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A marriage: Of plastic and crochet

PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Eco-friendly message as couture

A Wairarapa artist has combined her passion for science, crochet skills, and a collection of shopping bags to create show-stopping haute couture, landing a finalist spot in one of the world’s most hotly anticipated fashion shows.

Masterton-based Allison MacKay and co-worker Gabrielle Edmonds [from Wellington] were among the 18 design teams from the Wellington region selected as finalists for the 2022 World of Wearable Art Awards Show [WOW], held at Wellington’s TSB Arena late last month.

MacKay and Edmonds dazzled the judging panel and the audience with their garment Plastic Marriage, a wedding gown made of hand-crocheted sea creatures – fashioned from plastic bags.

MacKay was one of two Wairarapa designers selected for this year’s WOW: With Featherston artist Taralee Freeman part of the design team awarded second place in the Elizabethan Era category for their piece “Gloriana”.

This year’s competition attracted close to 300 entrants, with 88 designs selected as finalists across six categories, representing more than 20 countries around the world.

For MacKay, who teaches science and agriculture St Matthew’s Collegiate, “Plastic Marriage” was a labour of love, inspired by the Government’s 2019 ban on single-use plastic shopping bags.

To create the garment, she cut the bags into strips and used the material to crochet pieces resembling fossilised sea life: Tiny starfish, phytoplankton, shellfish and diatoms [microalgae].

The hand-crafted fossils were a nod to fossil fuels, such as crude oil, which comprise decomposing plants and animals. Crude oils are distilled “under extreme heat and pressure” to make plastic products.

The wedding reference represents the permanence of both fossils and plastic, which can take hundreds of years to biodegrade.

MacKay hoped her piece would “send a bit of a message” and get people thinking twice before consuming products using single-use plastic.

“It’s a bit of a double entendre. The marriage vow is ‘to death us do part’, and once life is fossilised, it’s forever. Plastic is practically forever,” she said.

“It was all very well for the Government to ban plastic bags in supermarkets. But that doesn’t mean the bags are going to disappear, they’re still around, people have still got them and are using them as bin liners, and they’re still finding their way into the environment.

“There’s still a lot of plastic packaging around, we’ve got a long way to go.”

MacKay, a long-time knitter and crocheter and a keen painter, said she has “always been interested in art”, but was discouraged from pursuing it at secondary school.

She entered WOW for the first time in 2009 after working as an usher for the show, and was selected as a finalist the following year for her work “Cosy Tea”, a reference to Victorian high teas, incorporating old table cloths, doilies and crocheted cakes, sandwiches and tea cosies.

The following year, she joined forces with Edmonds [her teaching colleague at Sacred Heart College], and the team was a finalist for their look called “Sock Monster”, made up of “heaps of odd socks”.

“For the first two outfits, I used things that I had around the house,” MacKay said.

“My husband’s friend got him a book of tea cosy patterns as a joke, which ended up back-firing slightly, as I ended up just about filling the whole house with crocheted tea cosies!

“For my second outfit, I had a pile of old socks lying around that I wasn’t using, so I turned them into a dress.”

She and Edmonds were also finalists in 2014, with a pair of outfits called “Love and Kisses”, creating alien-esque costumes using lips and hearts made from velvet, wire and insulation material.

MacKay said the team spent “about three years” working on “Plastic Marriage”, which also incorporated “rolls of fabric” made from melted-down plastic bags, and was stitched together with more plastic strips.

“It was a lot of work, there were a lot of late nights in front of the TV, crocheting diatoms.”

Once their work was completed, it was a thrill for MacKay and Edmonds to see their model hit their stage.

“We’d spent a lot of time fitting it on the model’s body, but we’d never seen her walk in it,” MacKay said.

“It was a relief to see that the dress moved well on the stage. And it looked stunning under the lights.”

Though this is MacKay’s fourth time featured at WOW, the experience never gets old.

“The atmosphere is absolutely electric, and the show itself is always amazing, especially the way the element of performance is threaded throughout.

“And, as a designer, the WOW organisers always look after you really well. You feel like a celebrity!”

She and Edmonds are already working on a piece for next year’s show, made of velvet, denim and soft drink can tabs.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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