Fashion and Design
Brainstorming Connections!
Jenny Cyphers wrote:
-=-One can learn about the whole wide world by learning about fashion and design, through history, commerce, cultural differences, textiles, recycling, etc.-=-
Sandra responded:
Here's a brainstorming opportunity for the list!
cultural differences
Okay, everybody: what else can be added to that list? I'd like to put it on a page linked to connections, and the Elvis article, and Gilligan's Island (which right now aren't linked because one's about TV and one's "everything is educational")—this will make a third point of a glorious tripod of ideas!
Deb Lewis, in response to "I was stumped there for a bit, which is sad because I love food and fibers."
A pretty table cloth makes dinner nicer. Pretty napkins on a table make even salad and sandwiches seem elegant. People have used muslin for straining stocks and such for a long time. There's a reason "cheesecloth" is called cheesecloth!
Jill Parmer:
Hmmm, yes. I was heading down a thought process of people wearing food...ah I got it....I'm wearing jammie bottoms right now, made of soy.
Sandra Dodd:
During the Depression, there were traditional patterns for bonnets, aprons and clothes made of flour sacks, which were printed in pretty colors then so that those garments would be more interesting!
Pam Sorooshian:
Watching Project Runway might be really fun and interesting for her and also that the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles has a fantastic exhibit (going on now and into April - they have it every spring) of the clothing and costumes worn in academy award winning movies. When you go to the exhibit on a weekday, you can walk around the fashion institute and peek into the classrooms where student are working and they have a lot of exhibits of students work, too, along with a shop in which they sell student-designed and built clothing. In NYC, we visited Parson's School of Design, where Project Runway is filmed, and also spent time at Mood Fabrics, where they do most of their shopping. Amazing places.

My daughters used to LOVE fashion templates - you can download them or buy books full of them. This allows you to design fashions for bodies of all types, without having to draw the bodies. There are also some nice fashion-through-the-ages coloring books - by Dover and Bellerephon. When looking for fashion shows, you can expand her world a bit by finding interesting ones - there are fashion shows just for the Deaf, for example, which might be interesting.

Two of my three daughters took costume design classes in college - neither has an interest in becoming a designer, but they do LOVE fashion - read fashion magazines, etc.

- utility
- physical comfort
- presentation/statement
- beauty
- creativity
- colours
- accessories
- occasions, situations, roles
A friend mentioned that her daughter's "curriculum" this year has come entirely from Threadbanger How-To videos—Heidi might find them interesting. There is an awesome tutorial for making a wet felted beret.
Sandie D-S:
This conversation about fashion follows closely with some of the fun we have been having in our household.

A few weeks ago, my 7 year old and I were at Wal-Mart and just looking around in the toy section. She wanted to get ideas for her birthday present list to send to relatives. She saw the Project Runway Fashion Design set and then she saw a Harumika fashion set which comes with a dress form and different fabrics. No sewing required.

We went home and looked it up on Amazon and found 100's of different fun things on this subject, just type in fashion under kids, so many different things!!!. There are over 12 different computer programs, 1000's of books...endless possibilities.

So she got the basic Harumika set and her older sisters (who are in different areas of the country) sent her fabric swatches and some of their clothes which she cut up and has been playing with for hours and hours. She pulled out some of her Dover coloring books on Japan and started making kimono's. She has been looking at different era's, countries and talking abut the differences (like swimsuit styles) and how they have changed.

I watch, listen, interact and help by being interested and finding other resources for her to look at. She may or may not continue to be interested, but she knows if she is interested in something, there are vast amounts of resources out there to help her learn about it.

I am a single unschooling mom of 6 kids (31-8) who is on the lower economic scale, and have several years of college without a degree and still learning everyday. I have been unschooling my children since the early 80's, when I met a couple with teenagers in a bookstore in California and they told me about John Holt and I immediately bought his book. I have either run my own business(es) or as I do now, work as a Nanny/household manager (for 4 teenage boys who go to public school). I discovered this list a few years ago and felt like I finally had peers who understood me!

Ohhh, this is awesome!

I'll add Textiles to the historic thread, specifically the role of textiles as a way for Medieval women like Hildegarde D' Bingen, to tell their stories.

The first female "texts" were sewn, not written.

Robin Bentley:
  • what types of people are part of an industry
  • who are these people in context of their culture and country
  • how and why does clothing get made and by whom
  • who are the designers, crafters, factory workers in certain cultures
  • gender roles.


  • the psychological makeup of creative people
  • what makes a good team
  • why some people work best alone and other with a group
  • are designers different from the general population and if so, how
  • the sheer joy of realizing one's vision and how that affects one's life
Oh, boy. There's so much...
also Robin, in a related post:
If your daughter has creative ideas, she should have materials to explore them. Scissors, tape measures, yarn, embroidery thread, glue, glue guns, craft foam, beads, butcher paper, poster board, drawing tablets, lots of pencils and erasers, colored pencils, feathers, shells, paint, sequins, jewels, elastic, silk flowers & plants, ribbon and more.

How about books or websites that feature working or legendary designers? Watching Project Runway or Launch My Line? The list goes on and on.

Robyn Coburn:
Without looking at other replies, so sorry Sandra if there are overlaps:

Women's studies - women's work through out history
Courtship rituals
Clothing as class marker and secret messages
Rise of trade unionism - "Norma Rae" -- depictions in popular culture and the media
Mining and metallurgy
Tanning and furs - the fur trade (eek)
You said commerce -- trade -- the Silk Road -- politics
Engineering and manufacturing
The history of New York city itself
Whales and whaling
Feathers and birds - hunting
Ecology and endangered species - which leads to international politics too.
Dyes - chemistry of dyes, mordants.
Patent law
The Bible
Storytelling and comics (Bayeux tapestry the first comic)
Fine art - paintings, style, movements, materials
Color theory, lighting
Gotta say it - Geometry
Contemporary independent crafts and the DIY craft movement

Check out my next article in Natural Life magazine (May/June) called "Refashioning Part One" in part about the used clothing industry. "Refashioning Part Two" will follow about upcycling old clothes.

There is a ton of stuff on tv right now - specials about manufacturing in China, a series called "Blood, Sweat and T-shirts" about the rag trade. In terms of workers' rights the clothing industry in India today seems pretty much where the clothing industry was in New York and the East Coast in the 1890's through pre WWII.

A cool book, like "The Devil Wears Prada" for another era - Anne Scott James, "In the Mink". I hope to adapt it for the screen one day. So add Publishing to the list.

I am presently writing a novel and screenplay concurrently that is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty in a sense from the point of view of the spinning wheel. Eventually I hope that will be added to the pop culture lexicon about textile arts in due course.

Some great magazines for design other than the fashion glossies:

Women's Wear Daily is the industry journal.
Belle Armoire ( is beautiful
Fiber Arts - Taunton Press is about artists working in all kinds of textile media including clothing.
Carole, in Hampshire, U.K.:
My 6 year old daughter and I have been having fun with this recently too. She was doing a sticker book on clothing through the ages, which brought up conversations around
  • culture of different countries
  • clothing for different purposes (eg going to the opera vs daytime)
  • clothing for different status (queen vs lady in waiting)
  • different roles - eg what is a lady in waiting
  • clothing for different climates
  • history/evolution (from a very logical question given the layout of the book - 'did we use to be chinese?')
  • ethics and changes in attitudes over time (eg wearing fur, rising hems)
and then moved into listening to 50's music & watching/doing some rock'n'roll & swing dancing

Tess has also been designing clothes using a paper based design set (Klutz paper fashions) and we got the Harumika mannequin set yesterday, which she played with for about 10 hours solid and then got up today and did some more. We have also recently bought some fabric & a pattern and will be making her a dress together. Not quite sure how to categorise what she's learning from these activities, beyond the obvious things of design, colour and so on, but there's definitely a whole lot more going on, things like coming up with designs & concepts in her head before she does the physical design, plus scale & shape.

Jenny Cyphers:
Why ninjas and thieves wear black...

Ninja clothing was VERY important to Chamille in her search of fashion wonders!

She learned ninjitsu because they wore black, she wanted nothing to do with any of those martial arts that wore white.

I asked my fashion guru here at our house, Chamille.

She said, you learn a lot about people. I'm not sure how to put that in a nice one word explanation. She was meaning that if you like a certain kind of fashion then you'll learn a lot about the kind of people that also like that kind of fashion and where they get their ideas and why they like it.

She also said "math", which surprised me. She said that you learn about how to piece shapes together and count out stitches and turn 2-D things like fabric into 3-D things that fit onto people.

She also said you learn about the tools and technical skills involved.

I'll come up with more...

I know that Chamille has learned about

shock value
store merchandising
fashion curve, or rise and fall of various fashions
vintage clothing
corsets and whale bones, which also falls under tools of the trade and history
shapes of people
repairing clothing
pattern making
color theory
gender and colors...
since in India the colors for genders are different than the US. I used to work at a rec center that had a lot of Indian clients. They did birthday parties there and the Indian moms preferred the Christmas wrapping papers with red and green and gold to standard b-day wrapping paper with pink or blue and cupcakes or something.
Sandra asking about...
***do you mean what people would wear for those things?***
Deb Lewis responding:
I was thinking of blindfolds, gags, ropes, hoods, pillows.

Until recently Montana used hanging as the method of execution in death penalty cases. I think Washington still uses hanging.

I was also thinking of corpse disposal (wrapped in a sheet, rolled up in a carpet, stuffed in a duffle bag, sent down a laundry chute, etc)

Dressing for the occasion is very interesting, too. We should add funeral customs and attire.

Robyn Coburn, responding to
Deb, do you mean what people would wear for those things? There are definitely some traditions involving attire for executions. Murderers should probably remember to wear rubber gloves. But torture and suicide... but torture, in True Lies (and too often on Fox's 24)... usually just whatever the guy happened to be wearing.
If we are travelling on a learning journey from fashion design to textiles, then we would at least pass by rope making, hence nooses...gallows, suicide by hanging, lynching - are here we are at either the Wild West or the South during the civil rights era.

See Kathy, everything counts. Connections are everywhere. It's a crazy crackled web, not a defined path.

Schools intend to predict the narrow learning paths. That is what curriculum really is - directed prediction.

Get off the train - read my fairy tale at Sandra's site. /park

[Someone wrote: I probably could have gotten it faster with a dress form, but I've never been able to afford one.]

Are you going to love these links...
That link is gone, but the video is probably one of these:

Jenny, to Robyn's note, "If we are travelling on a learning journey from fashion design to textiles, then we would at least pass by rope making, hence nooses...":

Knowing about textiles and knowing about ropes is interesting too

ropes and sails used to be made from hemp
that ties into history and politics and cotton plantations and sailing and availability of resources, and commerce
Schuyler Waynforth:
Adultery, the scarlet letter, clothes as markers of status, white at weddings, or white at funerals. Blue being for boys because it was one of the most expensive dyes and boys were more valuable as heirs.
Jenny Cyphers:
Margaux, 8, has been making maternity wear for her barbies. In conjunction with that, she's also been making baby slings and going online to dress up games dot com and doing mom and baby dress up and maternity wear dress up. All kinds of conversations have arisen from this play. There are hundreds of online dress up games. Margaux will literally spend all day playing them at times!

So, I'll add

  • maternity wear
  • birthing practices
  • child wearing and caring
  • online games
Robyn Coburn:
Movies with sewing, textiles and fashion design (as a plot point or setting, not just cool clothes) in no particular order:
  • Howl's Moving Castle
  • The Princess and the Pauper (Barbie)
  • Stepmom (1998)
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • Norma Rae
  • Funny Face
  • Bratz: Rock Angels (they start a teen fashion magazine together)
  • I Can Get It For You Wholesale
  • Middle of the Night
  • Wanted (2008)
  • Pret-a-Porter - Ready to Wear
  • A New Kind of Love
  • Coraline
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Alice in Wonderland (2010) - milinery oh yes! and the cutest bit of miniature doll dress making (big happy laugh from the audience) - just see the movie - it's cool.
  • someone mentioned Pretty in Pink
  • Enchanted
  • Roberta (1935)
More TV:
  • The Fashion Show (similar to Project Runway, hosted by Isaac Mizrahi)
  • That's So Raven
  • Wizards of Waverly Place - Harper's home made wacky clothes

I'm reading "London" right now by Peter Rutherford. It's a fictionalized history of London from its very beginnings. I've just been reading about how chain mail was made and how they fashioned it to fit a person, how the links were laid out. Fascinating.

Clothing as armor, defense, protection (chastity belts, jockstraps), display (codpieces, corsets). Codpieces were originally designed to conceal but grew (oh, dear) into being designed for emphasis.

Jenny Cyphers wrote:
Oh Robin, I just sent a message about cod pieces, but I totally forgot about chastity belts
I'll add religious dress to the list, things a monk or priest might wear, or any other religious dress The way nuns dress have changed a LOT over the years and things such as hair shirts which also falls under fabric content, ewwww!

I'll add

  • drugs
  • dance clubs
  • 80's fashion
  • wigs
  • make-up
  • cod pieces
  • sexually transmitted diseases
Jill Parmer:
Metals - gold thread
Tensile strength - silk fiber vs wool or cotton fiber strength
Books/paper/maps, probably fits under communications from previous email
Video games - clothing, armor, tailoring profession
Smuggling - sewing gems, money in hems, or other parts of clothing
Jill, Sandra, Andrea, distilled:
I was thinking about what judges and lawyers wear, what people in the position to make and define laws wear. Like the white wigs, judges cloaks, that sort of thing.
Judicial robes. Barrister's robe/wig.
Lauren Stranahan:
dating .. folding a nickel inside a handkerchief and pinning it to your bra so you could call your mom if your date got 'fresh'. i think my mom told me that.

and didn't the side that your neck scarf was tied on mean something? single or taken? i think that came from my mom, too.

Su Penn:
Among some of the Amish, there are different apron/bonnet colors, and bonnet styles, for married/unmarried women.

Among the gay community, there is or was a whole "hanky code" about what you were looking for romantically/sexually based on what color bandana you had peeking out of your back pocket, and which pocket it was. You can find lists of dozens of hanky colors, but I don't know how seriously most people ever took most of them.

I read a really interesting article many years ago (pre-unschooling) by someone who was fed up with the stereotype that girls who were into fashion were dumb and superficial. The article talked about how much attention had to be paid to subtle things, how much skill girls had to have with putting things together rather than just following a set outfit, how much study went into keeping up with changes, how much understanding of color was needed--basically her point as was that you can't be really into fashion and be dumb and ignorant, because it takes smarts and knowledge to keep up. It changed my perspective and reminded me of how easy it can be to dismiss someone whose areas of interest and expertise are different from yours.

Robin Bentley:
In Polynesian culture, a flower worn on the left side of your head means you're taken, the right side means you're available.
Leah Little:
School uniforms and dress codes? Can I say that? :)
Meryl Ranzer:
This is my industry, I've been a designer here in NY for over 20 years.
The list so far is so great, what fun.

I'll add:

Computers (Photoshop/Illustrator, other CAD programs) which leads into
computer programming
Pantone Colors-Standard coloring system in many industries now that we have a global economy
Forecasting trends and seasonal colors-an industry unto itself
Pricing/Costing-How much does it really cost to make a garment
Sustainability-A very hot trend in fashion right now
Yarn, knitting, knitting machines-very cool to watch a machine create a sweater Labor-Fair labor practices
Project Runway
Designers-Each designer has their own unique story
Graphic design/embellishment/ornamentation
Regional styles

I could go on...
Gwen (willow_selene):
I remember reading stories of people fleeing the Holocaust sewing valuables into their clothing....

Which could lead to the Star of David being required on clothing...which could lead to other religious symbols being used in clothing design....which could lead to religious clothing in general...which could lead to Native American traditions....I'm thinking of Eagle Dancing for some reason...which could lead to how animal fur/leather/parts are/were used in clothing...which could lead to beavers, fur trapping, and the expansion of the West.

And somewhere in there, not sure where...early to mid-80's Madonna....which could lead to fashion fads....which could lead to styles being recycled every twenty years or so.

The Romanov family also sewed jewelry and money into their clothes shortly before they were killed.

I was also thinking of how different everyday fashion looks in the US compared to Europe or even Japan. I don't know if you could use Google street view to take a peek or not?

Joyce Fetteroll:
(quoting Gwen):
I was also thinking of how different everyday fashion looks in the US compared to Europe or even Japan. I don't know if you could use Google street view to take a peek or not?
Yes, or at least something similar! Street-style blogs have postings of street fashion around the world.

I sent this to my daughter a year ago so some of the links might be broken but the first couple I tested were fine.

Points of Entry
Sandra note: The link was gone and the replacement may or may not be similar.


THE STREET: Seeking men and women fully dressed? The joyful street-style blogs are for the traveler who likes the sit-in-a-cafe-and-observe part and can be brought around — in the recession, anyhow — to the from-the-comfort-of-your-home part. My favorites are the pristine ones that don't have muddy, trashy party pictures that really belong on MySpace. I like a point of view, lucid pictures, some analysis and lots of air in the design. That means:

Face Hunter (London and beyond)
The Sartorialist (New York and beyond)
Garance Doré (Paris)
Copenhagen Street Style
Stockholm Street Style
Altamira NYC
Stil in Berlin
The Style Scout (London)
Style-Arena (Tokyo by neighborhood; see especially Harajuku which first defined street style)
The Streetswalker (Tel Aviv)
Toronto Street Fashion
Styleclicker (Munich)
On the Corner (Buenos Aires)
Austin Style Watch
2 Threads (Australia)
The MidWasteland (Chicago)
Miss at the Playa (miscellaneous)
Hel-Looks (Helsinki)
Look at Me (Moscow)
Shanghai Viva
Glam Canyon (London)

My niece wanted to make a costume for an anime convention last year. She came up with an idea for the costume, then got to work making it. We were all blown away by the functionability of the animal head of the costume, most specifically the hinged jaw that moves when she opens and closes her own mouth. She'd never taken any kind of design or costuming class or anything like that—she just utilized the internet when she got to a design feature that she needed help figuring out. She's since made several more costumes, for herself and her siblings, and is currently making the one she wants to wear at this year's anime convention.

She's made videos during various stages of the production of her costumes and has the videos posted on YouTube—I thought it might be interesting for kids (and adults) who are interested in making costumes to check out what she's done:

I think this is a fantastic example of what can be done when kids have the materials and resources they need to try something that interests them. She already had duct tape and foam and a little sewing machine (which my mom upgraded for her when my mom saw how thick the faux fur is!) and all sorts of other arts and crafts supplies, then her mom took her to get the faux fur and other things she needed to complete the first costume. My niece could've read a book or taken a class on how to make a costume, but the actual making of the costume is where she really figured out what would work and what wouldn't—*she* figured it out; she didn't have an author or teacher feeding her that information.

Sarah (sarahgodoy):
Hi, it's my first time writing. Just wanted to say, I'm so impressed with all the ideas so far!

I thought to add:

  • Uniforms, uniformity, the benefits and pitfalls of conformity.
  • School uniforms, company uniforms, military uniforms.
  • Uniforms via trends in popular culture, whether based on name brands or the 'alternative look'.
  • Dress Codes (no shirt, no shoes, no service. No hats in school, church, or at the dinner table. Tie and Jacket required. No rapper style clothing in certain dance clubs
  • Cultural codes / Signs
  • Nudity. Nudist colonies. The significance of nudity in Ancient Greece, as applied to men vs women.
  • Form vs content: A T-Shirt printed with the likeness of Che Guevara manufactured in a sweat shop in Central America. A Canadian flag made in China.
  • Fair Trade clothing and shoes
  • Assimilation vs resistance and continuity of culture (despite intense racism faced for doing so, many indigenous people of Guatemala continue to wear their traditional clothing as a form of resistance to their oppression.
  • Religious veils; why some women find them to be oppressive, while other women find them to be freeing
  • straight jackets
  • dress shirts starched and pressed.
  • Dry cleaning: what the heck is it?
  • Conceptions of cleanliness (How white are your whites?)
  • Connotations associated with colours, ie: white = good, black = bad
  • Emotions and moods relayed through colour
  • Bio-degradable fibers vs plastic fibers
  • What is Gortex? Microfibers?
  • The amazing properties of wool
  • UV protective clothing (when ozone holes were first detected)
  • Mosquito nets, bee keepers' protective wear, radiologists' and astronauts suits
  • is vinyl a safe material to be used for clothing (ie rain jackets)?
  • what about the use of fire retardant chemicals for baby clothing and furniture?
  • Huge amounts of used clothing being sent to Africa, and the impact on culture there
  • quilting. story telling. memorial quilts. quilting bees.
  • Hand-me-downs. (I forget where I heard the story about a little girl who, upon seeing her little sister wearing a dress that used to be hers, said, "I wore that when it was too big for her!"
Well that was more than I thought I could offer... That was fun, thanks! :)
Joyce Fetteroll:
There's also the Polyvore site:
The site has thousands of clothes (designer and otherwise) and accessories and people assemble outfits from them and post them in categories. It's sort of like what coloring books are to drawing. It's being able to play around with how pieces work together without having to draw the pieces.

It's a big community. People can explore other collections through tags (so you can find sets of Goth or ruffles.) And people can find others interested in the same styles like on Deviantart.

There's also interior design sets. And art sets.

Just a very cool site :-)

Do shoes count?

I just remembered the fairy tale "The Red Shoes"

Made into a film in 1948:, and a beautiful new adaptation:

My husband was a Benedictine monk before we met and the stuff that I learn from listening to him talk about it is really fasinating. A lot of it can be tied directly to clothing.
-History of religious vocations.
-A lot can be learned from looking at the nuances of the habits and robes of different religious groups. The differences in dress between the various monastic groups can be traced back to the origins of the monastery. For instance, there is one group of monks that have detachable cowls (hoods) because the monks were being persecuted. If they detached their cowls when they went out, they could escape persecution by looking like a diocesen priest.
-Most of the pieces of a habit have some kind of significance or underlying meaning, which can lead to a discussion of symbolism.
-Another interesting note is that at one point in time, nuns would wear a wedding dress to the ceremony where they received their habits because it symbolized being the bride of Christ.
We have a friend that used to be a Buddhist monk. It was interesting to hear my husband (former Catholic monk) and a former Buddhist monk compare and contrast the differences in monastic life at their respective monasteries. Part of the differences were related to fashion in that there were rules about how and when they were expected to wear their habits. There was even a discussion of what they wore under their habits while attending church.
How Elvis Appears to Unschoolers Gilligan's Island Connections