Design Weekend with a Budding Fashionista

Paula Scaffidi, fiber artist and BERNINA National Artisan, recently spent a weekend creating fashion with her niece – what fun!

The weekend my great-niece came to visit, we were hibernating indoors because of the weather. We had two precious days to play together, to make some memories …and also for me to introduce Lauren to the creative world of sewing.

Lauren lights up a room with her vibrant, eleven-year-old spirit. She’s brimming with enthusiasm and energy. So off we went together, on our first collaborative sewing adventure. With such a small time frame to get something memorable together, there simply wasn’t time for doubt. And when a kid is counting on you to pull it together, you just roll up your sleeves, get to work, and aim for the finish line. Flying by the whim of the moment, and the seats of our pants, made this weekend the special creative adventure we’d both hoped to share.

I recommend a design-sew project with a kid, any day of the week. They are intrepid explorers!

Gathering Inspiration

How did we get our collaboration going? We sipped iced green tea and leisurely browsed some available ladies’ fashion catalogs; it was good-time girl stuff, clipping out elements of garments Lauren liked; a relaxed, twenty minute shopping excursion of the mind. We were going to make a top of some kind, so we searched for a favorite sleeve, striking or pleasing color combinations, a preferred length, a neckline with appeal, etc.

It was pretty obvious — this preteen shopper had little interest in childish styles. She was searching for something that felt just right for her personality and her age. We also visited the website of a popular store that specializes in preteen fashion, and “reviewed” some fashion patterns online. Before we knew it, our heads were swimming with ideas we did like; and more knowledge about what we did not want to do. So Lauren sketched with markers on whiteboard, to visualize together the design elements she found most interesting. As Lauren began to instinctively “color” her line drawings, my brain was scanning known techniques with streamlined approaches for assembly, and I had one eye marking the clock. What choices would be appealing and also do-able?

First Steps: pattern, palette, and just pressing forward into the unknown

Drafting our own pattern wasn’t my first choice, but it became the obvious easy choice for several reasons: available patterns were either too little-girlish, not appealing, or sizes available were simply too large or adult in their fit. There was no talking Lauren into the initially proposed “Let’s make a simple tote bag.” I have to admit it; I did make that attempt while still pre-coffee on Saturday morning. As you can see, that didn’t fly. She was headed to the land of fashion, and I wanted to join her. So on we went, together, down the path to apparel land.

In the upper right corner of the whiteboard, you can see where I began to tentatively mark a few measurements. I decided to draft a simple, sleeveless tunic shape on paper from several basic measurements. I reasoned it would be best to start with something simple, and, once that fit, we could add to it. (See the specifics for simple measuring steps, and related design and technique how-to, on Fiberella Studio, my classroom site. The link is at the end of this post!) I did this quickly, knowing that the pattern would have to be tested on her. So together we traced the paper draft onto a see-through, flexible pattern-tracing material. Quickly basted together by machine, Lauren tried the top on. A happy surprise! It was just right, except for a minor shoulder slope adjustment. My angle was off, but easy to adjust.

Next stop was the fun of fabric “shopping” in my ample fabric stash. We pulled fabrics, a selection of ones I had large enough pieces of, in a few different colors. Lauren held them up while looking in the mirror. Lauren quickly chose the main fabric, an orchid color raw silk. Then we enjoyed going through my many boxes of trims and buttons for other possible materials. What fun! I remember the huge joy of only a few found scraps in my mother and grandmother’s sewing baskets when I was a kid. This was quite a fabric and notion adventure-search through my stuff. That’s when we came across my mother’s black lace. How special, that it was her great grandmother’s trim!

After a while, Lauren tried on the basted-together sleeveless tunic in orchid fabric, with a black yoke added in to both the front and the back. We looked in the mirror together, and saw it looked lovely, just simple. So we revisited our whiteboard; and eliminated many more excess design ideas. Since the coloration and drape was pleasing already, I tucked away (out of tempting view) secondary fabrics not needed. Her great grandma’s lace would reign supreme in the back view; and in bold contrast to white raw silk.

Lauren’s design board had enough ideas for our next several garment adventures together. The lovely patchwork, as a swing-back sheer over a back lining, awaits another visit to “Aunt Paula & Uncle Len’s” house. The red sash could reappear years from now!

So our possible-palette nearly was set; but we still didn’t have a clear vision of how many, and which design elements, this garment would have. Quietly in the background, tick tock went the clock. The lace begged for a prominent role. Where were we really headed?

Clarity of Vision: selecting one thought as a guide

Limited time was our friend, not our enemy. We simply had to peel away ideas until we arrived at one very simple, unifying theme. What would be the one thought, a be-all end-all important thought …that would help us to eliminate all unnecessary elements? Of the bundle of ideas Lauren came up with, (kids do this), eventually we could choose the one, simple idea that held the most allure, and therefore offered us the best potential to both unify our design and satisfy our design quest. Lauren had this terrific thought: let’s have the back of her top hold, in her words, a “surprise pop.”

We both loved that thought, but didn’t recognize it immediately as THE idea. It took a while to arrive there. During an ongoing process of elimination, we noticed that we kept going back to the “surprise pop” as an especially cool idea.

On the practical side, I also eliminated:

• anything above my skill set

• elements too time-consuming for our tight schedule

• things Lauren changed her mind about after a bit of exploration

Staying Flexible to the End

On day two, an already edged red sash (pictured on the front in the whiteboard sketch) and some torn silk crepe georgette (patchwork for the swing back) were set aside, deemed unnecessary and/or not-for-this-time. Hey! She’s a budding artist. Sunday’s mood shifted from the feeling of late Saturday. This happens, and actually….that’s the pure joy of it. We just kept moving forward with determination, a bit of strategy, and the whim of the day. The uncertainty adds to the adventure!

Lauren sewed her first stitch ever on a BERNINA 330 and had a thrill doing it. She told her Mom it was “easy.” She carefully stitched her Great-grandma Fran’s black lace into place (a save from my Mom’s sewing room), and did a nice job attaching the yoke to the body of the tunic, front and back. I also invited Lauren to “keep us parallel” while combi-stitching a sideways motion stitch on the BERNINA 830. Lauren selected a stitch she loved and mirrored it for the look she was after on the front yoke.

Even with unpleasant weather keeping us indoors, it didn’t seem likely we’d finish up in just two days. So, I adjusted the goals.

I decided it was important

• for Lauren to get a fair amount of hands-on sewing time

• for her to build a few good basic habits, and get comfortable at the sewing machine

• to teach safety tips each step of the way

• to have her experience a variety of tasks all through the process

• to provide enough repetition to really improve her skills with practice

• and to help her gain confidence in her sewing abilities.

While Lauren was engaged in repetitive tasks, I had time for necessary sewing tasks, outside the basics. For example, I serged all the raw edges before the seams were sewn, so Lauren could enJOY the satisfaction of having actually assembled the top with simple seams, backstitched at both ends. By adjusting our weekend goal from one of completion, to simply a final fitting, we regained the good feeling of being back on track. We would be able to meet our goals. I’d just mail the top to her after the finishing details were complete.

I truly enjoyed every aspect of this project, most especially the adventure Lauren and I shared. From design challenges, to the finishing techniques quietly stitched after Lauren traveled safely home …it was memorable from start to finish. So go find a young person and get together to play!


Paula Scaffidi

To learn more about specific techniques, including one Paula may have innovated during this project, visit, click on Free-Views, and select Apparel.

You’re invited to enJOY free-views on Paula’s new website, Dedicated to eLearning, you’ll discover the Fiberella Studio aims to inspire, inform and keep the creativity going. Free-views are offered across a wide range of topics, with new info always being added. So drop by often and stay a while! To view the latest updates, remember to refresh your page each tmie you visit.

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