Monday, February 25, 2013

Teenage Seamstress Competes in Birmingham Fashion Week

Being a twelve-year homeschooling alumni (and a current Homeschool Mom,) I am personally experienced in the benefit of having extra time to pursue extracurricular activities and interests. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a current homeschooler who is using that opportunity to catapult her career off to an amazing start.

Rachel Irvin, a sixteen-year-old Junior from Birmingham, has been sewing since she was twelve. She taught herself out of a love for historical costumes.

“I watched a lot of period films with my Mom [like Jane Austen,] and I wanted to wear nothing but those kinds of clothes. I couldn’t afford a $350 costume, so the only way I was going to get what I wanted was to learn to sew and make my own dresses,” Rachel explained to me.

However, the luxurious fabrics it would take to build period pieces are also not cheap, so Rachel makes her creations with 100% recycled materials – either from thrift store finds or donations from friends and family.

“Curtains are my favorite! They’re usually in great condition, haven’t been washed too often, and rarely have anything wrong with them except for maybe a little dust.”

Staying true to her sewing inspirations, Rachel’s career goals lean in the direction of costume design for theater and movies, rather than couture fashion. She hopes to enter the University of Alabama’s Apparel and Textiles program to help propel her vision forward.

Besides being able to earn High School elective credit for teaching herself to sew, Rachel has also taught homeschool elective classes for other interested students. She can also spin yarn, weave, crochet, and knit. And when she gets stuck, she seeks advice from her Grandmother.

Rachel’s most recent project was creating a garment to enter into the Birmingham Fashion Week Rising Design Star Challenge. In this event, middle and high school students from across Alabama can enter their design work for the chance to be a part of the week’s events and win a scholarship. More than 200 contestants submitted design ideas, and the top 40 were chosen to be displayed at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Of those, thirty were picked to show their work on the runway at Birmingham Fashion Week. Rachel was chosen as one of those finalists, and will showing her look on Thursday night. The competition states that you must use unconventional materials and methods to make your garment. I didn’t get a sneak peek at Rachel’s outfit, but she told me that the main structure is window screening, lined with garbage bags and tissue paper. She added detailing to the shirt with metal brads, a halter with Mardi Gras beads, and cut bath poofs to add ruffles to the skirt.

Rachel did bring along a couple of her other dresses for me to admire. We chatted as she laboriously prepared her mannequin in a double-layered medieval-era Renaissance dress, and I stared, amazed at her design talent.


Her Father, Richie, served as her assistant.


This beautiful creation was made entirely out of recycled materials – the underdress had the former life of a bed sheet, and the overdress was concocted from curtains and valances. The accent buttons on the sleeves were donated to the project.


Rachel said that the look took four days of nonstop work. It is exquisitely crafted, including an open sleeve that shows off the dress underneath:


The second look that she displayed was a Regency Period dress in the style of Jane Austen. Also made from curtains, Rachel designed this dress to wear at a Christmas Ball. She tailored the front to be shorter so that she didn’t trip while dancing, and added the panel in the front for movement and style.

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“I kept struggling with the button holes in the back of the dress, so I took it to my Grandmother and she helped me get them right,” Rachel explained.


Rachel’s fourteen-year-old sister, Hannah, will be wearing Rachel’s Fashion Week entry on the runway Thursday night. Sixteen contestants will be chosen from the thirty finalists and will get to show their creation again on Saturday night, where they will be competing for the grand prize of a $1,000 scholarship.

I might be biased, but I will be cheering for Rachel this week.

Tickets are currently still available for this event and others online at Birmingham Fashion Week.


Leslie Anne Tarabella said...

I love that she turns to her Grandmother for help! What a sweet story.

John G said...

Go Rachel! Rooting for you!

John G said...
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