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Student fiber artists sew love into hand-made garments

February 18, 2022

Peyton Semjen
SEW IT SEAMS: Robyn Walker-Spencer '24, a sewing hobbyist, tinkers away at one of her fabric creations. Student needleworkers discuss why they choose to sew in their free time and how it has impacted their lives.

Instead of spending their weekends at Urban Outfitters or Salvation Army, four students on campus have turned to knitting needles, sewing machines and “floofers.” These students—a small but passionate cohort—have turned to sewing for various reasons but remain united by their love of the craft.

“Sewing is just the order of operations,” Noah Gans ’22, a student seamster, said. “The actual technique of using the machine is easy enough if you’re patient.”

Gans began his sewing experience with repairing outdoor gear in high school. He recently shifted to sewing gifts for his friends. Gans specializes in “floofers,” the block-colored turtleneck fleeces he makes for friends.

“The fleeces I make are very iconic … and it wasn’t this very intentional thing,” Gans said. “I just took [a] fleece from a used[-goods] store.”

While isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gans took inspiration from the local Salvation Army as he thrifted fleece material to sew for his friends and housemates.

In addition to “floofers,” Gans has sewn a number of  practical items, including a canvas topper for his pickup truck, backpacks and surfboard bags. The process of creating these items has further cemented his belief that sewing is a practical activity that is tied with the functionality of the end product rather than an art form.

“I feel like if I have ownership over something and I made it, there’s this extra dimension of intimacy with that [object],” Gans said.

Similar to Gans, Olivia Rayis ’24 began sewing her own clothes during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and learned how to hem and alter thrifted clothing from YouTube videos at home.

“Being able to pick the projects that I want to do has really helped me to grow this hobby,” Rayis said.

Rayis believes that a big motivator for her “thrift-flip” creations are her rejection of fast fashion and her goals to move toward a more sustainable lifestyle. She plans to continue making clothes in the future with the ultimate goal of no longer buying new clothes.

However, Rayis also has a personal connection with the clothes she finds in thrift stores and admits that sustainability and affordability aren’t the only factors in her decision to alter thrifted clothing.

“It was cool knowing that you picked a piece out and knew that there probably wasn’t another one like that out there,” Rayis said. “If it’s from a thrift store, you know it’s from years ago, and there’s something really satisfying and cool about that experience.”

Alex Spear ’24 takes a different approach to making clothing than Gans and Rayis. Her intimate journey with knitting began with a sparkly purple and green scarf she made with her grandmother who taught her the craft when she was eleven.

“Knitting is, or should be, very planned,” Spear said. “There’s math that goes into it. For me, at least, other art is very moment-by-moment.”

Spear takes joy in the patient nature of knitting and enjoys working with her hands. She feels it makes the material more personalized compared to the perfect stitches of a sewing machine.

“Apart from knitting just being more tactile than sewing, I feel like I am the one making it rather than a machine,” Spear said.

Whether it’s making inventive and personalized sweaters for herself with extra deep pockets, a pair of socks for a friend or a collection of hats for a craft fair, Spear finds comfort in the act of knitting, partially due to her love of the visual aspect of the craft.

“I think everyone should knit or at least try to knit—knitting is another way to have colors in your life,” she said. “Knitting with colorful yarn and needles is so fun … and easy!”

Robyn Walker-Spencer ’24, another seamstress on campus and one of the student managers at the Craft Center, also has deep familial ties to sewing and knitting. Walker-Spencer is grateful for the generations of women before her that have passed down what she considers the art of making one’s own clothes. Knitting acts as a nostalgic and meditative activity for her.

“I can’t knit without thinking about sitting on the couch with my grandmother … I don’t think I appreciated it at the time, but I appreciate it now, she said. “It feels very ancestral … you go back and look at the history, and it was a very female activity to be the ones making the clothes and knitting. To reclaim that as my own art feels really cool.”

Walker-Spencer teaches intro classes to sewing and knitting every other weekend at the Craft Center and recommends these crafts to everyone, regardless of skill level.

“It’s very empowering to teach people to sew because it’s a really important part of who I am, so I [am] really happy to pay that forward,” she said.


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