Sunday, August 3, 2014

Depression Suit, making of (UPDATED - 8/14/14)

This was definitely my most work intensive outfit (naturally, as my first) and I’m so close to being done it hurts!

As with any good project, I started this suit by researching. I wanted to find books that would be good personal accounts of depression, so I could get a good idea of what it was like to have the disorder and how it affected a person’s daily experiences. I didn’t want clinical accounts as I’ve heard them in neuroscience textbooks and lectures and as I’m trying to read a wider audience than the scientific community with my outfit.
My research began with the UCLA library resource department (so sorely underused at universities everywhere). I got super lucky because the person who helped me find my resources also became my model. Lise has had depression, so when I ran the ideas of the outfit by her, she had some interesting suggestions. 

Lise, my fantastic headless model. 

She also pointed me to several good books and counseling transcripts on depression.

Through talking with Lise, reading the transcripts and books on depression, and other conversations with friends of mine who’ve had depression I decided to choose three traits to focus on in the outfit. For each trait I had a corresponding design element. I wanted to depict the low energy and tiredness experienced by those with depression through weights sewn into the jacket and pants, numbness through cold packs on the wrists and ankles, and the isolated and lost feeling through a facial mask that would somewhat resemble a dog cone of shame.

Once I had the overall idea to guide my outfit design, I was ready to start. I bought several pattern making books and worked out the designs for a jacket and pants for Lise. 

Measure twice, cut once.

I'm like, 90% of the way to Project Runway.

Arms, so much easier said than done.

Forever refitting the shoulder.

Finally made some darts that look good.

Hurray, darts (and fitted pants)!

This took three long, arduous several reworkings but eventually I got the patterns properly fitted and was able to start on making the actual jacket. I used canvas since I wanted the overall look to be reminiscent of a straitjacket.

Then it was mostly just cut, sew and cross my fingers that it would fit.

My 3 step routine - iron....


Pin some more.

Iron some more.



Be impressed at how I can sew things.

I added a whole zipper! 

Iron forever.

Cut some more.

Pin more.

I really hate ironing.

Before and...



Do it again because ironing is a relentless, merciless, ravenous beast that can never be satisfied.


I could weep. The ironing is finally over!

(As you can see, 90% of sewing is pain and ironing. And getting stabbed over and over with pins.)

Right now the jacket is almost finished, but I need to wait for Lise to get back from vacation before I can make the final touches of adding straps to the back of the jacket, fitting weights on the jacket, ice packs in the cuffs and the dog cone of shame on her head. After that I’ll be done and I can test the outfit out on others. Woohoo final stretch!

I have finished my first outfit!
The weights have been added, cold packs fitted in the wrists, back straps and belt loops have been sewn on, and two masks have been made.

 The full outfit!

  Here it is on Cathy, another volunteer

 The face mask, closer up. I've since cut holes in the front for breathing.

Details of the pockets where weights will be placed in the jacket (2.5 lbs on each side, and 5 lbs at the bottom of the pants).

 Straps getting sewn on.

Details of belt loops.

I'll be bringing this suit around with me in the next few weeks to test on volunteers, although I've already gotten really good feedback from Lise and Cathy when they tried it on yesterday. As they walked around, their friends stared, either shocked, amused or a little scared to try on the suit themselves. Many commented on how it looked like a prisoner suit, and many more asked what it was for. I also asked Lise if this suit came close to capturing some aspects of depression. She said that when wearing the suit people can look at you and make a judgement, that you are creepy, scary, or weird, and they might want to stay away. The mask in particular made the wearer feel anxious, hot and claustrophobic. Due to the weights it was hard for Lise and Cathy to walk very well - as Cathy said "you're not going anywhere fast." In addition, Cathy said that she felt confined and imprisoned in the suit, particularly since it was so big on her.

In terms of the project, all of these comments and reactions were a success. What I wanted to capture in the outfit did not precisely match my initial goals, but I think it is still a good representation of what many people find themselves struggling with. The weighing down, the discomfort, the imprisonment, the feeling that you are ostracized from others, all these are factors in why depression is such a debilitating disorder. Even this week, the death of Robin Williams shows how depression can affect someone so deeply, but still be almost undetectable on the surface. This might be a bit silly, but I'd like to dedicate this suit to Robin Williams, and those like him suffering from depression. I don't know if something like this will make it easier to get help, but it definitely is a good way of provoking a discussion, as I saw yesterday when so many wanted to know why Lise and Cathy were walking around in a strange straightjacket. I believe that people do care about each other and will do what they can to help each other - I think that often times what's missing is our ability to spot trouble without asking the right questions. I hope this suit helps people ask the right questions. 

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