bag dress because she wanted to do something in fashion while encouraging recycling.
A display board that Sleaford made detailing her project notes that 380 billion plastic shopping bags, or about 1,200 bags per citizen, get used every year in the United States. Only 1 percent or 2 percent get recycled.
Sleaford learned to sew last summer when she and her great grandmother made a quilt. While Walmart shopping bags are her favorite color (blue), Sleaford opted for Target’s bags because the store’s red bull’s-eye logo made a better design element, she said.
Sleaford spent a grand total of $8.14 on materials, including a pattern, thread, zipper and wax paper, and 32 hours making the dress. Turning plastic bags into “fabric” took the most time, about 15 hours.
“Making the dress wasn’t hard,” she said. “Making the fabric was hard.”
Sleaford realized that the plastic bags were too flimsy to simply sew together. So she melted the bags into fabric swatches by making a wax paper “sandwich” and ironing it.
Using the swatches, Sleaford filled out the pattern pieces, carefully aligning the bull’s-eyes. She then sewed the pieces together, shaped the dress with darts and stitched in a side zipper. Sleaford accented the waist with a bright red sash trimmed with black beadings and a bow — all recycled or found items. The sash is duct tape.
“Almost everybody has a broken necklace,” she said of the beads. “And this is last year’s Christmas bow.”
Backing the bow are old book pages that Sleaford cut up and layered.
Embedded in the Target fabric is the store’s own recycling message: “5 Ways to Reuse Your Target Bag” and list of ideas.
By luck, a mannequin borrowed from Sleaford’s aunt was red, too, and the right size. The finished dress is tougher than it appears and has a natural pouf to the skirt. Sleaford said the skirt alone required about 40 bags; the overall dress used more than 75.
Sleaford hasn’t worn the dress yet. She already had a prom dress.
“I have no doubt in my mind I’ll probably wear it once or twice,” she said. “I had fun doing it.”
Contact Clair Johnson at email@example.com or 657-1282.