Today at William Busta Gallery, my daughter Grace, age 9-point-seven, will debut a bit of haute couture, a striking blue dress knit from those blue plastic grocery bags.
You’re well familiar with these bags. They’re the ones that get caught in trees and stay there, sometimes for years, whipping the sky like flags for the state of Gross Consumerism and Litter.
Pardon my vehemence. But these bags are a pox on the landscape. In Ireland, the government has even taken an effective action against them, with a $0.15 tax on each bag–an attempt to deal with their far-reaching environmental impact.
But getting back to the dress: This vivid blue bit of style is actually modeled after the one worn by Big Sister Kitty, the superhero Grace invented. Big Sister Kitty’s story is partly told in the first little children’s book I printed, Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty Liberate the Tree and the Sun and the Moon and the Entire Landscape.
The plot: Someone litters one of those blue plastic bags. It gets stuck, high in a tree. Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty see it, express their disgust, and figure out a way to A) get it down; and B) throw it away. Then the landscape is improved, just a little bit, at least for now.
In that story, Big Sister Kitty wears a blue dress that looks very much like the blue plastic bag itself. There’s a forthcoming book that tells how Big Sister Kitty got the blue dress she wore. But as you can tell by the word “forthcoming,” that story has not yet been told.
What must be told now, however, is how Grace got her Big Sister Kitty dress. The simple answer is that her Grandmother made it. Grace has two grandmothers–one known here as Grammy-Who-Sews, the other as Grammy-Who-Knits. This particular dress was made by Grammy-Who-Knits–who, outside this house, and among adults, is known as Betsy Shaffer.
Betsy gathered blue plastic bags from other knitters, friends, and family for months. She didn’t simply cut them like fabric to fit a dress pattern—oh no, nothing so easy and un-stylish as that. And neither did she knit the bags whole with big fat needles, which would have produced a much clunkier, chunkier thing.
Instead she cut the bags into strips about one-inch wide, tied those strips into skeins of vivid blue ribbon, and knit it in stitches like you’d expect to find in any decent sweater.
It is easily the most extravagant and labor intensive bit of recycling I have ever seen. The dress has a great shape. It’s skirt whirls out when Grace twirls in the kitchen—which she tends to do now and then. Besides wearing it for the release of my woodblock and letterpress book Common Household Rhymes for the Modern Child tonight at William Busta Gallery, she gave her classmates at Horace Mann Elementary School a preview by wearing it to school today.
Indeed, I’m certain this is a dress with a future. Grace is already planning to wear it on her birthday, which is Earth Day (which, coincidentally or not, is also the day I launched this blog). The truth is, she could wear it any day of the week, for just about any occasion calling for cheerful, stylish clothes. Washes easily. Drips dry. I mean, really.
So if you come by this evening, be sure to engage Grace in conversation, and take a good look at her dress. She can tell you all about it. She can show you the story of Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty. She can even introduce you to her Grandmother, Betsy Shaffer, who might just reveal unto you untold mysteries of the human condition. She has that in her. I mean, really.