Saturday, November 24, 2012

Isabelle de Borchgrave - Paper Dresses!

Have you ever folded & refolded a piece of paper so many times it becomes soft & pliable?  Or played with a piece of paper when bored and folded it into tiny squares one direction and then another, over and over?  And noticed that it has suddenly changed from a stiff printer-worthy sheet to being almost textile-like?  Well, that's what Isabelle de Borchgrave does.  

Her process is quite lengthy, but it begins with crumpled pieces of paper, she then paints the paper & re-crumples.  Then she paints the back & re-crumples and then the front with another color & some more re-crumpling.  If that sounds easy, I'm sure it's not.  She also studies fashion & design & dresses in museums & then creates 3D clothing using pattern pieces--but no sewing.  I'm guessing glue?!  

I first heard about her on a trip to Istanbul 7-8 years ago.  Unfortunately we'd just missed an exhibition of her work there.  But we lucked out recently because the Hillwood House & Museum in DC (home of Marjorie Merriweather Post) had an exhibition of her work, and even commissioned de Borchgrave to create a few pieces based on paintings in the house.  

Hillwood House is not especially interesting to us otherwise, I do have to admit; probably why we've never been there.  She was a collector (and I totally get that!), and it's fun to see how much she had & how it's displayed.  But for a house re-modeled in the late 1950s (one of my favorite architectural/furnishings time periods) it's rather Victorian...LOTS of stuff.  Carpets, bookcases, furniture, tables, little tables, paintings, gewgaws and lamps and candlesticks on tables and shelves full of stuff.  Mostly Russian stuff--Faberge, dinnerware, snuff boxes, etc. etc. etc.  Her husband was the ambassador in Moscow after the Revolution--the Russians had no regard for anything to do with the Romanov family (or anything from their palaces) and she bought loads of stuff and shipped it back home.  Perhaps I'm not interested because I'm just jealous!  I'd love to have loads of money & free shipping, but send me to India, Bolivia or West Africa, please!  

However, the exhibit is called Prêt-à-Papier and is just wonderful.  Highly's there thru the end of December.  If you go to the artist's home page, you can book a tour of her new studio, useful if you'll be in Brussels anytime soon!

Here's a painting of Countess Samoilova, and the paper dress created based on the painting.  I was especially impressed with the looked very real unless you got too close.  In fact all the paper clothing looked so real that I began thinking that all the fabrics in the house (draperies, bedspreads) were paper, too!  And I had to keep reminding myself that the drapes draped beautifully because they were fabric--not paper!  

Notice to the left that she also creates paper shoes!  I'll show more of those later in another post.  (I took loads of pictures--I love museums where they let you take photos as long as you don't use flash).  


  1. A very interesting blog. Thanks.

  2. Hello, I just saw her exhibit here in Seattle. Her work is fascinating. I am very much interested to find out what exact paper she uses. They had samples here (at the exhibit) and called it pattern paper. However, so far it has been impossible to find this pattern paper. Do you have any thoughts on this or advice? Thank you.

  3. Amazing stuff, huh? I am not sure what type of paper she uses, but I know that many sewists have recommended Swedish Tracing paper (

    Here is an interview w/ her, and she mentions the paper she uses:

    Here's some "medical" paper I've also had recommended:

    Also, if you're in Belgium, you can tour her studio!

    If you give this a try, please let me know what happens! I'd love to see some photos.

    I also remember Butcher Paper on display at Hillwood House as an example of her starting material.


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