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Teen makes dress out of coffee filters

July 10, 2018

Most people think of sipping java when they see coffee filters, but Cheyenne Ruhnke sees a dress. OK, she actually sees the potential for one.

The local teenager on Monday morning was roaming around the upstairs of the Platte County Agriculture Park in Columbus, carrying with her an elegant light blue dress she made out of hundreds of coffee filters. Ruhnke, 14, had just entered it in the Platte County 4-H Beyond the Needle competition as part of the Platte County Fair, which kicks off Wednesday and runs through Sunday at the park, 822 15th St. in Columbus.

“Yes, definitely,” she said in response to whether or not she was pleased with how her dress turned out. “It definitely took a lot, with cutting everything out and having to dye the flowers. It’s paper and it rips, so I had to make it thick enough. I’m hoping I do pretty well.”

Ruhnke, who attends Boone Central High School, is vying for a coveted purple ribbon. The purple ribbon is the highest honor one can win from judges via the Danish Judging System, which assesses exhibits against a standard rather than other entries. The purple ribbon goes to exhibits that are considered of superior quality and have exceeded all standards.

There are three other levels, blue, red and white, the latter of which is the lowest and given to exhibits that are considered below average quality and fail to meet the standards.

Although she didn’t know how her dress would be received, Ruhnke was smiling on Monday after officially entering it. In a way, it was the culmination of seven months worth of work. She first got the idea for the coffee filter outfit back in January and began crafting “flowers” out of filters.

“She probably had 150 flowers done,” said her mother, Lynn. “We thought we were getting ahead, but she started sewing them on and we realized it wasn’t nearly enough.”

Turns out it took about 400 “flowers,” the mom and daughter said, and they were only half of the battle. Ruhnke also made the dress itself out of coffee filters, using some mesh sparingly to keep everything intact. It all really came together throughout the last three weeks.

“I don’t like making usual things, I like making unusual things,” said Ruhnke, who got inspired to get involved with 4-H because of her older sister and started as a member of its Clover Kids Club several years back.

This wasn’t her first attempt at making unusual clothing. Actually, Ruhnke has grown a bit of a reputation for creating one-of-a-kind outfits, and it all came about by chance.

Six years ago, she decided to make the most of the oversized Platte County Fair T-shirt she got by repurposing it into a dress. Since then, she has made dresses out of pop bottle caps, Monopoly money, zip ties and straws, and won some purple ribbons along the way.

“She doesn’t really like to sew,” Lynn said. “So this is kind of way she can make something she can wear without having to follow a pattern, but that can be hard. So, she can try something and if doesn’t work, we think and try something else.”

The teen has taken her dresses to the Nebraska State Fair and Omaha Fashion Week, among other places, and received plenty of positive feedback. Despite the notoriety she has gotten, Ruhnke said she has no desire to pursue a career in fashion. Actually, medicine is more of what she has in mind.

“I want to be a general practitioner,” she said, with a smile.

Although hundreds of coffee filters were used to make the dress, no coffee was actually consumed during its construction.

“Luckily, coffee filters are cheap,” Lynn said, with a laugh. “We try to make sure it isn’t an expensive project since she doesn’t wear it that often.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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