Avery MacGuinness creates unique dresses from books

Avery MacGuinness. Photo by Angie Gray

While studying fashion at school, 15-year-old Avery MacGuinness sewed an elegant and durable dress from the pages of a classic novel.

How to make fantasy a reality? For Avery MacGuinness, just try again and again until you succeed. Combining fantasy, imagination and skill, MacGuinness fashioned two long dresses from book pages. Inspired by the slender silhouettes and grandeur of the novel vanity lounge and executed with tenacity and skill, his tireless efforts paid off.

A sophomore at Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, MacGuinness majored in technical theater and worked as an assistant costume designer in the school’s costume department, sewing and helping with other tasks. “[Cab Calloway] focuses a lot on academics, but there’s a lot of arts incorporated into these things,” she says, “especially with tech theater, because you learn from the experience. It’s really fun.”

However, MacGuiness’ artistic pursuits began long before high school. When she was about 4 years old, she lived briefly with her grandparents. “Virtually everyone on my dad’s side can draw. everybody has always made art,” she says. His father and grandfather taught him to draw. Around 5 or 6 years old, she became interested in fashion. It started with fashion sketches, then duct tape dresses for her dolls. In fourth grade, her school offered a fashion class. “It had a very big influence on me,” she says. “I started sewing and trying to do 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, finds her footing in costume and fashion design.

When MacGuinness saw a picture on Pinterest of a miniature dress fashioned from book pages, she was inspired. “I was home due to COVID in January, so I decided to make one myself,” she says. “It was kind of an accident,” she adds with a laugh.

She created the first dress from linen sheets and pages of vanity lounge, the famous 19th century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. The story emerged in monthly installments from 1847 to 1848 and was published in book form thereafter. Once she started the process, she decided, “I might as well do the silhouette that would have been there when vanity lounge was written.” This period saw full skirts, sumptuous fabrics and elaborate head coverings. “I did a book cap and everything too,” she says.

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

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

She didn’t stop there, but instead decided to create another, even more extravagant “book dress”. This time his process was simpler. Instead of using linen sheets as a base, MacGuinness used a strappy dress from the 1950s. “It was made of crinoline. … There was a liner in it, so it was good to give it a fuller effect. I also bought a hoop skirt to make it more voluptuous,” she says. She also planned the construction of the bodice with designs and patterns. “I measured and checked that everything was fine, and [that] it was the right silhouette.… I also had to add a lot more detail,” she explains. The pages came from a collection of free books from her high school because, MacGuinness says, she wanted the dress to be made from recycled materials. She also chose the ones with the most faded and yellowed pages for a gradient. “I wanted there to be a kind of fade into more yellow pages at the bottom,” she explains.

Throughout the process, MacGuinness honed his skills through trial and error. “I went through a bunch of different methods,” she says. She first tried to sew the pages by hand, but her punch holes tore and the pages slipped. “Then I tried Elmer’s glue, which wasn’t great at all,” she laughs. 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 performed in musicals and learned to play the guitar. At 15, she already knows she wants to pursue a career in styling. “I want to work in a magazine or something like that. And if that doesn’t work…a traveling tattoo artist. Or something like that.”

Related: Wilmington designer Dallas Shaw talks about his personal style and comfort


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