Once upon a time I was a student at a smallish university in an equally smallish town and my intended major was Home Economics with a specialty in fashion design. Though this school was well known for some of its programs, fashion design was not really one of them…and no one pretended it was. When anyone asked what I planned to major in, and I told them, they would throw out the tired old line “Oh, you’re getting your M.R.S. degree!” Not exactly high praise.
What then, made my time at this particular institute of higher learning so meaningful?
Even though we learned obvious skills such as sewing and pattern making, preparing us for the larger picture of life was the more important objective. There was little talk of making it big in places like New York City or landing jobs with some major designer, because in reality that wasn’t what most of us would do. The goal was making sure that we felt good about ourselves so that we would be happy and proud of ourselves no matter where we ended up. I remember one assignment we were given to design and then make a skirt. I used a vintage drapery panel and some fringe. The resulting skirt was probably dreadful, but because of the praise I received as I modeled it for my grade, I “felt” like a designer. Another time I wore a pea soup green men’s golf sweater to class and paired it with a fuchsia scarf. Who else, but one of my gems of a professor would see the positive side and tell me that pea soup green was a difficult color to wear, but how ingenious of me to make it work by wearing the fuchsia scarf next to my face. Even mistakes were handled diplomatically. Once, when I incorrectly made up a pattern, I wasn’t told I was wrong, but instead I received the comment, “I’ve never seen anyone approach that design in quite that way before!”
I didn’t graduate from this school. I dropped out, for a variety of reasons. I eventually went back to school several years later at a much bigger and better known university. There the stakes were higher, image was everything, and if a career in the “majors” wasn’t going to happen, then there really wasn’t much point, was there? Pea soup green sweaters were a definite no no.
So why this trip down memory lane? Because once again I live in that same small town--and just a few blocks from that same ( but not quite so smallish anymore) university. And it was while living in this town, this time, that I dreamed up my little handmade barkcloth bag business, For the Love of Pete-which embodies all those important lessons I learned here as a student. That doing what I love and being proud of what I do, no matter how humble, are pretty big achievements after all. I think my old professors would approve .
Photo by Philip Gendreau