My STEP project was to design and sew my own pieces of clothing for both professional settings and casual settings and to develop my clothing construction skills. With these newfound skills, I was then able to teach and assist others with their sewing projects. I was able to cover a portion of the purchase of my own sewing machine and buy materials for my designs using STEP funds.
Clothing is an important part of how we present ourselves to the world. How you dress can be an important nonverbal cue to how you are feeling or how you want to be perceived. Throughout this project I had to come to terms with my style and how I wanted to be perceived by others in a multitude of settings. I have often been limited in expressing myself through my clothing due to a lack of what I felt was my “style” available in stores. Designing my own clothes and making my own color and design choices really helped me to open up about who I feel I am and how I want others to see me. This project allowed me to actively choose how I wanted to present myself in both professional and nonprofessional situations by making my own designs to represent my attitudes. Through designing my own patterns, I was able to work on developing strategies to overcome frustration and be more patient when my designs did not quite go to plan. Additionally, I was able to develop teaching and leadership skills as part of this process, by assisting others in their projects by volunteering with my former 4-H club and assisting friends by using my design skills. I realized that any skill is a gift that can and should be shared with others.
The first part of the STEP project I completed was to make the casual pieces. I wanted to have a lot of fun with the casual pieces. I have been sewing for many years, but always for competitions that are very construction-focused without much room for deviation from a printed pattern. By throwing away a strict pattern, I was able to express myself more fully and exercise my creative side that often gets left behind in my science-based major. The piece that I am most pleased with is an apron. I spend a lot of time baking and cooking, so having an apron was essential and seemed like a good place to start with designing my own pieces. After looking through some basic designs online to get an idea of what features I wanted in this piece, I decided on a wide-skirted pleated apron with large pockets, contrasting colors, and long ties for size adjustment. Choosing the design elements made me really feel very involved and excited in the sewing process as opposed to just following the instructions on a pre-made pattern. Part of what I thought really helped me develop my style and share my personality with the world was choosing my fabrics, which is a very important part of designing clothing as well. Normally I tend to shy away from patterned or brightly colored pieces, but for this apron, I felt that I should really show my interests. By choosing a cute dachshund pattern with a teal, cream, and brown, I was able to make an apron that I feel really helped me to develop my creative side. The mix of practicality and visual interest is one that really showcases my interests while staying true to my practical nature.
The other part of my STEP project was to create a professional outfit for future interviews and professional events. For these settings I wanted to have something that showed my professional side, but also made me stand out a little bit. For this, I was able to deviate from a standard navy-colored wool skirt and add a bit of flair to it by contrasting with peach-colored details. I made a cream shirt as well, and added a bit of pleating around the neck to make it stand out. Altogether I was able to create the desired professional-yet-unique look that I was going for. It just so worked out that another of my casual pieces, a scarf, went well with the outfit and added another fun element that can make the professional-looking outfit into something I could wear more casually as well. The task of making professional clothing really tested my patience. Even when using a pattern, sewing projects can go wrong. And when using minimal instruction beyond the basics when designing my own clothes, my projects went awry more than I would have like. My first experience with designing frustration occurred during the sewing and design of my scarf, which is a lovely plaid. The problem with plaids, however, is that they need to be matched up to create a seamless look. I really had to take my time and be patient when working with the scarf design to make sure that my scarf would come out properly aligned and have a tailored look. This was a small frustration compared to the ones I faced while working on my skirt. Because I was designing my own clothes, I lacked as much direction in the cutting out as I am used to with regular patterns. Proper measurement and cutting of pieces is crucial to make sure they all align when putting together the final product. I found this out especially when trying to make sure the bottom band of the skirt was even which required very straight lines when cutting out the piece and very accurate measurements when hemming and pressing. This takes a lot of patience and accuracy, which are both things that I am still working on. By taking my time when cutting out, and doing my best to correct mistakes early on before they became major problems later on, I was able to make my clothes. I faced the challenges of re-cutting and realigning pieces as they came and was able to successfully create an outfit.
One final piece of my STEP project included taking the skills I had learned and teaching others. Although I am no longer in 4-H, where I began my sewing projects at the age of 8, I am still in contact with several 4-H members who were working on their clothing construction projects for competitions. I went to sewing club meetings and helped young 4-H members with their projects by giving them advice and showing them the necessary techniques for their patterns. Even something as simple as sewing in a straight line or pressing seams is something that takes practice and being able to help young people with their projects made me realize that teaching others a life skill is a valuable way to spend my time. Many of the members I helped were able to take their projects to fairs and other exhibitions and perform well there. I was also able to assist people my age and older. Having design and styling experience makes me someone that people will come to when they have questions about an outfit or need assistance with small repairs like sewing buttons or fixing zippers. In one instance, I helped a roommate of mine repair a favorite coat that had lost a button, and hopefully taught her so that she would have the skills to make her own repairs in the future. I realized that I am very fortunate to have developed these sewing skills so that I can help others when they need clothing repairs on a favorite coat or have a question about elements of an outfit they are working on putting together. Through this STEP project, I really saw that sharing knowledge with others is very important for my own personal growth as well as the growth of others.
Making these pieces of clothing helped me to realize how I wanted to be seen. Each design decision I made revealed a little but of my character. Anyone who pays attention to how other people dress will be able to figure out a lot about me: my interests, my personality, how I want to portray myself. I was able to really express myself through this medium and develop my skills in the meantime. Sometimes working without much of a pattern was a challenge, but the results were some of my better pieces and I was really able to develop patience and ways to overcome the obstacles I faced during the design and the construction processes. Through this project I was able to explore my personality and develop my creative sense, as well as share my knowledge with others to help them in the future.
My STEP project will most certainly help me in my future plans. Not only was I able to get a better sense of how I want to convey myself to the world and grow as a seamstress, but the clothing and accessories I created will help me in upcoming endeavors. I plan to go to veterinary school, so having a professional-looking outfit will be good for school interviews. By developing my design and technical sewing skills and purchasing my own sewing machine, I am giving myself a tool set to make more outfits for the future and save myself a lot of time, money, and frustration at not being able to find exactly what I want at stores. I have learned how to express myself more fully through sewing, how to overcome frustration and take my time to set the stage for success in the beginning rather than rushing in and regretting it later, and how to share skills with others to benefit the people around me. Being able to overcome frustration and having the patience to do things correctly the first time will certainly help me in my future career as a veterinarian as I know that I will face challenging situations that demand a high level of persistence.