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Avery MacGuinness Crafts One-of-a-Kind Dresses From Books

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Avery MacGuinness. Photo by Angie Gray

While studying fashion in school, 15-year-old Avery MacGuinness stitched a stylish and sustainable frock from the pages of a classic novel.

How do you make fantasy become reality? For Avery MacGuinness, it’s just a matter of trying again and again until you get it right. Combining whimsy, imagination and skill, MacGuinness has fashioned two full-length dresses out of book pages. Inspired by the sweeping silhouettes and grandiosity of the novel Vanity Fair and executed with tenacity and flair, her tireless efforts have paid off.

A sophomore at Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, MacGuinness majors in technical theater and works as an assistant to the head costumer at the school’s costume department, sewing and helping with other tasks. “[Cab Calloway] is focused on academics a lot, but there’s a lot of arts incorporated in those things,” she says, “especially with tech theater, because you learn from experience. It’s really fun.”

MacGuiness’ artistic pursuits began long before high school, however. When she was around 4 years old, she lived with her grandparents briefly. “Pretty much everyone on my dad’s side of the family can draw; everyone has always been doing art,” she says. Both her father and grandfather taught her how to draw. When she was around 5 or 6, she took an interest in fashion. It started with fashion sketches, then duct-tape dresses for her dolls. In fourth grade, her school offered a fashion class. “That was a really big influence on me,” she says. “I started actually sewing and trying to make things for myself and for others.”

Born into a creative family and with an affinity for the arts, Avery MacGuiness, a sophomore at Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, is finding her niche in costume and fashion design.

When MacGuinness glimpsed a photo on Pinterest of a miniature dress fashioned from book pages, she was inspired. “I was at home due to COVID in January, so I decided to make one of my own,” she says. “It was sort of an accident,” she adds, laughing.

She created the first dress from linen bedsheets and pages from Vanity Fair, the famous 19th-century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. The story emerged in monthly installments from 1847 to 1848 and was released in book form afterward. Once she started the process, she resolved, “I might as well make it into the silhouette that would’ve been around when Vanity Fair was written.” That time period saw full skirts, sumptuous fabrics and elaborate headwear. “I made a book bonnet and everything too,” she says.

The dress became Cinderella’s costume in Cab Calloway’s production of Into the Woods. It took MacGuinness three days (and three long nights, she points out) of painstaking sewing and gluing.

“The dress became Cinderella’s costume in Cab Calloway’s production of Into the Woods. It took MacGuinness three days (and three long nights, she points out) of painstaking sewing and gluing.”

She didn’t stop there but instead decided to make another, even more extravagant, “book dress.” This time, her process was more streamlined. Instead of using linen bedsheets as the base, MacGuinness used a 1950s slip dress. “It was made out of crinoline. …There was a lining in it, so that was good for giving it a fuller effect. I also got a hoop skirt so it would be more voluptuous,” she says. She also planned out the construction of the bodice with drawings and patterns. “I measured and made sure everything fit right, and [that] it was the right silhouette.…I also got to add a lot more detail to it,” she explains. The pages came from a collection of free books at her high school because, MacGuinness says, she wanted the dress to be made from recycled materials. She also picked those with the most discolored and yellowed pages for a gradient. “I wanted there to kind of be a fade into more yellow pages at the bottom,” she explains.

Throughout the process, MacGuinness perfected her skill through trial and error. “I went through a bunch of different methods,” she says. She initially tried to hand-sew the pages, but her puncture holes ripped and the pages would slip off. “Then I tried Elmer’s glue, which was not great—at all,” she chuckles. Fabric glue was no better. Finally, MacGuinness found success with a gun and about 200 tubes of hot glue.

MacGuiness’ artistic interests include painting, ceramics, knitting and crocheting. She also performs in musicals and is learning to play the guitar. At 15, she already knows she wants a career in fashion design. “I want to work in a magazine or something. And if that doesn’t work out…a traveling tattoo artist. Or something along those lines.”

Related: Wilmington Designer Dallas Shaw Discusses Personal Style & Comfort

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