March - 2014

Welcome to Minimakers - March 2014! Students from the 5-7th grades at Sidwell Friends School in Washington DC. spent three days  (after a late season snow day) transforming stained and torn garments that had been donated to Martha’s Outfitters into clothing and accessories that no one would ever want to give away. The 17 students worked in four different groups to create four unique collections. Upon completion their creations went back to Martha's Outfitters on 14th St NW in Washington, DC where they are on sale now.

To learn more about each group’s process and finished work visit their collection pages by clicking on the illustrations below. To learn more about the Minimakers 2014 Program experience continue scrolling through this page. Enjoy!

Students began by identifying the difference between, a product, art and design. They agreed that good design should be functional, intriguing and considerate of its impacts. Through activities students learned that design takes time and direction.

Students spent the morning exploring the power of design through something very familiar to them -- food. Why are Americans 30% more likely to choose processed foods over fresh foods? Students first answered that processed foods are cheaper. When challenged to prove this statement the group realized that when you relate the price of processed foods to the amount of nutrients in them, many processed foods are far more expensive than fresh foods rich in nutrients. With this in mind, students explored the role design plays in packaging food in such as way as to lead people to think processed foods are cheaper than fresh foods. How can fresh fruits and vegetables grab our attention like packaged food does? Can we add value to fresh foods through design to remind people that for the money fresh foods pack more of a punch? Two specific design challenges arose from this discussion.

First, students were encouraged to play with their food at lunch to show how food itself can have the added value of entertainment. Not everything fun has to come in a package!

Second, the students looked at what else can be created from fresh food by making natural dyes from food waste collected after meal preparation at Martha's Table and Sidwell Friends School. Students saw that in fact fresh foods can have multiple uses that process foods don’t have. (Processed foods simply won’t create the same natural dye colors, because the colors in the foods are often unnatural dyes to begin with!) Not only did they document their recipes for these dyes, they had fun giving the colors names like 'Halloween.'

Students experimented with their dyeing techniques by making swatches from t-shirts.

They also learned fabric manipulation techniques like cutting shirts into yarn and weaving them back together into new fabric.

Students used their swatches and new skills to design placemats that will encourage the person who uses them to make healthy choices throughout their day. Many students were inspired to create unique pockets for silverware like this one made with red silk and a zipper closure. Students used these placemats as continual swatches throughout the three days - testing dyes and practicing sewing skills and fabric manipulation techniques. You can view their finished results at the end of this page.

During lunch students wrote down the most inspirational thing about their dining experience. Then, in their design teams, students were challenged to translate their inspiration from lunch into a paper garment. Through this process Minimaker students quickly learned how to design as a team and how to push the limits of the materials they were given. After finishing their designs, students held a critique of their work and saw how one inspirational idea, such as the transparent layering of rice, can lead to multiple different designs. Students also learned that committing to your chosen inspiration will produce more interesting results.

Following up on their first design team challenge, the students heard from Jay Ott and Beatrice Kim, our guests for the week. Jay and Beatrice work together on a design team in NYC. They presented to the students one of their most recent collections. They explained their production process, walking students through the development of particular pieces from inspiration to market.

Beatrice, who sources the raw materials for multiple collections, stressed the importance of choosing the right fabric. She explained that the fabrics they choose will often determine the factories with which they will work to produce a particular piece. Each factory has different machines and different specialties. The collection they presented to the students is made entirely in NYC. Jay and Beatrice explained that producing locally allows the design team to keep a close eye on the quality and fit of each garment. Producing in NYC also makes their experience more enjoyable because it allows them to form relationships with the people making their clothes. Finally, Jay and Beatrice shed light on the different roles within a design team and offered the students tips for working together to accomplish ambitious goals in a short time.

Before choosing the garments that would serve as their raw materials, students discussed why we tend to feel differently about something that was made specifically for us by someone we know than we feel about the clothes in our closet that we bought off the rack. How often do we think about the people who make our clothes? What role should designers play in creating clothing that connects us to the people who make it? Students also learned about the cycle of clothing waste in the USA and how much of our donated clothing ends up on the continent of Africa. Why do we have so much stuff? Every item of clothing on this rack was donated by people in the DC area to Martha’s Outfitters where it was onsale for $1-$6. Each of these donated items were stained or had holes. Students reflected on what this says about our society. Is donating clothing a form of recycling? Do we believe that other people need what we don’t want anymore? Do all people have the right to want beautiful things? How might the condition of these donated items affect the emotional state of the people who shop second-hand at Martha’s Outfitters? What message are we sending and why?

Jay demonstrated rethinking and repurposing a torn and stained pair of pants into creative new tops. So inspiring! Jay’s 10 minute demonstration changed the way students approached the design process and challenged their notions about fashion in general.

Before any cutting or sewing occurred students learned more about the importance of inspiration, where to seek inspiration and how to be specific about the way something inspires you. Here one group is ideating with post-its on how their chosen inspiration, Blackbeard, can be translated into a garment.

Each student had a chance to use a sewing machine, quickly learning that each machine has its own personality (and things that break). Some students decided hand-sewing was easier even though it took more time!

Each team member had a specialty by the end of the week. Here Sam is teaching Nolan how to make fabric flowers by cutting strips and folding them accordian-style.

On Day 3 students learned about the differences between sketching and illustrating. In the fashion industry illustration gives designers the opportunity to convey the identity of their collection. After viewing several beautifully illustrated Vogue covers from the early 1900s students discussed how replacing illustration with photography impacts the way we view fashion and the people who create it. Is fashion art? Each team was required to answer this for themselves by conveying their identity as a design team through an illustration of their final collection.

Bringing the cycle full circle, minimaker students crafted placemats out of leftover fabrics and naturally dyed swatches.

This project was organized by Liz Ricketts and Branson Skinner of the.or network, along with Sidwell Friends Middle School teachers Kimberly Clarkson and Lauren Lamb, with thanks to New York City based designer Jay Ott and to Beatrice Kim from The Dock Group.