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Studenski Awardee Dives Into Fashion Design in NYC

This past summer, thanks to the Caltech Y Studenski Award, I had the opportunity to travel to New York and spend a month studying sewing and garment construction at the Parsons School of Design.


The course I took at Parsons was their Sewing and Construction Summer Intensive. The goal of the course was to teach students how to make garments from scratch. Starting with dress forms, one of the first things I got to work on was draping. This was a technique I had attempted and failed at a couple of times before that class, but under Professor Rodriguez’s guidance, I was able to finally make the pattern for a top just by draping fabric on a dress form, pinning and marking it in the correct places, and transferring all those markings onto paper. It was very labor-intensive and took a couple days to get the hang of, but I now have a skill that I will continue to use to make garments.


My initial drape on a dress form with markings to indicate what I will transfer to paper.


During this time, we also compared the process of draping to drafting. Drafting means you make a pattern directly with paper based only on measurements and known angles of how the body moves. The process is more difficult than draping, but when trying to make a garment for a body that is proportionately different from a dress form, it can sometimes be the only option. After drafting, we moved on to pattern manipulation. In pattern manipulation, you take patterns that you have made by draping or drafting and you alter them to change the style or to make them fit differently.


After we understood the basics, we moved on to the final project, where we each got to make our own outfits. In doing this, I got the opportunity to tailor my experience in the class to my personal learning goals. I really like fabric manipulation, so I focused my project on that. I spent about a week making a dress with hand sewn cartridge pleats. I also made a bodysuit from fabric I altered in a process called Shibori, where you tie fabric in your desired pattern, then you boil the fabric, forcing it to hold the shape of your tied pattern.


Laying out and cutting the pattern for my bodysuit.


Working on this project was incredibly difficult and time-consuming, but I think that this is what made this experience something more than just a class. I formed friendships with my classmates, and I value those relationships immensely. The creative community that we formed pushed me to feel more confident, and it allowed me to have a fun creative outlet. I gained a lot of knowledge from the class, but more importantly, I gained joy from the people I was in the class with.


When we were all finally done with our projects, we had an open studio session where people from the community were able to see what we had been working on. Getting to answer questions about my work and seeing people take pictures of the art that I had made was really inspiring. This experience has made me feel I could actually have a future in designing clothes.


Also, the experiences I had outside of the classroom were invaluable. Being a Parsons student meant that I was able to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for only 50 cents, an opportunity I took advantage of multiple times a week. The museum was a great place to find inspiration, especially because, at the time, a Costume Institute exhibit for American fashion was going on. I spent days looking at garments and trying to figure out how the designers had made them.


The final look on my model.


Additionally, I enjoyed living so close to the garment district, the historic district for fashion design in New York City. Anytime I was curious about what buttons I should use or what fabric might fit my designs, I was able to go to stores dedicated to just those things. This built my comfort with the entire fashion design process. The class taught me about the process of making clothes, but my living arrangements gave me the ability to learn to talk to fabric vendors and professional patternmakers.


In all, I left this experience more knowledgeable and with a greater skill set in fashion design, but I also left with more confidence in the possible future I could have making clothes, and I really appreciate the Studenski family for giving me that opportunity.

 

The Studenski Memorial Award is a grant established in the memory of Paul Studenski, a Caltech student who was killed in an automobile accident while traveling across the United States in 1974. It is awarded to a Caltech undergraduate who has reached a crossroads in life and would benefit from a period away from the academic community to obtain a better understanding of self and to explore possible directions for the future.

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