Friday, December 11, 2015

Antiquated Knowledge? Cutting-Edge Technology!


Students in Costume Design, an elective in the Upper School Performing Arts theater sequence, began their work by developing basic hand sewing and machine sewing techniques and went on to demonstrate their understanding of basting, hemming, tacking and the whip stitch by assembling an old-fashioned handwork sampler. They practiced ironing and pinning techniques as well as machine straight stitching, back stitching and cornering, and applied those skills in the last stages of the sampler construction. Finally, they decorated the samplers with a variety of fasteners: two- and four-eyed buttons, shank buttons, snaps and hooks.

What does this have to do with Penn Charter’s Strategic Vision?

To put this learning in context, technology such as conductive thread used in clothing will still require the manual skill and dexterity necessary to thread a needle, make a knot, and stitch.
Major designers are currently using giant laser cutters for more precision and less fabric waste when laying out and cutting their patterns for ready-to-wear fashion. The Costume Design course helps students bridge a gap between cutting-edge technology and what some may think of as antiquated knowledge. All of the skills enumerated here can be categorized as life skills and are directly connected to the second goal in our Strategic Vision: "Advance our educational program to provide students with the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive in a complex and changing world."

For the final "Project Runway" style assignment, students worked in collaborative groups and chose between Reinventing a Fantasy Icon or a Recycled Super Hero/Heroine. The fantasy icons this fall were: Rapunzel as a hippie in the 1960s; Ursula from The Little Mermaid in a steam punk 1950s prom dress; and Nala from The Lion King in a 1930s African-inspired dress. From the wide variety of materials, to the creative problem-solving and innovation needed as they worked their way through the design, this project required planning, risk taking, grit, flexibility in thinking, and innovation.

The group that chose the Recycled Super Heroine challenge upcycled unusual materials such as orange construction fencing from our recent new stadium building project, corrugated cardboard, netting, scrap fabric, wire and plastic containers. All the groups created inspiration boards and sketches for their designs, giving special attention to the costume design elements of color, texture, pattern, light, line and shape before they acquired materials and fabrics for the construction phase.

It is my hope that some of these students will present their designs at the Arts Portfolio Night, hosted by the Performing and Visual Arts and Design departments on Jan. 21, 2016.

Looking Forward: Toward the end of the first trimester, as they were constructing their final projects for the course, the students moved to the new IdeaLab. This new space provided a unique opportunity to spread out and work at tables the height of an actual cutting table found in a costume or tailor's shop. Next year, I plan to have the class make several removable tabletops that will be padded and covered in muslin for use as pinning and cutting tables.

Eva Kay Noone
Performing Arts, Theater

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