A while back, I was contacted by Threads magazine about a feature in their magazine. I was beyond flattered and thrilled that this publication, which is for some super serious sewers, thought of crazy ole self-taught-stitcherin' me. Now that this issue of the magazine is no longer available on newsstands (this article is from their April/May issue), I am free to share it here with y'all.
Now if some of these photos look familiar that's because they were the ones snapped by Nashville Arts magazine for this article! The other dresses were more current creations. For that reason, I boxed 'em up and shipped 'em to Threads magazine so they could take pictures of them. Because the copy is super small, I thought I'd share with you what Stephani L. Miller and I chatted about here. Enjoy!
Cassie Stephens: An Art Teacher Fashions Fabulous Outfits to Inspire Students
Cassie Stephens learned how to sew just a few years ago. Since then, she's graduated from ready-to-wear refashions to attention-grabbing ensembles that she wears to support her art lessons in the classroom. The Nashville, Tennessee, elementary school teacher's motivations is to encourage her 400 students to get interested and learn about art. She makes outfits inspired by artists and cultures to engage her students' interest and show them how art can be applied to life. Cassie has found that wearing something she's created nearly every day is a great way to start conversations with students and spark their creativity.
Threads talked to Cassie about using sewing as a classroom tool, and how linking her creativity to her teaching fuels her passion for both.
Threads: What first inspired you to sew something for teaching?
Me: I needed an apron to wear while teaching, but all I could find were aprons for chefs. So I stocked up on fabrics from a thrift store and an old pair of jeans. I sewed an apron that looked like I was wearing a shirt and jeans, and I appliquéd a guitar - complete with faux tuning pegs and strings - across the front. I embroidered a patch onto the jeans that read "Art Rocks". I had so much fun creating it that I started sketching more ideas and attempted to bring them to life. Rock Star Apron, here.
Threads: What was the first thing you sewed specifically to support a lesson plan?
Me: In the beginning, I was unsure of my sewing skills, so I eased into it by repurposing thrift store clothing. My first masterpiece-inspired dress was based on Katsushika Hokusai's woodcut print, The Great Wave at Kanagawa. I appliquéd the entire scene onto the front of a thrifted white dress. I likened appliqué to collage, and I feel very comfortable with that medium. My students and colleagues responded so well to that dress that I decided to create more. The Great Wave Dress, here.
Threads: How do you plan your lessons and outfits?
Me: Here's how my ADHD-fueled mind works: Planning lessons leads to sketch outfits to accompany the lessons. From there, I start scouring the Web for the perfect fabric or media to make my lesson-inspired outfit. Then, I finish lesson planning. It has become an integral part of my teaching method. When I first began teaching, I focused solely on educating my students. I read every book written. I worked tirelessly on my lessons and in my art room, but I stopped creating. And I became very unhappy and even bitter toward teaching. But when I decided to marry my passion for creating with teaching, I became excited about teaching again. I realized the using my ability to create and educate was what art is all about. I became a whole lot happier when I started to connect as many dots as possible in my teaching and creative lives. I need to create to teach and teach to create.
Threads: How do the students respond to your outfits?
Me: My students are very curious about my clothing. Many of them have never seen a sewing machine and are unaware of the concept of making their own clothing. In their world, clothes come from a store, and how they are created never enters their minds. We have many conversations about how my clothing is made. And they'll often come in with an outfit they've altered based on something wacky I have worn.
Threads: How do you translate an art inspiration into a garment?
Me: When an artist has inspired me to design, I think of what medium would best translate their style. For example, when I sewed my Andy Warhol inspired Cambell's Soup Cans dress (here), I knew appliqué would be the best medium. When I wanted to create a dress featuring Claude Monet's Water Lilies (seen here), I thought needle-felting would best showcase his Impressionist style. Sometimes, I get lucky and find fabric featuring an artist work, like a Piet Mondrian print (here). When that happens, I use that fabric to sew a dress.
Threads: How do you hope your students remember you?
Me: I hope they remember how much I love teaching them. I have a sign in my art room that reads, "My job is to love you." I hope I convey that love by my actions, my lessons and my wacky clothes!
Thanks for reading, y'all!