Iris Van Herpen is a Dutch fashion designer that manages to balance technology, femininity and nature in her amazing works. I caught her show, “Transforming Fashion,” last December when it appeared at the Cincinnati Museum of Art. I was left breathless from her incredible, uncaged talent. The show included some earlier pieces that she made with her own two hands, newer 3D printed pieces titled after natures elements, and a hands on section where you could touch and learn about pieces in the show. She has designed for Beyonce, Bjork, Scarlet Johansson and the New York City Ballet. She has a few books and has won many awards. And to top it off she also makes shoes!

I see her work as being both bold and complex. Van Herpen uses futuristic design elements that remain accessible enough to apply my own interpretations. Her pieces are more art than garment and because of this I was inspired to do something totally different, maybe use a set of skills I don’t often tap into or even perhaps a different craft altogether. I wanted to think outside of the “box,” to reach somewhere beyond my everyday focus and create. Iris pushed me in a new direction and that is power.

I wanted to take that direction and my feelings about the show and move like Iris Van Herpen, creating something new and unique. I could have made a garment inspired by her work, a version of a dress combining her design character with my layout ideas, but this all felt a bit underwhelming to me. There are already tons of blog posts on her work all over the internet. I was not really sure how to convey my thoughts into a story and so I have been sitting on this experience for over a year now. Then I saw Amy Kollar Anderson’s piece titled Chemical Crows. Chemical Crows is a painting inspired by Iris Van Herpen. Amy’s art gave me insight and a new level of thinking about the entire project. I could make anything in the entire world that I wanted. I was truly free without the limits that define my everyday work.


My photos do not do her work justice, sorry. I highly recommend seeing this show and getting inspired.


So, while I was browsing my Etsy shop I noticed a 1940s doll pattern that sorta-kinda resembled Iris Van Herpen’s profile. I thought, why not a doll? Why not a big doll and why not a doll that looks like Iris Van Herpen? When I was a child I was absolutely crazy about dolls. Getting a new doll as a gift, quickly removing the packaging and then hurriedly untying each of the twist ties, was sheer excitement for me. To this day when I smell fresh vinyl it still brings back wonderful memories. Like Van Herpen’s work, I wanted the doll to be handmade and have some aspects of nature and technology. I ended up using all recycled materials and nothing was purchased new for this project. I drew upon my community and the kindness of people’s gifts for my materials. I wasn’t really sure about tying technology to the doll. I am not familiar with 3D printing. I suddenly remembered another resource. I had previously written Proto Build Bar with a collaboration proposal and they definitely know 3D printing. Boom! What girl wouldn’t want her own 3D printed accessory line and shoes? Van Herpen designs foot wear so a pair of 3D printed shoes really grounds this project. 

Proto Buildbar

Proto is a super awesome maker space with 3D printers, soldering guns, classes and events like record night, game night and were you can have your own private party. All ages and skill levels are welcome, kid friendly. There is also a cafe inside with muffins, cookies, beer, soda, coffee and such. The best part is that Proto is located in Dayton, Ohio.

Proto BuildBar

Tracy has lead several really popular classes at Proto, where she combined the technology accessible at Proto with her sewing skills and desire to mesh the old with the new. One class involved sewing electronics into fabrics, creating wearable devices essentially We were excited that Tracy approached us with this collaboration idea. 3D printing and the inherent capability to design, size, make prototypes quickly is a really great way to accessorize or make your own adornments for dolls. There is quite a wide selection of 3D design files for shoes, purses, jewelry already available for free on the internet, through websites like We started by selecting some shoes we thought appropriate, then after a quick measurement of the doll’s foot, we sized it to fit using a simple (and free) 3D printer software program called Makerware. We were able to size the shoe to fit the doll and slots were added so standard zip ties could be used for straps. This made us think of a future shoe design that might use many zip ties to form a braid or lace pattern. We resized an adult bracelet to use as a hair clip. And accessed a high quality SLA printer for making a fine, mesh pattern bracelet for her wrist. Some designs, due to complexity and organic shapes, require a more robust printer than those found at Proto or in other home hobby shops. With any 3D printer, one can personalize items, choose basic colors without the need for any painting/finishing tools. Jewelry for dolls or people can be printed on any printer. Shoe designs for dolls can be refined on small scale, then eventually printed as full scale prototypes with a large enough printer. Some furniture designers have designed chairs specifically to be 3D printed. 3D printing is a great tool, not just for a lab or technical class, but to bring any of your design visions to a physical reality.

Amy Kollar Anderson’s Iris Inspired Art Reflection.

Long before viewing “Transforming Fashion”’ at the Cincinnati Art Museum, I adored the fashion creations by Iris Van Herpen. Her work is such a contrast of elements; hard/soft, cute/creepy, beautiful/repulsive. Every design could have walked out of a fairy tale or flown in from space, each with a unique story to tell. Although her work inspired me long before that Cincy trip, it was at the museum that I saw the title for the “Chemical Crows” collection. Always a sucker for alliteration, I was drawn to the images conjured from those words and knew at that moment I must create a painting inspired by them that also captures the fluid, surreal qualities of Van Herpen’s work. Thank you, Iris, for creating such wonder and magic in the world…and for your shoes!




Wishing you a Happy Holiday!

Thank you for reading,

Tracy McElfresh, Proto and Amy Kollar Anderson

Dream It! Sew It!