Campers design, sew clothing for ‘Project Runway’-style challenges
Future fashion designers in grades 3 thought 8 had the opportunity this summer to discover what in recent years has been considered a dying art. They learned basic sewing skills at The Dunham School’s Sew Fun Sewing School.
“For a while it looked as if sewing had become passé, something your grandmother did. And then came ‘Project Runway,’” said Jane Schoen, who with Pati Ivey taught four weeklong sewing camp sessions at Dunham in June and July.
“You can thank that show,” Schoen said.
This is the second year Ivey and Schoen have done the sewing school. This year’s sessions were Intro to Sewing, Intermediate Sewing, Young Beginners Sewing and Design It! Fashion Camp.
“We have as much fun as the girls,” Ivey said.
Modeled after “Project Runway,” the fourth and most advanced session, Design It! Fashion Camp, took the girls through three “challenges” that involved teamwork, sewing, pinning, designing and draping.
The campers first used toilet paper to design and drape a wedding dress on a mini dress form. They created a party dress and made it out of tissue paper on the miniforms. And they restyled vintage items to create an actual item of clothing.
“These girls know their fashion,” Schoen said. It’s the sewing skills that she and Ivey helped them understand.
On the evening before the second challenge, the girls each made a sketch of a party dress and collected tissue paper in the colors they wanted to use.
At the camp on the following day, they were divided into teams of two. They combined the two sketches into a final idea and then created their dresses on the miniforms.
Camille Ferachi, 8, and Sadie McManus, 8, designed a dress with a pink flounce. “We are going to make it go all the way around,” Camille said.
Maya Vines, 9, and Kaydence White, 7, went off plan with their design. That was fine with Schoen and Ivey.
“Remember what we said,” Schoen said. “Sometimes you can make your design exactly as you draw. Sometimes you design as you go along.”
Through the entire five-day session, Schoen and Ivy stressed the importance to the girls of loving what they make. On the first day, each girl signed “The Oath of the Finished, Unloved & Ugly Sewn Project.”
The campers promised to “love it, cherish it, and allow its inner beauty to shine” agreeing not to “banish my project to the bottom of a closet or drawer, take it to a charity shop, do the dusting with it, or gift it to a friend.”
They also promised to “always offer words of encouragement and assist others ...” and “not criticize or judge the work of myself or another thread banger ... .”
Caroline Bardwell and Hadley Greene, both 10, go to school together at Dunham. They combined their design to create a brightly colored party dress. “We used her colors with my pink,” Hadley said.
Nicole Crochet, 13, was considering adding shoulders to her strapless dress. Schoen took the role of “Project Runway” star Tim Gunn. “Hold the fabric over the design to see if it adds to it or takes away,” she said. “I would try everything first.”
Sarah Barton, 10, who described the class as “awesome,” got her tissue paper from her mother’s “incredible art closet.”
Nine-year-old Natalie Aptaker learned so much at the Intro to Sewing week that she went home and made her own Fourth of July dress. She returned for the fourth session in the new dress.
Schoen and Ivey love sewing and crafts. They meet weekly to do projects. Ivey is an artist and the mother of three boys. She works at Dunham as a teacher’s aide three days a week. Schoen, also the mother of three boys, had a career in marketing with Procter & Gamble. They moderate a sewing club at the school during the year.
The women have accumulated sewing machines so that each girl in the camp has her own machine to use for the projects. They are paid by the school to run the camp.
At the end of each challenge, the girls show or model their project on a runway at the front of the room. “We take their pictures, and, I tell you, they strike a pose,” Schoen said.
After the girls made their party dress designs, they moved to an adjoining room, where the sewing machines were set up. There they found a rack of dresses, tops and skirts mainly from thrift shops and garage sales. They had to decide which items they would combine and refashion for their final challenge.
Catherine Enos, 10, eyed a black dress and a black lace belt she thought would make a great combination. “I may put some pink mesh on it,” she said.
Kaydence White brought a white net skirt from home and was in deep thought trying to come up with something to use for a top. Schoen showed her how the skirt would look as a headpiece. “Think differently,” Schoen said in her Tim Gunn voice.