A new fibers and textiles art class at Winter Springs High School is giving fashion-forward students a chance to wear creativity on their sleeves
It takes a village to raise a child, or so the saying goes. The same could also be said of a unique new art class at Winter Springs High School – that it takes a village to teach a group of eager-to-learn students about fibers, textiles, and fashion.
WSHS art instructor Sherry Peters and a trio of dedicated volunteers from the community are working in tandem to educate these fashion-forward teens, several of whom aspire to become clothing designers.
“I want the students to understand where fabric comes from, other than the store,” says Sherry, “so they’re learning to make their own fibers – from the sheep’s wool to the finished product.”
Sherry was inspired to start the class after taking a workshop at the Kansas City Art Institute during the summer of 2018. During that weeklong course, she and other art educators learned how to process wool, converting it into fabric through techniques known as wet felting and needle felting.
At Winter Springs High, a half-dozen students are enrolled in the fibers and textiles class, which started at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. The class is categorized as a 3-D soft sculpture program. Students in Sherry’s other sculpture classes typically work with heavier-duty materials such as clay, steel, bronze, and wood.
The Style Squad
To enhance the new class, Sherry brought in two sewing instructors and a weaving instructor as guest teachers. Holli Luther, a craft seamstress, and Joan Kelley, a self-taught seamstress, are giving the students tips on everything from sewing machine technique to picking out patterns at a fabric store. Doug Meyers, who has a solid background in 4-H and the sheep industry, is teaching the kids about weaving and spinning. Not only that, Doug – the executive minister of a local church – donated looms, spinning wheels, and wool to Sherry’s program.
“This class wouldn’t have started if it weren’t for Doug’s generous donation,” she says. “I’ve been so fortunate to have these people as part of the program.”
For Joan, one of the most important aspects of Sherry’s class is that the students are learning valuable life skills, which boosts their self-confidence.
“There are a lot of practical things that kids aren’t learning nowadays,” says the 81-year-old Joan, who lives in Winter Springs. “So, I’m tickled to help with this and to see the excitement on these kids’ faces. That’s what I love.”
For many years, Joan sewed clothes for herself as well as for her husband and their four children, so she has a wealth of knowledge to impart to Sherry’s students.
“This class is beyond just sewing a button on,” she says. “The students are learning sewing terminology and how to follow written instructions and use measurements.”
Sew, So Good
Although several of the pupils are interested in pursuing careers in fashion design, others are more intrigued by the actual processes of turning fibers into fabric. Regardless of their career goals, Sherry and the guest instructors stress that all the kids in the class must master basic sewing techniques.
“You can’t build a house if you don’t have a good foundation, and that’s exactly what we’re giving them,” Joan says. “They should be able to look at a finished garment in a store and know whether it’s good workmanship.”
Bryan Gifford, a junior, is among the students who has his sights set on a career in fashion design.
“I’ve been trying to learn to sew for a little over a year now, so this class is a good opportunity,” he says. “I want to make my own clothes from scratch. I’m not a big retail fan. I don’t like spending 60 bucks on jeans at the mall.”
To date, students in the class have completed several projects including a vest, a backpack, and an assignment that required them to use alternative materials to create a garment. For the latter project, Bryan cut a world globe into small squares, which he fashioned into suspenders and a kilt. Another student used computer parts, and two others turned bicycle tire inner tubes into dresses.
“The bicycle tire parts were donated to us by a local bike shop and would have ended up in the landfill, but we recycled them into fashion,” Sherry says.
Recently, Sherry brought in a guest speaker from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles to talk about careers in the fashion industry. Not everyone who is interested in fashion will become a famous designer surrounded by supermodels, so Sherry wanted her pupils to be aware of the many other jobs in the industry – from digital artist to costume designer.
In May, the students will exhibit their fashion designs and other projects at Winter Springs High School and at the Seminole County Public Schools district office. Next school year, they hope to up the ante by staging a fashion show. For her part, Sherry plans to keep building her own skill set in the area of fibers and textiles by taking another summer workshop at the Kansas City Art Institute.
“I’m putting all my energy into making this the best program,” says Sherry, who even took a sheep-shearing class and saved the wool for her students. “This has been a great experience for both the students and the instructors.”
She’s a Cover Girl
Christy D’Souza, this issue’s stylish cover model, is a student in the fibers and textiles art class. She recently racked up several awards for her fabulous fashion designs.
Her teacher, Sherry Peters, entered her students’ fashion creations – including Christy’s – in the 2020 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition. The awards, presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, recognize the literary and visual art accomplishments of students in seventh through 12th grades.
Christy, a junior who aspires to become a fashion designer, earned a Gold Key award, the prestigious contest’s top honor, for a dramatic-looking dress she made by weaving together strips of bicycle tire inner tubes.
“I was excited and very happy,” Christy says about her awards, particularly for the rubber dress. “It was my favorite because it’s the most expressive, and it was a challenge to make.”
Her Gold Key win means that Christy’s edgy garment will now be judged at the national level. If she wins gold nationally, Christy will have the opportunity to attend an awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City on June 4.
Christy also won two other Scholastic awards for outfits she made this past summer at Parsons School of Design in New York City. The 17-year-old earned a Silver Key award for a metal-shards dress that was inspired by a broken mirror on the street. And, she received an honorable mention for the adorable frock she donned for this issue’s cover, which was inspired by the imagery of jellyfish floating in water.
Christy, an intern at a fashion production house in Orlando, hopes to continue her fashion studies this summer at Central Saint Martins, an arts and design school in London.
“I would describe my style as confident and unafraid,” she says. “I like fashion design because it’s a form of expression; it’s like an art.”
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