When most people think about making, STEM-related fields, like programming and robotics, immediately come to mind, but making can also support learning in other areas, like arts and humanities. This year, we’ve highlighted media, music, and even poetry as areas where educators can integrate making with curriculum. One way to incorporate making, artistic creativity, and STEM is by engaging students with fashion design. Designing clothing is also a flexible maker learning experience that can incorporate many different learning goals and outcomes. Variables like choice of fabric or material, industry trends, and weather and climate conditions can act as creative constraints or inspirations for different experience levels. Fashion design also creates opportunities for students to be creative with what they’re learning in STEM courses — for example, can we design a piece of clothing to monitor a person’s heart rate as they work out?
Read our feature on Maker Champion Shimira Williams, founder of Beauty of S.T.E.M, for more inspiration around working with youth to integrate making, fashion, and technology.
Shimira Williams currently works at WQED Education and is the co-founder of an early stage startup C.C. Busy.
In 2013, I operated a home-based childcare facility with the mission to kick-start technology education for children and their family. One student declared she did not like the programming because she was interested in fashion and “girlie” stuff. Clueless, as I have no fashion sense, I went to my local librarian to help me find books on fashion and crafts. I did this for a few months, while also allowing her to work on different embellishment projects, such a bedazzling a phone case with jewels and making hair accessories and earrings. Then I recalled learning to sew as a tween.
Sewing was a perfect way to incorporate fashion into our existing program. Sewing can be simple or complex, fast or slow, independent and interdependent. There are a number of professions that use sewing, from cosmologist to heart surgery. Everything about creating a fashion look relates to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S.T.E.M).
When we think about the process of making fashion, it typically starts with a sketch of an idea. Then the consideration of the material, machinery, and process necessary to create. Next, is the detailing of the measurement and methods using/creating a pattern. The act of fabricating and finishing is an iterative process, until the fashion look is complete by wearing, displaying, or selling the work we create.
I took part in a The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Maker Education Boot Camp to learn how I could replicate MakeShop® activities at my facility as well as learning standards alignment. I was specifically interested in leveling-up my electronics skills. At the boot camp, I discovered wearable microcontrollers, Arduino IDE, and conductive textile. This was the aha moment for The Beauty of S.T.E.M.®, a program I designed to be an eight-week studio series culminating in a fashion show.
Youth participate in weekly studio sessions to learn about the fabrication process and materials required to create garments. In the first week, the youth decide on the theme of the fashion show and then weekly we breakdown the design and fabrication schedule by scene. Each session is four hours to give students time to discuss, design and fabricate. Throughout the series we bring in fashion industry experts to facilitate an activity and discuss their career path.
Over the years, we have taken this traditional method of making and infused modern technologies to create fashions such as a tutu with neopixels and an accelerometer. Our themes have revolved around electroluminescent wire/tape and 3D printing. Youth have used LEDs to create jewelry and incorporate the electroluminescent wire into their clothing. More recently, I worked with the local library to make hoodies with a textile potentiometer and neopixels then embellish using a smart cutting tool.
Fashion technology is a rapidly growing industry, and I’m looking forward to working with youth to create new possibilities for fashion through the Internet of Things. Can we build a smart mirror with voice assistant that streamlines your morning, with information about the weather, your agenda for the day, and the best outfit to wear from your closet because it knows what’s available?
While a smart mirror is lofty, you can get started with a simple project like changing the button on a jacket to give it new life, or preserving something old by repurposing it, like an old t-shirt turned into a bag. Then add e-textiles with purpose—be intentional about the design and functionality. No matter how you get started, it’s critical to remember your style is personal and tells a story.
Check out these resources recommended by Shimira to help you get started: