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Dressmaking opens past to Cape High students
Final product presented during Lewes Historical Society event
Makayla Bowen took a step back and smiled as she admired her handiwork. The Cape senior spent the end of her junior year mastering the fine art of dressmaking, and the result was a 19th century style dress that she modeled June 24 for the Lewes Historical Society.
Makayla and Michiah Rushin were two students in Alayna Aiken's textile class at Cape High who took on the challenge of dissecting worn, vintage dress to create a new one.
The original dress, dating back to the late 19th century, was donated to the class by the Lewes Historical Society.
"I liked making the skirt with the bustle," said Makayla, a size 00 who still had trouble fitting into the tiny dress. She said she learned that 19th century women always wore corsets underneath their dresses, and they started wearing corsets at a young age to cinch their waists and create an hourglass figure.
"It was painful," Makayla said.
Both third-year sewing students in Aiken's class, Makayla and Michiah worked with historical society volunteer Huong Le-Si and Aiken to create the 1890s replica. They also made a second dress, a slightly newer fashion from 1910.
Marcos Salaverria, director of education for the Lewes Historical Society, donated the original 1890s dress to Aiken's class in December when he also gave the class a history lesson on fashion. Over the past five months, Salaverria followed progress on the dresses, and he congratulated the girls on their final creations.
Marcos may not have been aware, but, Aiken said, the girls finished their challenging projects motivated largely by his encouragement.
"For some unknown reason, Marcos knows how to speak teenage girl," Aiken said. "He told them, 'If you choose to make replications of dresses from this time period, you can model them.'"
The girls were hooked.
Aiken said the prospect of modeling their dresses carried them through five months of planning, problem solving, cutting, ripping out, getting frustrated, running out of fabric, losing focus, getting nagged by Aiken, regaining focus, begging for help and then wanting to do it all by themselves, and finally finishing the project.
Throughout the process of making the dresses, the girls and their classmates were drawn into late 19th century culture by researching hairstyles, transportation and commerce.
"Teaching kids history is always a challenge, but learning about fashion hooked them into learning about history," Aiken said.
For Michiah, creating the dress sparked a deeper interest in sewing that she hopes to pursue at fashion school.
"I would definitely do it again," she said, as she posed with her calico-print dress. "My favorite part was making the back of the jacket."
"TEACHING KIDS HISTORY IS ALWAYS A CHALLENGE, BUT LEARNING ABOUT FASHION HOOKED THEM INTO LEARNING ABOUT HISTORY."
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