When former Marine Amber Mills got sick, depression began to take hold, and unable to work, she needed a hobby to keep her mind focused. Then she saw a contest that caught her imagination – and feeling inspired, she grabbed a roll of toilet paper and started boiling it. Now, what she’s done has left the internet in awe.
When Mills returned home to Hurst, Texas, after her duties as a Marine were over, her health took a turn for the worse. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease which affects the nerves. And with her health deteriorating, it just wasn’t possible for her to keep working.
So although she had three kids to keep her busy, Mills nonetheless began to sink into depression. As she explained to USA Today in 2015, “Because of the multiple sclerosis and all of the health issues I have, I had become emotionally defeated in life and just had a lot of issues.”
Indeed, after adhering to the rigorous discipline of the Marines, it surely can’t have been easy for Mills to suddenly find herself facing such blank uncertainty. As she told USA Today, “I live with a lot of pain and a lot of uncertainty of what each day will bring.”
It was therefore clear to this ex-Marine that she needed something that would challenge her again. Luckily, while browsing online one day in 2013, she spotted a competition that captured her imagination. But just what was it that gave her a new lease of life?
Well, the short answer is toilet paper. Not so much the product itself, mind you, but rather what it could be used for – outside of the obvious. Yes, back in 2013, the mom-of-three came across a competition that she felt would challenge her in a way she had been craving while facing her illness.
The contest was run by Cheap-Chic-Weddings.com, whose M.O. is offering advice to brides-to-be who each want a stylish wedding without spending a small fortune. And so the company partnered with toilet paper manufacturer Charmin to run a rather unique competition.
The objective for each contestant is to make a wedding gown using nothing but a needle and thread, glue, tape and the essential ingredient – Charmin brand toilet paper. Anyhow, the idea inspired Mills, and so she grabbed hold of a roll of toilet paper and started boiling it.
One stipulation of the contest is that the dress must be wearable and stand up to reasonable movement. So by boiling the toilet paper, Mills was able to create a mushy substance to which she added glue. When dry, the material was then more durable than toilet paper straight off the roll.
Mills then blended the toilet paper/glue cocktail with a hand mixer to create a paste, and with that paste she created each element of the dress. It’s a laborious process, and by Mills’ own admission, “each piece takes [her] about six hours to make.”
Furthermore, as well as fashioning a bodice and skirt, Mills spent hours painstakingly creating “lace” detail for the dress. She applied the toilet paper/glue paste to a detailed stencil and acetate and waited patiently for it to dry. Then it was time for some embellishments.
Perhaps it comes from her Marines background, but it’s been ingrained in Mills to push herself to the limit. So while the rules state that it must be Charmin-branded toilet paper that’s used in the contest, Mills wanted to take things further. In fact, she deliberately challenged herself to go the extra mile.
Mills tracked down vintage 1970s pink toilet paper that Charmin no longer makes. Then, brimming with creativity, the ex-Marine poured months of work into her creation – and the result is remarkable given her limited resources. Indeed, it’s befitting of any flushed bride on a budget.
Mills’ toilet roll masterpiece is a pink and white gown with a strapless, open-back figure-hugging bodice and a ruffled knee-length skirt and floor-skimming train. A no-frills wedding dress, indeed. Well, other than those frills made out of Charmin toilet paper, of course.
Mills entered this particular gown into the 11th running of the Cheap Chic Weddings/Charmin-sponsored competition in 2015. And the fact that she wasn’t listed as a finalist on that occasion only indicates how exceptional the other entries were. But, as suggested, this wasn’t Mills’ first entry into the contest.
Encouraged by a top-ten placing in 2013 for an Alice in Wonderland-inspired gown, Mills tried again in 2014. She tracked down blue- and green-colored Charmin on eBay and channeled an aesthetic of vintage Hollywood glamor. Then finally, after three months of boiling, sewing and gluing, the gown was ready.
With Mills’ ailing health slowing her down – not to mention three kids to care for – the work took longer than other dressmakers’. Still, the end result was worth it. The “Something Blue” trumpet-style dress won her third place out of 1,491 entrants and a $2,500 prize pot for her effort.
“My veil was the hardest part by far. It took weeks!” Mill told Culture Map Dallas in 2014. “I made a frame out of wooden rods and hand wove the entire thing out of heavy-duty sewing thread. Then I used white Mod Podge hot glue to make the tiny pearls that I applied one by one with tweezers. I wanted it to look real.”
Remarkably, Mills has no previous experience in fashion design – other than sewing her daughter’s ballet costumes. And although she didn’t make the 2015 finals, for Mills, winning isn’t the main objective. The mom-of-three has found a fun and inspiring hobby that motivates her and brings out her remarkable creative side.
Mills’ family, meanwhile, couldn’t be more proud of her achievements. According to Elite Readers, she said, “My husband thought it was kind of silly and ridiculous at first, until he saw how much I enjoyed it.” What’s more, Mills said she was “excited at the idea of being able to create [a wedding dress] out of material people don’t expect.”