TP couture: How a Halifax designer created a gown from toilet paper

As if creating a couture gown isn’t complex enough, try fashioning one from toilet paper.

That’s exactly what Halifax-based designer Veronica MacIsaac recently undertook as part of a cancer society fundraiser by Cashmere Bathroom Tissue.

The result is a Scottish-inspired outfit featuring strips of tissue woven to mimic tartan and complete with Celtic knots on its headpiece, arm band and thigh garter.

MacIsaac, whose work is influenced by Celtic culture and usually features colourful tartan, said the project was a massive undertaking that took more than 100 hours to complete.

“I knew that making anything out of bathroom tissue was going to be a challenge, but it was so much more of a challenge than I even anticipated,” said MacIsaac, noting the material’s vulnerability to tears and susceptibility to moisture.

“To try and take tartan, which is so bright and colourful and recognizable, and to take plain white bathroom tissue and try and have the culture come across — that was just such a great challenge for me.”

To create the gown, MacIsaac worked with two-metre-wide sheets of bathroom tissue. (Submitted by Veronica MacIsaac)

Her design was inspired by the idea of a woman being the chief of a clan, a position historically held by men. The chief wears three feathers in their cap.

“This is actually an idea that I had for a regular photo shoot to have this powerful kind of woman warrior filled with grace and presence,” said MacIsaac, adding that she hopes to create a tartan fabric version of the gown one day to show off both pieces side-by-side.

Veronica MacIsaac is a Halifax-based designer whose work is influenced by Celtic culture. (Submitted by Brent McCombs)

She created a sgian dubh — a single-edged knife worn as part of traditional Scottish Highland dress — using a papier mâché-like concoction of bathroom tissue, drywall compound, flour and white glue. The mixture becomes like wet clay that can be molded into any shape, and sanded down smooth once dry.

The outfit’s sporran, a pouch-like component of the Scottish kilt, was constructed using the same method.

MacIsaac said that process in particular meant hours of trial and error.

“I created all these things and left them to dry, and when I came back two days later, they had all curled up on themselves and were completely useless,” she said with a laugh. 

“Getting the right consistency was a bit tough. But it worked really well, and it was kind of fun.”

Fortunately, she wasn’t dealing with the typical rolls of toilet paper you would find in the grocery store: Cashmere sent her two-metre-wide sheets, enough that she could have “covered every square inch of my apartment.”

MacIsaac used a hand mixer to blend her concoction of bathroom tissue, drywall compound, flour and white glue in order to create the papier mâché elements of the outfit. (Submitted by Veronica MacIsaac)

In order to sew the temperamental material, she had to lay it on top of parchment paper that she later removed.

But the gown isn’t made entirely of toilet paper. There is some fabric lining the inside to ensure the structural integrity of the piece, given it was destined to be worn by a model on a runway as part of a fashion show in Toronto.

MacIsaac said although the process was frustrating at times, it was an interesting and enjoyable experience.

“I kind of love the idea of taking something that would never normally be made into a wearable art,” she said. 

“So if another company wants to ask me to make something out of rubber gloves, I’ll do it, I’ll figure it out. It might even be easier.”

Elements of the gown, including Celtic knots and three feathers for the headpiece, are shown before they are assembled. (Submitted by Veronica MacIsaac)

The gown is part of the Cashmere Bathroom Tissue contest and fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society and The Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation.

MacIsaac is one of 16 designers from across Canada who created couture pieces from bathroom tissue. People are being asked to vote on their favourite, and the company is donating $1 to each of the charities for every vote cast.

MacIsaac was one of 16 designers from across Canada who made couture gowns from bathroom tissue. (Submitted by Veronica MacIsaac)

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