Trash to treasure

Cedar Rapids native turns discarded fabric into wearable, works of art

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The phrase “Being in the right place at the right time” is said a lot, but no one exemplifies it better than Melissa Lockwood.

It was a chance meeting at a public park in Iowa City that led to Lockwood enrolling at the University of Iowa, where she graduated in 1996 with a master of fine arts degree in interdisciplinary arts.

“I was moving to Iowa City for work and had pulled over at a park, where I happened to meet the head of the university’s intermedia program,” she says.

It was a trip to New York City that inspired the Cedar Rapids native to move to the city in 1997.

“I moved there for the music,” she says.

And it was a combination of boredom and exhaustion that made her pick up an IQ test booklet in a friend’s living room while working on an installation project in Belgium.

“I did OK,” she says of the test’s results.

But the logic puzzle drawings in the booklet inspired her to copy them onto a dress she made.

“It was made of this faux leather fabric and I just added the designs to it with a black Sharpie,” Lockwood says.

A friend took an interest in the dress and encouraged Lockwood, who regarded fashion as a hobby, to make it her focus.

Lockwood took that advice, launching her own IQTEST fashion label, and sharing her designs at several shows in New York City, including Williamsburg Fashion Weekend.

An exhibit of Lockwood’s work opens today at CSPS, 1103 Third St. SE. The exhibit will run through April 28.

“We try to bring people from Cedar Rapids back to Cedar Rapids, to show what they’ve done in the meantime,” says Mel Andringa, producing director for CSPS. “We have followed her work for a couple years and this area in which she’s working now fits with the annual Eco-Fest and Earth Day events.”

What sets Lockwood apart from other designers are the materials she uses to make her designs: Fabric salvaged from New York City’s fashion district.

“The fabric is what the mass producing designers throw away,” Lockwood says. “When you see all this fabric in Dumpsters and you know it’s going to a landfill — the statistics are shocking.”

She says 28 million tons of fabric winds up in landfills each year.

“Even if this fabric was taken to get recycled, you have to factor in what resources would be used to transport the fabric to be washed in order for it to become recyclable,” she says.

Reusing the fabric to create one-of-a-kind designs, however, has minimal environmental effect.

“I just think there’s so much waste in the world already,” Lockwood says. “Why not take what other people throw away and use it to create wearable items?”


Melissa Lockwood will hold a workshop at 7 p.m. Wednesday (4/17) at CSPS. Cost is $15. Preregister by calling CSPS at (319) 364-1580 or emailing

“The workshop is about recycling garments," she says. " The reuse of discarded garments, how to make them into something fun to wear. An example is changing a T-shirt into a skirt. Or a sweater into a hat ...

“I like the idea of having a clothing swap,” she says. “Everyone could bring garments they don’t want anymore (something they would usually donate to a charity). All the garments get tossed into a pile and then people have fun digging through and taking whatever they want. Stuff that is left over can be donated to a charity.

An April 19 fashion show will be at 8 p.m. at CSPS and will feature Lockwood and her fashions as well as the clothing created by participants in the Wednesday workshop.

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