Making It Your Own

Photo by Kyle Crawford

While everyone else went out to find “the perfect dress” for prom at countless stores, senior Olwen Menez spent months sitting at her sewing machine making her prom dress.

Menez took Fashion and Textiles 1-2 her freshman year and continued with Fashion and Textiles 3-4 her sophomore year. Sewing has been a part of Menez’s life since she was 11.

“When I was young, my mother told me that both my grandmothers worked in sewing factories in Paris. Then after going to the IMU (Fashion Show) and other museums in France, I saw the kinds of original things that people made and thought ‘Hey, I could do that too,’” Menez said. “It kind of runs in the family to be creative, and while my mother is an amazing painter, I took after my grandmothers and developed a liking to making things I could wear and show off.”

Karen Shumway, Family and Consumer Sciences teacher, said she shares the same passion for sewing and fashion.

“I became a fashion teacher because I love to sew and I love fashion. Fashion is my first love, and interior design I just lucked into,” Shumway said.

Shumway said she cannot remember a time when she could not sew. Like Menez, she started young, but at the even younger age of 5. Born in a family of sewers, Shumway quickly fell in love with the world of fashion and pursued it as a career in college. She said she loves seeing kids get excited after mastering skills and producing a final product.

Shumway said, “I love to see kids learn a new skill. I try to tell them that they may not be good at it right away, but when you see them do well at a skill, they get very excited. Even if it’s very simple, they get very excited because at this age, you’re not learning basics as much anymore. You’re not excited about learning your ABCs because you already know that. This is like a whole new skill that they’ve never learned, and it’s fun to see them get it.”

Menez said the aspect of the class she enjoyed the most was being able to see what the other students in the class were making. Just as Shumway informs her students, Menez said she learned nothing ever turns out as you would think it would.

One benefit to making her own clothes, Menez said, was that she could buy clothes that maybe needed to be fixed up and change them to fit her style. She is able to buy clothes and material that are not as expensive as the actual article of clothing. Menez said by doing so, she has room to mess up because it’s a cheaper alternative.

“I’m pretty small, so nothing fits me right. By making my own clothes, I can make my own style that’s comfortable yet still cute. I can also make clothes that I see on Wanelo or Pinterest for a lot cheaper than they actually cost,” Menez said.

“It kind of runs in the family to be creative, and while my mother is an amazing painter, I took after my grandmothers and developed a liking to making things I could wear and show off.”

Senior Olwen Menez

Shumway said she likes to make formal wear because she can save a lot of money by doing so.

“By making my formal wear, I can get what I want. In this day and age, you really almost cannot sew cheaper than you can buy, with stores like Forever 21 and H&M. But I can still alter formal wear that may not fit right. One of my favorite creations is a navy blue velvet dress that I made a while ago,” Shumway said.

Like Shumway, Menez makes a lot of formal wear because it is a much cheaper alternative. She said she made her homecoming dress for freshman and sophomore year. Then made her prom dress for sophomore and junior year.

Over the years, fabrics have evolved greatly to match consumer needs, according to Shumway. Today, very few articles of clothing require ironing and pressing. Shumway said in this generation, there are a lot of knits and different fabrics that are very comfortable and fashionable but do not require much care.

“When making a piece of clothing, there’s a lot of planning involved because searching for fabric has become difficult. Fabric stores aren’t as plentiful as they used to be, so sometimes you have to order online,” Shumway said.

Menez started out using patterns because the class required her to, but she quickly figured out how to work fabric into her own designs.

One of the key strategies to mastering sewing, according to Shumway, is being able to predict.

“One thing I try to teach them that I want them to learn and transfer to every other aspect of life is that you have to predict. You have to think ‘If I cut here, what’s going to happen?’ Every year, someone makes a mistake and cuts in the wrong place, but you have to think about the result of an action. You can avoid so many mistakes by predicting,” Shumway said.

Menez and Shumway said they consider fashion to be part of their identities. Being able to create her own fashion sets apart Menez from everyone else at such a large high school like CHS. Shumway said she wants to spread her love for fashion and loves seeing the excitement in her students’ faces when they finally see the result of their hard work.

“The kids inspire me to do this. At the end of the day, they end up with this garment that they’re so excited they made by themselves,” Shumway said. “But everyone just needs to relax and enjoy the process. Don’t expect to be the best in the world right at the beginning. Kids are really hard on themselves. They find this to be a stressful class and it shouldn’t be. It should be fine.”

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Sriya Ravi