Wilson College of Textiles alumna Caitlin Gabriel ‘17 learned to sew at an early age. Her grandmother taught her to sew and follow patterns at just eight years old, and she has been designing and creating her own clothes ever since. We caught up with the Fashion and Textile Design (FTD) graduate, who recently started working as a patternmaker at Wrangler, now under the umbrella of Kontoor Brands, Inc. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with her husband.
Congratulations on your new job! How did you find out about the position and what was the interview process like?
Thank you! I’ve actually been following Wrangler since we visited there on the NC State of Denim tour. My husband and I were looking to relocate away from Charlotte and I started applying to jobs literally all over the country. There was an NC State textile applicant pool that I applied to and was selected for a patternmaking position. The interview process itself did not have many steps, but the process was quite long. I had a Skype and an in-person interview, [and] about three months lapsed from the first interview until I was hired.
What does a patternmaker do over the course of an average day?
I am still very much in training, so my day-to-day is slightly different. Currently, we are working on cleaning up fits and in virtual fitting. This cuts down on the amount of prototypes you have to run, because you can fit the garment on an avatar and see how it will look. We work directly with a team of designers to create new styles or improve upon older styles. We use several different systems — mainly AccuMark [pattern design software] and V-Stitcher [3D apparel design software]. We learned AccuMark while in school, but I am getting a much more in-depth teaching with my job.
You learned to sew when you were a kid. What was that like?
I received my first sewing machine for my 8th birthday. My grandmother taught me how to sew and follow a pattern. There was a lot that I taught myself through trial and error. I took a couple of apparel classes in high school as well — the first thing I made was a vest and skirt outfit. The Cheetah Girls were popular at the time, so I made a skirt that was leather with cheetah print trim, then used the trim fabric to make a matching vest. We followed a pattern and she showed me step by step how to make it. I loved that outfit and 3rd grade me thought I was so cool!
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a nurse! I thought it would be awesome to wear scrubs every day; I did not take into account an aversion to blood. Needless to say, this was not the path for me!
You recently got married — tell us a little about that.
My husband also graduated from NC State. We were both members of Greek organizations and one of my former roommates set us up to go to each other’s formal — we have been together ever since. We got married last May in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. My family has always vacationed in the Outer Banks, so it is a place dear to me. I love the beach, so I always knew I would have a beach wedding.
Your senior portfolio was full of beautiful gowns, and you also worked at David’s Bridal as an alterations specialist (2016-2018). Have you always loved making clothing for special events?
I haven’t always liked making formal clothing — I mainly enjoyed making things for myself. That sort of changed when I made my junior prom dress. I liked that I could be as extravagant with embellishments or fabrics as I wanted, because it was for a special event. Since then, I have greatly enjoyed special occasion designs. My senior collection actually came from inspiration with my job. I remade my wedding dress as well, which was a very exciting project to work on.
What made you choose to attend the Wilson College of Textiles?
When I was applying to college, I was looking at ‘practical’ majors; [however] my mom told me not to worry about the practicality of what I want to do, but to pick something that I love and will enjoy working in for the rest of my life. Growing up in Wake Forest, North Carolina, I knew I wanted to be close to home and NC State was perfect for that!
It looks like you worked two jobs at the same time, while attending college full time. That shows a lot of drive and hard work! How did you manage all of that, especially majoring in something that requires studio time and creativity?
Honestly, a lot of coffee and naps is what really got me through! I’m not going to sugar coat it and say I had an easy experience with school. College is expensive, especially with a studio major, and working was a necessity. Especially my junior and senior year; I was working 30 to 40 hours a week on top of school full time. I had a planner that I wrote everything in, down to when I could sleep and eat. I had to be on top of things and plan ahead of time. There were many all nighters spent in-studio working on projects, so taking a nap when I had free time helped tremendously!
Tell us about your time at the Wilson College of Textiles.
Some of my favorite memories of Wilson College of Textiles were those late nights in-studio. We always had a movie or television show playing on the projector. There was a feeling of camaraderie with [my] classmates, especially when there were several of us in studio overnight. It was a great team feeling and nice to know I wasn’t ever alone.
What is living in Greensboro like? What do you do for fun or in your spare time?
I have only been in Greensboro for a little over a month now, so I still have a lot to learn about the city. It honestly feels very similar to downtown Raleigh in many aspects. The people are extremely nice here as well! We have two dogs, so we like to go exploring with them. We also like trying out new food places and breweries.
What are your thoughts when you reflect on your experience with the Wilson College of Textiles at NC State?
I wish I could go back and do my college years all over again. They were truly some of the greatest times of my life. My biggest things I could tell my younger self would be to soak up every minute. The days were long and semesters were stressful, but being a member of the Wolfpack has made me into the person I am today and for that, I am forever proud to say I am an alumna of NC State!
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Written by Cameron Walker