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Student Success

First-Year Fashion and Textile Design Class Challenges Students to Think Like Designers

student using sewing machine in fashion studio

By Mary Giuffrida

Walking into one of the first-year fashion and textile design classes you might find yourself in awe of just how many different ways there are to make a jacket. The students have harnessed colors and textures to create completely original takes on the same classic piece, and no two are alike.

The class is FTD 200: Design Skills Workshop, a required course for all fashion and textile design students as a part of the First-Year Experience. Students spend a year immersed in design and the creative process.

“This is their first chance in the program to learn industry standard stitches, learn the industry language related to construction methods, and they also gain a lot of confidence,” explains Assistant Professor Kate Nartker, who teaches the course.

Creative Challenges

Throughout the semester, students not only learn design and industry fundamentals, but also apply them through portfolio-building projects.

“My favorite project was definitely the jacket project,” fashion design student Anna Lia Ritchie says. “I really liked what I made and I loved the process of doing something that I wouldn’t have been expected to do.”

Ritchie’s jacket stood out, with eye-catching ruffles making up the sleeves of the piece. She used a unique process, drawing on inspiration from her childhood. 

“I remember when I was young, I had this dress that I really liked, and it had a bunch of these ruffle-looking things, but they weren’t gathered,” Ritchie explains. “I studied it and realized it was made from spirals, and when you stretch them out they create a ruffle without a gather.”

Student wearing a jacket she designed.
Anna Lia Ritchie used spirals of fabric to create the complex ruffles on her jacket’s sleeves.

Ritchie’s out-of-the-box thinking is exactly what the project encourages students to do: draw inspiration from the world around you to create something innovative.

The jacket project, like most in the course, gave students a very basic flat pattern to work from, then asked them to modify it to create something unique to the individual designer. The students were also required to create their jacket out of sustainable, up-cycled materials.

“My creativity was really challenged,” student Sarah Do says. “Instead of being able to choose any fabric I wanted, I had to choose one that I could find.” 

Challenging their creativity is the point of the projects. They push students to think in new and thoughtful ways — to think like designers. 

“They really learn how to take their design sketches and their ideas and translate that into a technical process with a flat pattern, and then translate that flat pattern into a 3D garment,” Nartker says.

The Jacket Project

The Final Project

That technical process is put to the test in a final project completed in conjunction with FTD 105. For the first time students are constructing a garment with fabric where they’ve created the printed design.

The final project gives students the space to work within their own interests; those interested in fashion design can focus on product construction and sewing, while those interested in textile design can spend more time embellishing the surface and emphasizing their printed designs. 

“It pushed them to go beyond sewn construction into designing the product entirely,” Nartker explains.

By the end of the project, the students have created a new piece out of fabric they designed themselves, tangible evidence of the skills they have developed through months of hard work. 

“It was really eye opening for me,” Ritchie says. “I’ve always just used the basics to sew two pieces of fabric together. I’ve never really given much thought to the different things I can do with a sewing machine. Now everything I make looks so much more professional; it’s starting to look like something you would actually buy.” 

Final Projects