BRATTLEBORO >> A recent fashion show at Brattleboro Union High School showcased a unique project for students in sculpture and sewing classes at Brattleboro Union High School. After a field trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to see an exhibit combining fashion and technology, the students chose a theme — Nature and Industry — and created original garments to reflect either nature, or industry, or the tension between the two.
Braxton Lynn, a senior, started with a traditional vest.
"It started out as a woman's vest, white with fur, a classic vest," he recalled. "I decided to paint it green and do streaks of camo colors to make it nature-y."
Then Lynn and Alex Harrison chanced upon some plants with long leaves.
"We started stripping the leaves off for no reason at all," Lynn said. "There were hundreds of them, and eventually we got the idea to use all these leaves, so we cut the sleeves off a flannel, and we sewed the leaves onto the sleeves so they got really bushy and thick, and we sewed the sleeves onto the vest."
Serena Pellerin knit an entire dress.
"I started knitting these random shapes, usually triangles, and then made a patchwork dress," she explained. "It's nature, pre-industrial clothing before the big mills got put into place."
Theresa Underwood also went with the nature theme.
"Mine is a dress that I made for myself," she said. "It's like a wood-fairy nymph sort of thing, and it was originally supposed to be a 1950s-type, but I messed up a lot, so the top didn't go with the skirt."
She solved the problem by turning the long skirt into a short dress.
"I made the skirt into a dress and I glued on a bunch of ferns and berries," she said. "I tied my waist with a beautiful pink ribbon, and I have a pinecone tiara with a bird on top."
Declan King created the costume for one of the MCs of the fashion show.
"I felt like it was a lot of pressure, so I stressed out a lot about it at the beginning," he remembered. "I started with a brown corduroy jacket and added black mesh and metal screen to it to add dimension, and then I put metal spikes coming off the shoulders.
"I also made a top hat out of cardboard, and then I painted on a starry background with golden numbers floating around on it," King continued. "I made him a clock necklace like Flava Flav's, but it's more cosmic than that. I think it works out well because his name is Ty, and it's Father Tyme."
Amelia Graff and her partner depicted industry — and pollution — on a suit jacket.
"Our original idea was to paint a sky on the jacket, and make mesh into a cape, but the mesh didn't really work the way we wanted it to, so we bunched it up on the shoulder," she said.
"We started with this greenish polyester jacket, and we spray-painted it silver and hand-painted a city skyline, and then did mesh smoke coming out of the building into a kind of sculptural thing on his shoulder. And then we glued stars on it."
Originally, Kira Boucher planned to combine Industry and nature.
"I started out with the idea of making a dress that started out natural and faded into industrial elements," she explained. "I decided that I wanted to keep the fade but keep just the nature theme.
"The bottom of the dress is sort of sculptural flames, so it smokes up into sticks and leaves and more earth," she went on, "and then there's a headband with blue netting that resembles water, so it came together to be the elements."
Aisha Schor and Shadda Cliche, her partner, had no sewing experience when they decided to make a complicated dress.
"Neither one of them knew how to sew and they picked this elaborate gown," noted Mary Ann Smith, who teaches sewing at the high school. "They came and learned how to use a sewing machine."
"We cut out the pattern and put it together and sewed it, and then we embellished the bottom and up the side with peacock feathers," Schor said. "We also put small white jewels all over the dress to unify it, and we made a mask with peacock feathers, and a fan with peacock feathers."
Katie Burroughs started with a mix-and-match pattern — in Spanish. And that was only one problem.
"I started out with a silky, slippery fabric that didn't want to stay in one place," she noted. "Since the beginning I've had some problem, whether the thread kept breaking or the fabric kept slipping, or the bodice turned out to be way too small for even my 10-year-old sister."
Burroughs didn't give up.
"I made a new bodice without a pattern," she said. "It's a high-low style dress that has pieces on the side that extend the dress to give it some sculptural things."
Theresa Underwood encountered even more serious difficulties, starting with finding a bodice pattern that was small enough for her. Eventually she found one, but realized that she was sewing above her level of skill.
"Once I found out that the bodice didn't work with the skirt, my whole world fell apart," she recalled. "When I scrapped my bodice, and just made the skirt, I finished it in two days. I was really disappointed with how much work I put into something that I wouldn't use."
Carrie Potter-Earle made a dress out of raffle-tickets.
"It wasn't my first idea, but then after seeing the whole bucket of tickets, I thought it would be so cool to make a whole dress out of them," she said. "When I started, I realized that the tickets are made of paper and they rip easily because they're already perforated."
She consulted Smith and Kathleen Sweeney, who teaches sculpture.
"Ms. Sweeney gave me a gloss and I painted them all over, front and back," Potter-Earle said. "It made them a little more sturdy for what I needed."
Ankita Bhanot, who hopes to become a designer, created a nature-themed gown with fabric from India.
"I wanted to make something big," she commented. "I sketched it, and I found patterns that were similar to my design, so I altered them to what I wanted. The gown is like a rose, and it has a rose on it and flowers."
Along the way, Bhanot learned to make facings, and practiced French seams for a neatly finished garment.
Schor noted that she gained several skills.
"I learned how to iron, and how to cut out a pattern, how to run a sewing machine, how to sew — I learned a lot," she said.
Underwood said that she also learned to use new sewing techniques, while Graff learned a larger lesson.
"I learned to be a little detail-oriented," she commented. "I like to do things the easy way, but in order for my garment to look good, I had to pay a lot of attention to straight lines."
Many of the students' garments changed on the way from concept to finished clothing.
King learned about the creative process itself.
"I learned to give in to mistakes," he said. "When you're making anything new and make mistakes, you just have to go with it — and something new ends up being made out of the mistakes."
Maggie Brown Cassidy, who retired as a French teacher at Brattleboro Union High School, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.