Sewing machines and sergers hummed furiously last week, as a group of girls in T-shirts and jeans stitched, pinned and appliquéd in a mad dash to be ready for a fashion show. A week later, these same girls, made up and creatively attired in elegant dresses and stylish outfits, cooly and confidently walked the runway between dining tables at the Athens Country Club.
The girls are members of the Young Designers Sewing Program. The 4–12 graders meet twice a week after school from August to May to design and sew garments in preparation for an annual fashion show.
The nonprofit was envisioned by founder and organizer Lillian Kincey. She started her Young Designers program in a trailer at Hilsman Middle School with about seven girls. Now the group meets in a spacious office across the street from Hilsman. The new fabric studio is a designer’s dream, with sturdy cutting and sewing tables and well-oiled machines, a rainbow of thread and shelves bursting with colorful materials.
The girls initially learn the stitching process with paper, before moving on to fabric and simple projects, like making pillow cases and basic quilts. As they gain skills with the machine, they start working with patterns. They learn the correct way to measure themselves in order to get a perfect fit in the garments they will create.
Peggy Galis attended Tuesday’s fashion show and said, “These young ladies are such a treat. They are so poised. Lillian teaches them so much beyond sewing.”
Kincey is indeed interested in teaching the girls more than just how to sew a dress. “I want to teach the girls not only that they can do anything [and] be anything they want,” she said, “but also show them how to get what they want.” This is achieved through things like lessons in interviewing and field trips to UGA to talk about the college application process.
At the country club that day, the girls appeared to be perfectly at ease in its formal spaces. Kincey has them mingle with guests after the show to practice socializing. Under the sparkly chandeliers, the girls were comfortable and gracious as guests stopped by to congratulate them and talk about the clothes.
She also teaches the importance and value of service and helping others. The quilts made by the young designers are donated each year. This year the girls gave quilts to St. Mary’s.
The clothes are fabulous and ultimately take center stage. On my studio visit, these young women wanted to talk about my outfit, my shoes, my bag. Those finished with their projects were eager to show them off, leading me to the racks to share their handiwork.
And on Tuesday at the country club, the girls and their work got to shine. Beautifully made up with shimmering makeup, each girl modeled her own creations. Elegance and grace were in ample supply as they modeled their repurposed outfits-made by combining old recycled garments in creative and surprising ways, as well as pieces made from patterns.
Barbara Dooley, the master of ceremony for the event, summed it up well. “Lillian has created a sewing group like no other.” Jeanne Ann Davidson, who started volunteering with Young Designers this year, agreed. “They are so inspiring. They have no fear. They’re not afraid to make a mistake and rip it out.”
For more information, including how to volunteer, visit youngdesignerssewing.com.