Whitehorse artist's milk jug dress aims to inspire people to find art in recycling

Leslie Leong is hoping to inspire people to find art in their recycling. At this week’s 'Artist in the Window' at the Yukon Artists @ Work gallery in Whitehorse, Leong’s creating a dress out of milk jugs.

Leslie Leong is this week’s 'artist in the window' at the Yukon Artists @ Work gallery

Leslie Leong is set to work on her second edition milk jug dress in the Yukon Artists @ Work gallery window in Whitehorse until Friday afternoon. (Submitted by Nicole Bauberger)

Leslie Leong says it's not a practical dress, "but it is wearable."

At this week's "Artist in the Window" at the Yukon Artists @ Work gallery in Whitehorse, Leong's creating a dress out of milk jugs.

"I like to use recycled materials because I feel like we have plenty of good materials already in the world," she explained. "We don't need new stuff — we should use what we've got."

Leong said she first got the idea to make a milk jug gown when she was invited to do an artist in residence presentation at the Sewing Through a Landscape gala in Haines Junction. 

Leong expects her second milk jug dress to take about a week to put together. (Submitted by Nicole Bauberger)

Model Lyn Fabio went on to wear the gown in a fashion show, and it was also featured in a performance by Teslin actor and playwright Melaina Sheldon where it was worn with a raven mask.

However, over the wintertime, Leong lost the dress while driving home from an art fair.

"I loaded up the truck and it blew away," she said. "I tried to find it; I spent hours looking everywhere."

Leong put the word out, hoping someone would return it — or, she joked, best case scenario she'd find someone "walking around town in it." But it never showed up.

Now, months later, Leong said it was time to take a stab at "version two."

Crafting the perfect gown

To build the milk jug dress, Leong said she starts by using a mannequin as a rough guide.

From there, she cuts the milk jugs into flat panels and attaches them all together, with each piece having at least four pop rivets in it to attach to the other pieces.

At that point, she said sewing patterns are quite useful. Because the panels are see-through, the patterns are often easy to follow, she explained.

"It's beautiful material — and it bends too," Leong said, noting it's similar to gift wrapping ribbon.

Environmental concerns have influenced Leong's artmaking for the last 15 years. She made her first necklace from upcycled computer parts in 2005. (Submitted by Nicole Bauberger)

New inspiration during pandemic

Leong said the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on her as an artist. 

Right before the pandemic hit, she had just opened an art exhibit, only to have it closed shortly after. 

Now that things are slowly reopening, Leong admitted — like many others during this time — finding motivation can be challenging. 

However, being able to showcase her talents in this new way brings her comfort.

"It is good to have this," Leong said. "It's really nice to have something to be inspired by."

Leong will be working on her milk jug dress in the gallery window of Yukon Artists @ Work on Fourth Avenue from Wednesday to Friday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Leong is working on the milk jug dress alongside an installation of other works made of recycled materials. This 'electric powered plant' uses pop bottles, egg cartons and milk jugs. (Submitted by Nicole Bauberger)

Written by Jessie Anton, with files from Paul Tukker


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?