SFD Distinguished Alumna Award

# 30 – Distinguished Alumna Award

Distinguished Alumna Award

On Friday, May 11, 2018 I was awarded the Distinguished Alumna Award by the School of Fashion Design in Boston, MA.

SFD Distinguished Alumna Award

SFD Distinguished Alumna Award

{For those who don’t know the School of Fashion Design in Boston it is a small school that only teaches Fashion Design and related classes: sewing construction, pattern making, draping, sketching, CAD for pattern making, Photoshop & Illustrator, fashion photography, couture details, 2 and 3-D design, fashion history, hand-bag design & construction, shoe design, and so on. All the classes are limited to 15 or so students, with most classes being much smaller. I love the student: teacher ratio; in every class the teacher has time to check in with every student making sure each student has understood and has successfully completed the lesson/homework assignment from the last class. Located in downtown Boston, it has day, evening and weekend classes.}  http://schooloffashiondesign.org/ 

I graduated from the School of Fashion Design (SFD) in 1998, with a Certificate in Clothing Construction and Pattern Making. (SFD only awards Certificates, not degrees.) I started teaching a Level 1 Construction class the following year.  By the time I took a leave of absence from SFD 10 years later, I had taught Construction and Pattern making levels 1 and 2, Construction levels 3 & 4, and Couture Details. I really love teaching, and I’m good at it, if I do say so myself. I love seeing how each student learns: some students need to read a book, some students need to see a demonstration and some students need to do the project themselves. Of course, we all learn best by using a combination of all 3 methods: reading, watching and doing.

My book, Creating Couture Embellishment, came from teaching the Couture Details class, with some bits and pieces from other classes thrown in, too.

As the Distinguished Alumna, I had two duties: helping to select the garments that would be in the annual Fashion Show and giving a graduation speech. The garment selection process is called “Judging”. As in “Is your dress ready for Judging?” “Oh, no. I still need to hem to my dress and add the hook & eye at the top of the zipper on my skirt!” I was one of six judges; all of us are professional fashion people. We were shown over 100 garments and we loved most of them!

The Fashion Show was held a week later, and it was stunning.

Fashion Show program, front cover

Fashion Show program, front cover

Fashion Show program, back cover

Fashion Show program, back cover

Graduation was the following day. The six members of the graduating class listened to three speakers: Dr. Denise Hammon, the current head of the school. Denise, who is retiring, will be sorely missed. She kept tearing up during the ceremony as she said good bye to the graduating class and to the staff at SFD. I spoke next—the text of my speech is below. Olivia Spence, the recipient of the Isobel Sinesi Lifetime Achievement in Fashion Award, spoke next. Olivia told us of her experiences in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970’s as the co-designer of hundreds of outfits for the Saudi royal families’ wedding season. Each woman needed several outfits for each wedding ; there were many women and many weddings. Now, whenever Olivia is unsettled by an upcoming event or project, she tells herself, “If you can manage the royal Saudi wedding parties, you can mange anything!” It was a great speech and wonderful reminder that we can conquer just about anything we set our minds to. Finally the graduates were handed their Certificates and a rose. All in all the graduation ceremony lasted about an hour, just the right length if you ask me!

 

Graduation program, front cover

Graduation program, front cover

Graduation program

Graduation program

Here is my speech. I was quite nervous. I tried not to speak too quickly. I was so pleased when the audience laughed. I have added <laughs> where the audience laughed. Everyone liked my speech. Olivia and I agreed that if we had planned our speeches together we couldn’t have gotten them to compliment each other any better. Hooray!

Good Morning.                  I started to write a speech telling you about the 5 years I spent writing my book, Creating Couture Embellishment and about the 10 years before that, that I spent teaching at SFD and the 20 years before that, that I spent working in the theater. Several people said this would be interesting to you. Two pages into this reminiscence I was bored to tears. <laugh>

I thought about my SFD graduation day – well really all I remember about that day was that on my way up to the podium to receive my diploma from Mrs. Cushing I tripped. <laugh>

I thought about what would I like someone to tell me on graduation day.

Your work should be something that makes you happy.    

It is work so there will be times when it’s really, really hard: when you pin and baste the left sleeve into the right armhole, when rip out every seam you sew, and when press in creases where they don’t belong.     There will be times when you would rather not bother: when you would rather stay in bed and watch Netflix, or be outside in the sunshine. <laugh>     And then there will be times when everything goes right: when the zipper goes in on the first try, when the pockets match, left and right, and the piping goes right around the corner without bunching or pulling. Those are the times that make all the other hours worth struggling through.   And you can say,  “Yeess! I do know what I’m doing!”

Whatever it is that you do: give it your all.

The prime example of this is hemming a gown: the hem you know you should sew by hand, but you really want to sew it by machine because it’s a really full skirt, and it’s way down there on the ground and who’s going to look down there, because if people are looking down there, then your client isn’t very interesting is …  <laugh>  But you know you should sew it by hand because the rest of the garment is really great and to skimp here… This is when you have to step up and give it your all.  Put on some really good music, or an audio book and sew the hem by hand because you know it will be worth the trouble. When you’re done you’ll be able say, Yeesss! It was worth it!

Don’t worry that you don’t know everything.

It’s true, you will never know everything- that’s impossible. There’s always something new to learn- My sister is a Harley Davidson Motorcycle dealer in Wyoming. She taught me that Harley Davidson Motor Clothes have extra long sleeves. That’s so that when you’re riding your motorcycle with your arms outstretched, your sleeves will still cover your wrists. Yeess! You have learned something new today! <laugh>

However, you know a tremendous amount. For example, you know about pivoting a dart, adding seam allowance, sewing in a sleeve, a hundred ways to hem a dress.  You know how to design a line of clothes and how to present that line of clothes with hand drawn sketches and computer graphics.  You know the difference between cotton and silk, underlining versus interfacing, 2 way stretch versus 4 way stretch, woven versus braided elastic, wearing ease and something that’s just too big. And you know how to take-in that too big garment to make it fit.  You know how to drape a skirt, a blouse, a dress and a gown. You know how to thread a sewing machine in your sleep and how to model a garment on the runway. And it’s very clear that you know how to create a beautiful, original, custom made white dress for this graduation. So, Yeess! You do know a tremendous amount!

You’re graduating from this “wicked hard”  program at the School of Fashion Design. Congratulations! you’re amazing!

After all of this we trooped off to a delicious Brunch at Post 360.

Brunch Invitation

Brunch Invitation

#20 – Books & Novels about Dressmakers, Fashion and Sewing

Books and Novels about Dressmakers, Fashion and Sewing

I love to read, especially novels that whisk me away to another time and place. I don’t usually read the Bestsellers from the New York Times; I like easier books. I love series of books: Sue Grafton’s A thru X series, P. D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh and Louise Penny’s Inspector Gammach books. I’ve read every Anne McCaffrey novel, Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle and of course J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.  Another terrific book is The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George; I loved this book.  This is just a short list- if you want to know everything I’ve read in the last couple of years join me on Goodreads.

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1628367-ellen-miller

 

Below is a list of books that feature sewing or fashion as the focus of the heroine. I wrote a 2 sentence synopsis for all of the books, but not a review; there are professional literary critics who write great reviews. The first few books true stories or based upon true events; the others are novels.

cover of Dressmaker of Khair Khana

Dressmaker of Khair Khana

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, set in Kabul, Afganistan, is the true story of a family’s survival after the Taliban take charge of the city. Organized by Kamila Sidiqi, the women in her family create a sewing workshop to support themselves amidst the chaos of war and the Taliban’s harsh restrictions on daily life. This was a really interesting book.

cover of Kimono

Kimono

Kimono and Geisha by Liza Dalby. Liza Dalby trained as a Geisha in Japan in the 1980’s: the only western to do so. Geisha is her memoir about that time. Kimono explains the history of kimonos, including the designs, how they have been worn and their social significance.

cover of The Pink Suit

The Pink Suit

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby. The novel is based on the true story of Kate, a seamstress employed by Chez Nino in NY City, who made the iconic pink suit for Jackie Kennedy. The suit was designed by Coco Chanel; the design and pattern were purchased from Chanel by Chez Ninon and Kate created the suit. I knew that making a Chanel suit was labor intensive but this novel describes some of the sewing details that go into the creation of a Chanel suit.

 

cover of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini is set in Washington D.C., around the time of the Civil War. Elizabeth Keckley, a fine seamstress and former slave, really did make Mrs. Lincoln’s clothes. Jennifer Chiaverini’s fictionalized account of their friendship and Keckley’s life was interesting and the book has been made into a movie.

 

cover of Circle of Pearls

Circle of Pearls

 

Circle of Pearls by Rosalind Laker is set in 1650’s England, a time of revolution and distrust. The pearls are Julia’s inheritance, which she pans to wear at her wedding, but the revolution upends many plans.

 

cover of The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

 

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott follows Tess on board the Titanic as a personal maid for Lady Duff Gordon. Tess and Lady Gordon survive the sinking of the Titanic and later testify in the hearings about the catastrophe.

cover of The Dress Thief

The Dress Thief

 

The Dress Thief by Natalie Meg Evan addressed the issues of copyright, blackmail and doing what’s necessary to keep from starving. Set in 1930’s Paris Alix, the heroine knows she’s not doing the right thing copying designs but….

cover of The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham. I must confess that I saw this movie on Netlix or Amazon and I haven’t read the book. However, it’s a terrific story set in 1950’s Australia involving the complexities of returning home, clothes as a show of defiance, lost memories and revenge.

cover of The Wedding Dress

The Wedding Dress

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck unravels a mystery surrounding a vintage wedding gown found by Charlotte, the owner of a bridal boutique in Birmingham AL.

cover of Silk For The Feed Dogs

Silk For The Feed Dogs

Silk For The Feed Dogs by Jackie Mallon follows Kat Connelly as she finishes fashion school in London, finds works in London, then moves to Milan, finding her way “In The Industry”.   I really enjoyed this book.

Please send me any recommendations of books and novels about dressmakers, fashion and sewing that you have read and enjoyed.  I would love to accumulate a library of “sewing books” that are fun reads.