Students sew for self-expression


Patrice Graham

DEDICATED DESIGNER: In a homemade outfit, Martin Oliver sews his own clothes. Martin acquired the material for the striped shirt from working on costume design and said the garment is one of his favorite pieces he has made recently. The purple velvet featured in his vest was made by cutting up a robe he got at a flea market. Martin said that making clothes has helped him grow confidence.

Clare O'Connor, Editor-in-Chief

The foot of a sewing machine is dropped onto fabric with a soft thud. After a second of silence, noise fills the air. The metronomic sound of a needle jolting up and down punches through the machine’s loud whir. The noise blends together as steady hands press the fabric forward, joining two pieces together. Among this cacophony of sound, some students have found an outlet.

Marcella Carter has been sewing for years, inspired by her parents who worked in garment construction. She learned to sew in her parents’ warehouse, full of sewing machines and fabric.

“I got my first sewing machine in second grade, but even before that, I would make little clothes for my Barbie dolls with just a needle and thread,” said Marcella, a junior. “I’ve just always been drawn to it.”

Today, Marcella makes complicated pieces, full of sharp lines and volume. Her ideas are realized through her technical sewing skill, allowing Marcella to make painted corsets, cage skirts, tailored dresses and anything else she can imagine. 

MER-MADE DRESS. Having had a passion for sewing for years, junior Marcella Carter uses a self-timer to model her own clothing. After drawing three patterns outlining the corset top, pencil skirt and tulle circle skirt with an embroidered overlay, Marcella sewed this dress out of cotton jersey. She also used one-fourth-inch boning, grommets and ribbon to construct the corset. (Marcella Carter)

Other students discovered garment construction more recently. Senior Martin Oliver started in 2020, right before school went to distance learning, and sophomore Sinéad Nagubadi started in March 2021 for the spring musical. Both Martin and Sinéad discovered their passion by making costumes for school performances, which inspired them to start making their own clothes.

“There’s something really valuable about making your own clothes. You start being open to a lot of possibilities,” Sinéad said. “I started seeing clothes and saying, ‘Oh I can make this myself,’ so I wouldn’t buy it. I get to challenge myself and have something wearable to show for it.”

Martin echoed Sinéad’s sentiment, adding that learning to make clothes has allowed him to challenge his consumption habits. 

“Overall, sewing is just an important life skill, and It’s fun to experiment,” Martin said. “It’s also really great that I don’t feel the need to go out and buy a ton of stuff. I can use materials I find second hand instead of buying something that might be unethical or cheaply made.”

Understanding how to make and alter clothing also allows Martin to feel more confident in his outward presentation. Martin has dyed fabric, learned to sew ruffles and searched for unique fabrics, all to create one-of-a-kind garments that give him a sense of ownership and confidence. 

“It allows me to make pieces that are tailored to what I specifically like,” Martin said. “I can make combinations of different pieces, I don’t have to settle for someone else’s idea, and I can make stuff that fits me in a way that makes me feel more comfortable than a piece I buy at a store.” 

For all three students, the process starts with translating an idea into a pattern, a template drawn on paper outlining the shape of each piece of fabric needed.

“I either make my own pattern or find one online,” Marcella said. “I like making my own patterns. I can take some measurements and use that to make a pattern, or I base a pattern off of a piece of clothing I already have, adjusting it where I want to.”

Sinéad explained that after getting a pattern, the process can be more simple than people think.

“I really hope people start to realize how easy it is to make your own clothes or even just to upcycle clothes you think are boring,” Sinéad said. “I feel like there’s this block of ‘Oh, I have to learn to sew and use a machine’ but really, once you get past the basics, it’s really easy and fun.”

Sinéad has been sewing for less than a year, and while she says that she has a lot more to learn, Sinéad already knows that she wants to continue sewing throughout her life. Garment construction has become a deep passion for Sinéad, a way to channel her creativity into a physical expression of her individuality.

“It’s really important to me,” Sinéad said. “For a long time, I was worried that I wouldn’t find something unique to me, like a specific passion, but then I started sewing.”