In Defense of Creative Play


In Defense of Creative Play

That time I got inspired by 100 yards of zipper tape.

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend who is also self employed in a creative field. He was feeling guilty that he was wasting time by spending his day toying around with an idea which was not going to pay the bills or develop a business plan. I pushed back against his guilt, defending the necessity of that kind of creative play. Who is he to say it won’t lead to a breakthrough or big idea that could enhance the kind of work he does. The truth of the matter is that I really wish I spent more time playing with ideas in design and sewing construction for the sake of asking, “What if I did this?”

It isn’t quite that straightforward of course. I am also guilty of buying into the notion that I always need to be productive. I must be creating value, doing paid work for clients, or if i’m not making money, I should be cleaning the house, putting away laundry, and planning what is going to happen for dinner. I can say with absolute certainty that I will never reach the end of my to do list, not as a self employed person with two children. So how do I carve out time to work on an idea just because it is interesting? When do I make the commitment to make things because it would be fun? How do I justify the value of that time when time seems like such a finite resource?


Years ago, I was looking at a San Diego Hat Company product. It was made from grosgrain ribbon sewn in a continuous spiral to create the crown and brim of a hat. This method, using straw, goes back centuries. I wondered how it could be adapted to shape and conform to the female form as clothing. I happened to have part of a 100 yard spool of black zipper tape left over from a project, so I decided to see what would happen if I used that. For weeks, this idea floated around in my head, as I thought about different ways to create shape and dimension by working in thin strips of zipper tape sewn together.

Making the zipper dress was an enormous amount of fun and challenge in equal measure. It was entirely draped on a dress form padded out to my size, pinned in place, then stitched. The edges are bound with cotton bias. The skirt is made from a single continuous spiral, and has to be unwound several rows in order to come on an off, which makes it not very practical to wear in a public restroom. The zipper dress feels like modern armor to wear, which feels incredibly powerful.

Avery Ribbon Dress

Several years later, when a client came to me asking for a dress made from grosgrain ribbon, I was able to give her an enthusiastic yes because I had a real sense of how to make that construction work. Here is an example where curiosity and play can lead to innovation that I can apply directly to my work. I wonder what I would be making now if I devoted more time to exploring ideas of design and constructon independent of client work.

For those of you in full time employment, is there any room for exploration in your job? Those of you who are self employed, how do you deal with tangential ideas? How has having children changed your relationship with this kind of creative exploration?