Successful and Fun Learning Experiences for Young Fashion Designers
From a known Boston designer, teacher, and mentor, Shirley Willett
Most of my learning experiences were self-taught, through a deep desire to learn, embedded by my mother. However, that desire also enabled me to see worthwhile learning by studying people in formal education, work experiences, and life — without being coerced to follow any rules blindly. That is, I studied every rule society and education presented, to see its value to my mind and spirit — never just following the Status Quo. The thrilling result today is that 30 of my pieces will be shown in the Massachusetts College of Art & Design, catalog this year.
I have collected some of my own fun learning experiences, and those that my students and proteges enjoyed, and learned some important things in fashion design.
A. Sparking Ideas and Being Aware of 3-D
Students and/or proteges came with ½ yard of muslin, scissors and pins. I gave them only 5 minutes to drape whatever they wanted, and were told not to be concerned about anything but having fun. We studied the result carefully for their wonderful free ideas, and they were told that these are not patterns, just ideas. With some who loved their idea, we would talk about the next step of making a pattern.
B. A method to make draping easier and repeatable in production
- Start with a sloper pattern that has been tested good for many customers. I will show an empire template that is good for my famous “Sunburst Dress”.
2. Drape on top of the template on the dress form.
3. Carefully mark matching notches on the muslin drape and the dress template.
4. I took and marked the accordion pleats flat on the table.
5. My resulting orange sunburst dress in the Sunday Boston Herald, 1962
C. Creativity and fun in pattern engineering and manufacturing by not blindly following rules
I planned these beautiful cuts in suede to give a great fitting to the body. Then I had the cutters mark the pieces with letters and numbers, and drew the 3rd drawings to guide the stitchers in putting together. They had great fun and laughingly called it “Sew by Numbers” — and could put the shell of the gown together in 15 minutes. I could not sell a suede gown that cheap, so I made a 60% profit and sold almost 500 of them. I implore young fashion designers to consider creativity in pattern making and manufacturing beyond idea sketching.
Thank you for reading, and I sincerely hope some young designers are inspired.