Armored Dress

coin dress

Keep Your Laws Off my body

This dress is made from over 1100 pennies re-stamped to say “keep your laws off my body.” It is hand woven into a chain mail like armor and is in response to the constant attack on women's rights that are currently going on. To inquire about this dress, please email mike@medelmanart.com.

 

The dress is modeled by: https://www.instagram.com/the.blue.lady/

The concept of this dress started back in the summer of 2021 because the Texas law about abortions. It stirred a simmering rage inside me and I wanted to express it somehow using a medium I understood. I am not a woman, but any law attacking someones body autonomy is infringing on a sacred human right to have domain over yourself.

 

I started thinking about how to express this anger. At first I though of bracelets, necklaces, sculptures—all things I had traditionally used to express emotions like this. They weren't going to match the injustice. After weeks of thinking I wanted to make something “protective” against the travesty of law: armor.

 

But what type of armor was right for this situation? It needed to be something iconic-ally American. It also needed to be something readily available. Currency! Or more specifically, pennies were the perfect starting point. But a penny alone wouldn't do. I wanted more than a penny dress, I wanted armor against these bullshit laws. I decided every single penny would need to be transformed. Each penny would start as something uniquely American, but as a defense against injustice be transformed in to something of protest, which is the other side of the American figurative coin.

Every penny would be restamped to say, “keep your laws off my body.” But how? How do you turn a coin in to another coin? Years ago I had built a 20 ton hydraulic press, so I tried that first. I made a die from tool steel, hardened/tempered it and stamped. I could see the press frame struggling, and at 20 tons it barely worked. I needed something different.

 

I decided a 50 ton press might do the trick. I'm not sure if you've ever checked, but 50 ton coining presses are not widely available, and most 50 ton presses are way beyond the budget of the average artist. I went to my scrap pile, ordered a cheap pump and 50 ton piston and built it myself. After about a month of trial and error, I had something that worked!

 

So it was smooth sailing after that, right? No. Every time I made a stamp, it catastrophically failed. I tried all types of steel and tempering processes, but 50 tons was just too much. I'll skip the details of the weeks of frustration, but I finally realized it might be time to think about math (which is often not an artists first thought.) It turns out, the tonnage in the press exerted more force than that size steel could handle. The solution? A bigger chunk of steel for the die.

It worked! I made a few test dies, did a few experiments and then finally settled on the final design. I carved it in to the chunk of steel, hardened and tempered it, then started making re stamped coins that say, “keep your laws off my body.” One die stamped over 1200 pennies and still looks good.

 

After I started stamping the coins, the next step was figuring out how to connect them. I needed holes, a lot of them. At first I pondered drilling, but that would have taken too long. I decided to use a hand punch. At first this was fantastic. Simple, effective. But, after a few hundred holes my hands hurt. Each penny needed 4 holes. In the end, I was going to need to punch thousands of holes, and a hand punch was not the answer.

feminist dress

I also needed to make jump rings to connect all the coins. I created a wood jig, found the right size dowel rod and a cordless drill, then started winding springs that I would later cut. I'm not sure how many jump rings I wound, cut and wove, but i'll say several thousands.

 

Next it was time to start weaving everything. This took forever. Like, forever forever. Months! I built the dress on a dress form to be sure the fabric I was creating hung correctly.

 

Once this piece was made, I realized that creating it was only half of the statement. It needs to be worn. Do you have a place to wear this? It is available to be loaned out for protests and events. If you have an idea, please email mike@medelmanart.com.

For years i've been intrigued with foot presses. I've built 3 of them, that I often use in my regular art. I decided to create die holders and attach them to a 7 ton foot press that I built. After a few minor issues, I got everything made and lined up. I used commercial dies in a custom holder so I could easily replace them as they wore out (punch dies are not forever.) This worked fantastic! I ended up punching over 4400 holes, and while the die needed to be dressed, it lasted for the entire project!

Now I had all these restamped coins laying around, what was I going to do with them? My entry in to metal work in the 1990's was actually through chainmail. This was not my first chainmail dress, nor was it my first time making chainmail from coins. However, it was my first time combining the two! It had also been 20 years since I had made any sort of chainmail, so it took a bit to get going again.

 

I needed to find my specialty chainmail pliers. One of my first blacksmithing projects ever was custom pliers so I could do chainmail without hurting my hands. These pliers are special, they have wide handles and shorter than usual jaws, so you get high leverage and a good grip surface.

penny dress