Handmade Conversations: Designing Clothes with Teens

Posted by on Nov 27, 2012

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Designing clothes is a craft to which many teenagers are naturally drawn. Just check the doodles on their algebra notes — you'll likely find some filled with sketches of the latest fashions. Jacky Bahbout, co-author of the inspiring "My Fashion Lookbook," has created a book designed exclusively for the undiscovered designer in every teen.

Through intriguing questions and hands-on exercises, the fashion sketchbook makes concrete the often abstract process of translating a theme or inspiration into actual silhouettes and clothes. Jacky offers inside insight about how parents can foster a young teen's interest for designing clothes and creating fashions.

excerpt from "My Fashion Lookbook"
What pulls teens to designing clothes and other fashions?

I think designing clothes is a great way for teens to express themselves and make a statement. They already do this by choosing the clothes they buy, but I guess designing your own clothes takes it that step further. And at the moment there's such a trend for people to get creative and make their own clothes and crafts from scratch. You even see it with celebrities and in the media — people aren't so interested in brands, but more about putting together their own original look. Big brands don't make a statement anymore; individuals do. I think that approach really appeals to teenagers.

How is sketching and experimenting important to design?

Experimenting, which includes making lots of mistakes, is fundamental to any creative process. You have to be willing to come up with some spectacularly bad ideas in order to hit upon the spectacularly good ones!

In your book, you encourage teens to experiment long before they start designing. For example, they begin with a theme like a favorite city or candy. How is starting with a theme helpful?

Starting with a theme allows the whole collection to hang together — so you make sure there's a common thread going through all the garments at the end. Another reason I find starting with a theme helpful is that it stops you trying to jump straight to the outcome and thinking up a new design for a dress or a bag from scratch. I think you always get the best ideas in the most unexpected ways.... Allowing your mind to wander and gather inspiration from things that at first seem completely unrelated to what you're designing will give you much more fresh and original ideas.

The next step in your book is silhouettes, but you draw inspiration from crazy shapes like combs and cakes. What's the motivation for using ordinary household objects as inspiration?

I think the idea of inventing a new silhouette would be daunting because it's so abstract — where do you start? How much easier and more fun it is to start with what's right in front of you.... Designers do it all the time, looking around them and stealing inspiration from simple, everyday objects. It takes the pressure off — and it takes away that old excuse of "I don't know where to start"! There's inspiration all around us all the time.

You advise teens translating their designs to real clothes to use a bed sheet. Could you explain more about this process?

It's great having ideas on a page, but it's once you start draping real fabric that the fun really begins. Even experienced designers have to translate their sketches into real life before they can tell how the garments are going to hang. And it's so satisfying to see how much you can do with something as simple as a bed sheet. I think it's important to remember what you're designing for in the end — they're not just going to be images in a book, but real clothes, so why not start experimenting early on?

What's a common mistake or hindrance teens experience when designing? Any tips for overcoming?

I think as we grow up we all start trying to "get things right" and that really gets in the way of creativity. I think it's particularly hard for teenagers — you want to be taken seriously so the last thing you want to do is something silly or childish. But many artists and designers spend their lives trying to reconnect with that playfulness we all had as a kid — that willingness to experiment and mess things up.

I'd say to teens, you guys are lucky — you remember what it feels like to be a kid better than any of us, so use that, be silly, enjoy playing! Another hindrance is that we imagine designing to be about beautiful drawings — and it's really not. There are many successful designers who can't draw. It's not the final designs that have to look pretty — it's the ideas that count! So if drawing isn't your thing, use collage — anything to get your ideas across. A truly original, fun idea is worth much more than a "perfect" drawing — because no one else would have thought of it.

cover of "My Fashion Lookbook"
Jacky Bahbout and Cynthia Merhej are the authors of "My Fashion Lookbook," published by Thames & Hudson.

Image credits (from top): Jacky Bahbout, Thames & Hudson

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(1 comment)
  • by andrew dewar
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    andrew dewar

    Great advice, and applicable to all crafts (all activities!), and not just fashion. I'd add that I find it great working with kids, because they bring out the creative kid in me. It's a lot easier remembering that silliness and sense of wonder, when you're surrounded with a lot of people who still have it.