I was recently interviewed by a sweet 4th-grade student from my former school who was completing her Career Report. She wants to be a Fashion Designer! Here’s the interview. :)
What are your 10 fave sewing techniques?
I have some books and a binder full of sewing techniques, with pictures and instructions because I can’t remember 10 techniques–definitely not the hundreds of techniques that are out there! I love to go on Pinterest and find pictures of haute couture techniques. Do you know what haute couture is? It’s French for “high fashion,” and it means the best artists in the world working together to make one garment, each person knowing one special technique. One person puts the beads on the fabric, and they are the best in the business. One person cuts the fabric because they are the best cutter. Each person has a specialty, and the garment is very expensive because so many people helped to make it, and because they are each so good at their technique.
Check out this wonderful video that shows all the people making one beautiful red coat from the very famous French fashion house Dior:
How long does it take to design a dress?
Sometimes the idea just pops into my head, as clear as a photograph, in one instant. This happens a lot when I am falling asleep or waking up. Other times, I have to draw and I’m designing it with my hand and eyes instead of my imagination/mind. When I do it this way it can take a very long time to get the sketch just right. My jacket design took many hours and I erased the paper so many times that it started to shred! Other times, I walk past my drawing pad and I draw a line and then walk away. Then I come back later and draw another line and walk away, and I keep doing this until I feel it’s done.
I just finished my first dress design, and now that I put it on and wore it for an entire day, I realized I like the design but there is one thing I want to change. So even though I thought that design was done, I will now revise it.
And then once you have the design on paper, there are a lot of steps to actually see the design in fabric!
Some designers design the dress on a dress form, or even a live model! The live model might get poked sometimes with pins, because the designer is draping a piece of fabric over her, and pinning it together or cutting it into the shape they want.
Here’s a video that shows a dress being designed in 1938, and being created in 2008. That means this dress was being designed for 70 years!
How long have you been designing?
Since I was about your age. My mom used to design costumes and make some of our clothes, and I would go with her to pick out fabrics and patterns. When I was older I got a sewing machine and have been making some of my own clothes for about eight years. And now I am learning to do my own designs completely from scratch, nobody else’s patterns, my own pattern from my own sketch from my own head.
How do you design a dress?
Many designers do it different ways, but they all start by asking, “What is the dress for?” Personally, I look at other dresses that I love. I try to see what is it that I love about those dresses? Or I look at a garment I partially like, and I think about how I would make it so that I like it even more.
I sketch my design, then I watercolor the sketch. I start to look for fabric in the right color. You have to make sure you get the right type of fabric. Let’s say I want to wear my dress to a Christmas party. I don’t want to make the dress out of thin cotton, because I will be freezing in that fabric! I want something warm, so I have to pick a warmer fabric like silk.
I also need to make pattern pieces so that when I make this dress again later, I’ll know how to cut my fabric. I could also buy a pattern and change it to fit my body.
Then I sew a sample. I start by sewing it in a very cheap fabric, called muslin, to make sure the pattern pieces are correct. If they are, I then sew another sample, in the real fabric. Finally my design is a dress!
What are your fave patterns?
Before I learned how to make my own pattern pieces, I purchased patterns from a German company called BurdaStyle, and some independent patterns from the United States. One of my favorite patterns was free on the internet, and it is basically just two long rectangles of fabric that became a skirt that I wear all the time, and every time I wear it people give me compliments, even though it is one of the most simple things I ever made!
One of the best patterns I ever did was a pattern for making matching mama and baby elephant stuffed animals. I made them for my baby niece, and that’s how I learned to hand-sew!
When you visit we can look at some patterns and you can borrow some if you want to.
What are your fave things to design?
I love to design clothing for myself. When I was a girl, I always wanted to have beautiful clothes, but there were lots of kids in my family so we were kind of poor. Because I couldn’t have lots of clothes, I would imagine clothes, and sometimes even dream about clothes. Designing is really the same as imagining.
I love designing modern clothing based on historical clothing. I think historical clothing was very exciting! But also not very practical. French ladies wore skirts so wide they couldn’t fit through doorways! I think it’s silly to follow a fashion just because it’s popular. You have to think about whether the garment makes sense, whether it gives the lady freedom: freedom to move, and freedom to express herself.
This lady has LOTS of freedom to express herself—her dress says LOOK AT ME! But she does not have much freedom of movement. She can’t go running/jumping/playing in this dress. In fact, it will be hard for her to even dance with other people because her dress will keep hitting all her friends. Plus she’s wearing a corset, which makes her unable to breathe. Sometimes, fashion can be beautiful but silly at the same time.
I love designing dresses, ball gowns, skirts, jackets, hats, everything! My favorite designs, the ones I really enjoyed designing and feel very proud of, are my Hamlet and Ophelia costumes because they are a little more wild. They’re not something you could wear to just anything, they’re more like a piece of art that you mostly look at to appreciate.
Have you ever designed a Halloween costume?
Halloween is cool because for one day a year, everybody is a designer!
I sometimes think instead of being a fashion designer, I want to be a costume designer. But instead, I think I will combine both and make fashion that is sometimes costume-inspired.
Some costumes I designed with my mom when I was a kid:
- A prairie girl, for when I was in Oklahoma in high school
- A purple wizard robe with silver stars all over it, and a matching pointy wizard’s cap. This was when I was in 7th grade, and we learned about Medieval Times. We had a costume competition, and I was one of the winners so I got to eat lunch at the Royal Banquet Table (which was really just a regular cafeteria table but it felt pretty special to me)
- A “flapper” costume for a 1920’s-themed choir concert. It was simple: my mom had a black slip and we glued fringe onto it. I put a sequin band across my forehead.
- A cavegirl costume for a school dance, complete with furry boots and a plastic bone in my hair!
Have you ever designed pet costumes?
I once made a dog coat for Bunny the School Dog, and she even wore it to school when the weather got chilly! It was in the style of Coco Chanel, a famous French designer who made warm stylish jackets for the women of Paris. It had a big gold button on the front to make her look like a proper Parisian lady of a certain age.
Where did you get your fabric?
- Pacific Fabrics in Northgate (they have a special selection of expensive lace and beaded fabrics)
- Stitches on Capitol Hill: This is where I got some of my fabrics that will be in my first runway show.
- Nancy’s Sewing Basket on Queen Anne: They also have an entire room of ribbons!
- QuiltWorks Northwest in Bellevue: They also have old buttons and beads!
The fun thing about being a fashion designer is, sometimes for your job you get to travel to other countries or states and look for fabric that comes only from that place. For example, I went on a vacation to Shanghai (China) once, and while I was there I bought some very unique fabric, that was handmade by a person who lived right there in Shanghai. Because he is one of the only people in the world who makes this type of fabric, it is very special to me. Every time I wear the skirt, I feel connected to the person who made the fabric, even though I don’t know him. This is better than any souvenir keychain or coffee mug I could buy.