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8 q

Dahlia Drive designer Wendy Van Riesen salvages discarded slips and resurrects each piece with colour, imagery and embellishments. They are wearable pieces of art with an environmental conscience so stuffing them into a plastic shopping bag just doesn’t cut it.

Instead Wendy has come up with a unique packaging concept. She decorates recycled cloths and scarves to wrap up her slips and shirts. The newest design element called “furoshiki,” encourages shoppers to reuse the square cloth as a Japanese “how to” screen print shows 14 different ways to carry objects. Wendy favours the “watermelon” carry system as it is the easiest to do and results in a very stylish package.

If you purchase one of Wendy’s pieces at her next event your new garment will be wrapped safely in a Furoshiki bag.

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By Angela Murrills

Somewhere amid all the Christmas chaos, it occurred to me that the same national newspaper that recently lauded electric blue as the cool new colour had also included it in its list of picks and pans from the past year—and it wasn’t a pick. Maybe that was the tipping point in making me think, “Screw it, 2008 is the year I wear exactly what I like, and if it happens to be on trend, so be it.” Over the holidays, I happened upon a U.K. blog by someone who had resolved not to buy clothes all last year. No surprise that they said it did wonders for their creativity in assembling and accessorizing outfits. So throw those thoughts into the hopper and add the fact that this is the month when you finally hang up your party sparkle and realize that it’s crush hour in your closet.

Why we get rid of some duds and not others often comes down to boredom. But before you chuck stuff into the thrift-store bag indiscriminately or get out the scissors and needle (which we’ll talk about in a minute), try wearing your clothes differently. Fashion magazines are full of inspiration for putting colours together in new ways. As well, the short-over-long-sleeved look is still around, but try doing the same thing with skirts or dresses. You can also hike a long elastic-waisted skirt up to above your bra line, anchor the resulting “dress” with a belt, and sling a cardi over it. These are easy, noninterventionist fixes. After that, you’ll have to get out the needle and thread, or iron-on tape.

The repurposing trend is hot globally and locally as eco-minded designers create one-of-a-kind pieces from found clothing. But do-it-yourselfers, be warned. It’s not as easy as it appears to scissor your way through a stack of thrift-store sweaters and reconfigure them into a garment that doesn’t shriek homemade. Melissa Ferreira at Adhesif Clothing is someone who gets it right, skillfully mixing colour and print. You can find her work at several shops around town, including Tutta Mia (1302 Victoria Drive) and Hum Clothing (3623 Main Street).

If you want to create your own look, know that safety lies in staying within the same palette. For instance, if you plan to rip apart and rejig your old flower-print dress in rust, black, and beige, seek out those same colours in solids, or possibly stripes or checks.

Wardrobe ennui can happen when you simply go off a colour. Now that we’re deep into winter, who isn’t fed up with the grey pieces they bought on a bright autumn day? If it’s a pale hue, you can try dyeing—or overdyeing—it (facts and FAQs at Because I’m sloppy and impatient by nature, and I refuse to follow orders on principle, my projects usually end up speckled and blotchy. However, I have had luck using super-strength tea, which turns down the volume on overly bright or pure-white fabrics.

Someone who does have a handle on the art of the dye pot is Wendy van Riesen, whose Dahlia Drive label shows up on slinky lingerie rewritten as fashion-forward tops and dresses, and who often utilizes metal objects to create spectral images. Her Web site ( lists a number of dye sources and reveals how to create artistic rust stains or zap dull clothing with Kool-Aid.

The Velvet Room Boutique (2248 West 41st Avenue) and Starfire Gallery (6607 Royal Avenue, Horseshoe Bay) stock a selection from Dahlia Drive, but a trip to will steer you toward even more creativity. The photo and description of a Blondie T-shirt reconfigured into a sexy top via yellow jersey and black-and-white stretch leopard side panels immediately made me bookmark this lively forum. It goes way beyond pimping T-shirts, and provides nip-and-tuck suggestions for all kinds of tired clothing: an iPod holder made from Granny’s jacket; a Boy Scout shirt, multi-badged and large enough to camp out in, recut as a foxy fitted top. How about five identical white XXXL sweatshirts rewritten as one frilly dress? A Black Sabbath T-shirt, ribbon, and tulle merged and reincarnated by a goth who refused to compromise her style just because the event was formal? Believe it. I’ve already green-lighted my Shakespeare “Will Power” T-shirt for a second act, and a too-snug black leather skirt for inserts down the sides.

Obvious practicalities are taking garments or fabric samples along with you to Dressew Supply (337 West Hastings Street) or wherever to match braids, buttons, and ribbons, and getting your hands on a sewing machine if you can. That said, hand-stitching a few seams is something you can do during a single episode of CSI: Kitsilano and—let’s be honest here—you’re not creating couture that Stella McCartney is going to lose sleep over. This is simply fast, cheap fashion to cheer you through the slow, broke days of January.

8 q

Fashion magazine asked style setters across the country what their ultimate gift for a loved one would be.

John Fluevog, shoe designer, Vancouver (
“I would give my wife a shorefront summer home near Crescent Beach, full of furniture I designed and had made by Jabez custom furniture. Before driving out to the new home in her replica Intermedica vintage Porsche, we’d have dinner at Lift restaurant, where I’d give her a new pair of shoes I designed especially for her, along with lingerie from Christine Morton, jewellery from Pyrrha, and an outfit from Wendy van Riesen of Dahlia Drive. Then at Christmas, I would give her the real gift: the confirmation and reassurance that she and she alone is the queen of my heart and my soul’s only desire.”

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Wendy Van Riesen says the 35 years she spent acting were the perfect training ground for losing her judgment—and becoming a designer.

“Within judgment it’s hard to be creative or curious, but [those qualities are] essential to move forward,” says Van Riesen, whose dramatic background includes a stint with Second City at Expo 86, a Jessie Richardson Theatre Award for best actress, and most recently, an appearance on Da Vinci’s Inquest.

Van Riesen had always been interested in textile arts. But it took a trip to Alaska and the events of September 11, 2001 for her to turn a dream into reality.

Using natural objects such as blackberry leaves, saskatoon berries, and dahlias, she hand-dyes one-of-a-kind patterns onto vintage slips, half-slips, and men’s shirts. She’s even wrapped fabric around an old saw blade, saturated it with vinegar, and buried it in the garden to get a particular rust pattern.

“I’m dictated by weather and the seasons—what’s inspiring around me,” says Van Riesen.

Van Riesen loves using recycled materials. Her favourite pieces are those that are torn. “In our society, we want everything to be perfect but we can’t afford that anymore. Mass production locks us onto a train; [but] if there is an openness to use what is present, it will transform us.”

Van Riesen has worked with Loving Spoonful and Rose Charities, and is a member of Fashion High, a non-profit network promoting local shopping and sustainable design. Her pieces are available online and at select shops. Watch for her at the Circle Craft Christmas Market in November—and on a screen or stage near you.

—Joanne Will

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Wee Wendy

Applique, reverse applique: silk, cotton, dye, thread

This is a Mary Lou project from school. Scraps of fabric were dyed the same colour in 3 different intensities. This gave the entire piece a common palette. Then, using a photograph of myself as a child, I layered the fabric to create line, shape, depth and texture; at times cutting back layers to reveal another sculpted dimension. Memories of a wall in my childhood home and the weekly donning of a Sunday School dress were strongly elicited while I was making this portrait. It became imperative that the dress and wall were somehow 3 dimensional, bursting out of the 2 dimensional form.

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Mock Kente Skirt

Kente textiles unite history, everyday events, humour, death and sustainability in one cloth. The pattern of the woven cloth, where and when it is placed, tells the observer its context of meaning. Ties, like the cloth, tell particular stories about men: status through quality or label, class through design or style, mood through colour or pattern. Sewn together and then re-cut, I have created a garment of many recycled stories, re- recycled by me to create something new about the present and therefore the future, founded in the past.

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Tapestry: linen warp, hand dyed and spun wool

Since I was 11, I have spent my summers at Ma-me-o Beach, Alberta. One summer a field near the lake was filled with sunflowers. Sandy took a photo of me and the boys in the field. Years later, in an art class, I began a pencil drawing of the photograph on a grid system. I didn’t get very far. However, 4 portions of that grid became the inspiration for this tapestry, grid intact.