Roxolana Krywonos could sense that her graduation from the University of Texas might not happen the way it was originally planned when Austin started canceling large events in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. She did not order her cap and gown as some of her friends did.
Instead, the fine arts graduate found something else she could wear for her big day last Saturday. She decided to create an entire graduation gown from rolls of toilet paper.
"It’s the symbol of coronavirus right now," Krywonos says. "There’s not going to be a more perfect material."
And, yes, it started out as a joke, but then she thought, "Why can't I do this?"
Krywonos figured it would take a bit more than two rolls to complete the project. There’s a surprising amount of paper in each roll, she learned, but she was cognizant of not being wasteful.
When she first started, she was working with two-ply Charmin, but when she ran out, she switched to one-ply Hill Country Fare.
What Krywonos wondered (and also what friends asked): How do you make a gown out of toilet paper without the garment tearing? After all, toilet paper is designed to tear easily at its perforated lines, but it’s also meant to be strong enough to do its duty without crumbling.
Krywonos made test swatches to see if she could create fabric out of toilet paper. She tried overlapping the material and doing lines of stitching. Finally, she figured out that she could take two sheets of toilet paper folded over and then stitch that onto another two sheets of folded toilet paper, and then connect them using a vertical line of stitches.
She made set after set after set of toilet paper squares and stitched them all together until she had the fabric for the gown. Then, Krywonos created a pattern by taking measurements of a gown that a friend had purchased.
Then she hit a snag. She had to actually finish her coursework first. This semester, Krywonos was taking an online government course as well as painting and sculpting classes, which were more challenging to transition into online learning. Instructors had to be very understanding. Not everyone had access to paints or sculpting materials when they left campus.
Krywonos has stayed at her Austin apartment during the pandemic, where she does have paints. For her sculpting class, she had to create a collection of objects based on the wunderkammer (the German "cabinets of curiosities"). She used washcloths, fabric and cardboard.
"My classmates got real creative," she says.
On Saturday, Krywonos went home to Houston to watch her livestreamed graduation ceremony from her family’s home with her brother and her mom. Her father is currently working in Milan, where he’s been throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Krywonos doesn’t know what life post-graduation will hold for her, but she likens it to the way she likes to travel: She doesn’t overschedule everything so she can keep the possibilities open. She wants to paint in collaboration with other people. "I used to have a grand idea of being this crazy painter who eats their wine and cheese in museums," she says.
Sewing has been a hobby of Krywonos’ since her mom first taught her how to sew. In high school, she made a homecoming dress, and she regularly makes costumes for her dad. This year she’s been making a lot of masks before the idea to make her graduation gown came to her.
The gown was not just for her, she says, but for her fellow graduates: "I want it to be something that brings them a smile, too."