Student Fiber Artists Sew Love Into Handmade Clothes – The Bowdoin Orient
Instead of spending their weekends at Urban Outfitters or the Salvation Army, four students on campus have turned to knitting needles, sewing machines and “floofers”. These students, a small and passionate cohort, turned to sewing for various reasons but remain united by their love of the craft.
“Sewing is just the order of operations,” said Noah Gans ’22, a student dressmaker. “The actual technique of using the machine is quite easy if you are patient.”
Gans began her sewing experience fixing outdoor gear in high school. He recently turned to sewing gifts for his friends. Gans specializes in “floofers”, the solid-colored turtleneck fleeces he makes for his friends.
“The fleeces that I do are very iconic…and it wasn’t this very intentional thing,” Gans said. “I just take [a] used fleece[-goods] shop.”
While isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gans took inspiration from the local Salvation Army by saving fleece material to sew for his friends and housemates.
In addition to “floofers”, Gans sewed a number of practical items, including a canvas mattress topper for his van, backpacks and surfboard bags. The process of creating these items reinforced her belief that sewing is a hands-on activity related to the functionality of the end product rather than an art form.
“I feel like if I have ownership of something and I’ve done it, there’s this added dimension of intimacy with it. [object]”Gans said.
Similar to Gans, Olivia Rayis ’24 started sewing her own clothes at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and learned how to hem and alter second-hand clothes from YouTube videos at home.
“Being able to choose which projects I want to do has really helped me develop this hobby,” Rayis said.
Rayis believes her rejection of fast fashion and her goals of moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle are a big motivation for her “thrift-flip” designs. She plans to continue making clothes in the future with the ultimate goal of not buying new clothes.
However, Rayis also has a personal connection to the clothes she finds at thrift stores and admits that durability and affordability aren’t the only factors in her decision to alter second-hand clothes.
“It was cool to know that you picked a piece and knew there probably wasn’t another one like it,” Rayis said. “If it’s from a thrift store, you know it’s from years ago, and there’s something really satisfying and cool about that experience.”
Alex Spear ’24 takes a different approach to making clothes than Gans and Rayis. Her intimate journey with knitting began with a shimmering purple and green scarf she made with her grandmother who taught her the craft when she was eleven years old.
“Knitting is, or should be, very planned,” Spear said. “There’s math that comes into play. For me, at least, the other arts are very instantaneous.
Spear takes pleasure in the patient nature of knitting and enjoys working with her hands. She thinks it makes the material more personalized compared to perfect stitches from a sewing machine.
“Along with the fact that knitting is more tactile than sewing, I feel like I’m the one making it rather than a machine,” Spear said.
Whether it’s making inventive, custom sweaters for herself with extra-deep pockets, a pair of socks for a friend, or a collection of hats for a craft fair, Spear finds solace in the act of knitting. , thanks in part to his love of the visual aspect of the craft.
“I think everyone should knit or at least try to knit — knitting is another way to have color in your life,” she said. “Knitting with colorful yarn and needles is so much fun…and easy!
Robyn Walker-Spencer ’24, another on-campus seamstress and one of the Craft Center’s student managers, also has deep family ties to sewing and knitting. Walker-Spencer is grateful to the generations of women who came before her who passed on what she considers the art of making her own clothes. Knitting is a nostalgic and meditative activity for her.
“I can’t knit without thinking about sitting on the couch with my grandma…I don’t think I enjoyed it then, but I enjoy it now,” she says. t is very ancestral… you go back and look at history, and it was a very feminine activity to be the ones who made the clothes and knitted. To reclaim this as my own art is really cool.
Walker-Spencer teaches introductory sewing and knitting classes every other weekend at the Craft Center and recommends these crafts to anyone at any skill level.
“It’s very empowering to teach people to sew because it’s a very important part of who I am, so I [am] really happy to pay this forward,” she said.