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10 Things You Learn During Your First Semester as a Fashion Design Major


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Fall semester of last year was the start of my sophomore year and therefore the beginning of my years as a fashion design major.

Here at Parsons, sophomores are required to take five fashion core courses during their fall semester (along with studio electives, history, and liberal arts/ULEC). From these classes, I acquired a multitude of technical and life skills, which I have condensed below. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a fashion design major or just want to pick up some sewing and designing tips, I hope these lessons prove helpful to you, too.

1. Sewing Techniques: Finished Garments & High Fashion vs. Fast Fashion

In my 3D class, we covered various sewing demos for skirts and bodices. We did most of our pieces in muslin, an inexpensive, unbleached cotton fabric. We had to ensure that each garment was finished, meaning no seams were left with raw edges. In that class, I learned that seams can be completed in a variety of ways. Here are a few of the most common:

Additionally, my teacher identified various elements that differentiate high-quality garments from fast fashion items. One example is darts. On high-fashion clothes, the ends of darts are double tied to secure the threads, rather than sewn again, as they are in cheap apparel. This creates a softer, more flattering dart.

As you might expect, the time put into constructing the garment (e.g. is it hand-sewn or machine stitched?) as well as the quality of the fabric (e.g. 100% organic versus synthetic) determines the caliber and the cost of the garment.

2. Be Confident

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One thing I’ve definitely learned in fashion school is to present my ideas in a confident manner. Even if you made a minor mistake, you should not let it impact the rest of your work. Instead, be proud of what you accomplished and what you learned through its creation. If you are unsure of your work, everyone else will be, too… even if it really is great.

3. Pattern-Making: How-to & Tradeoffs

Our class learned how to make patterns for all of the muslin samples and final garments we constructed using size-6 slopers (basic templates which are altered to create designs), pattern paper, and rulers.

The main lesson from pattern making is this: Whatever you take away has to be added somewhere else (and vice-versa). For example, if you close a dart in one location, you have to open the pattern up in another area in order for the garment to fit and drape properly.

4. Pick an Obsession as an Inspiration

Although it may not seem like it, since designers release them with increasing frequency, fashion collections take a long time. In one semester, we had three projects, which boiled down to a little over a month per project. Therefore, it’s essential to choose inspirations that will keep you interested in the project.

The best inspirations are the ones you are obsessed with since you already have a lot of knowledge about them. The more information (facts, visuals, responses to the object, etc) you have about your inspiration, the more time you will be willing to spend thinking about it, resulting in a stronger collection.

5. Clothing Construction: Closures

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Clothing does not magically fit to the body: The silhouette is entirely dependent on the fabric and the construction method. For more body-conscious garments (eg. classic button-down, pencil skirt, basic flare skirt, etc.), darts are required. For looser garments that still maintain some fit, like a skirt that’s fitted at the hips, gathers are necessary. Lastly, people need to get in and out of your design. (This is obvious, but so often overlooked by beginner students.)

Therefore, when making clothes, if the material is not stretchy, closures always need to be incorporated, whether it’s a simple invisible zipper or a use of magnets and laces.

6. Presentation is Everything

Fashion illustration
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These days, fashion success is about much more than technique. Sure, you have flawless tailoring skills, but can you make an effective, eye-catching mood board? Can you choose inspirations that will drive your collection? Can you document it all?

Over my time at Parsons, I’ve learned that your creative process directly impacts how successful you will be. For fashion success, you must spend more time on your brainstorming and research, including your sketching (which Parsons’ fashion instructors likes to call process journals). You must try to make each two-page spread into a mini magazine layout. Moreover, it’s important to continue adding to your portfolio after each completed project. The process journal and the final designs are what companies like to look through when selecting interns.

7. Differentiate

Fashion design students learn that when creating a collection, it needs to be cohesive yet still varied. For example, you should tie the collection together with certain elements and colors, while changing up the lengths of the garments. These variations will not only make the collection more interesting, but will also increase the possibility of buyers purchasing more than one piece.

8. Edit

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Fashion design, at every level, is all about editing. You go from 350-400 doodles where you can play with changing the position of small elements, to a couple rounds of 40-50 sketches, mixing, revising, and creating new pieces from the first set of croquis, then finally down to about 10-20 final looks. In this time, your ideas can shift drastically, as your collection evolves.

9. Critiquing Fashion is Tough

Everyone has their own unique opinions on fashion. Design, like most other forms of art, is hard to critique, especially since so much comes down to individual style. Everyone begins with the same foundation: proportions, techniques, and fashion history. What they take from these teachings, along with their inspirations, vastly changes what they produce.

However, even if you don’t like the style of a collection, you can still fairly critique it on certain criteria:

  • Do their flats have all the needed details and closures?
  • Does their fabric make sense for their idea?
  • Is the collection cohesive?
  • Do the colors they use work with their idea?
  • Are the rendered fabrics recognizable?

10. Industrial Sewing Machines Are Fast / Practice & Patience Are Key

Industrial sewing machine
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Industrial sewing machines are not like home sewing machines. They can sew a seam in a couple of seconds. It is terrifying…at first. With practice and patience, you start to learn how to control the speed of the industrial machine. It is comparable to driving a car, where you apply more pressure to the pedal to increase the speed. Once you master the machine, rather than cowering in fear, you appreciate its smoothness and efficiency compared to home machines.

Similar to most other fields, fashion design is all about practice. You cannot master the machine without using it. Illustations can only be imporved by drawing on a regular (if not daily) basis. Sewing gets easier and lines become straighter the more you practice. You can hone your skills by buying simple, inexpensive patterns and constructing them out of muslin, using the instructions provided with the pattern.

Fashion design/ sewing is also very time consuming, so be patient. You might have to resew one seam a couple of times before you get it right. By the end, once you’ve become best friends with your seam ripper, you’ll know how to sew those pieces in your sleep!

Your Thoughts?

What did you learn during your first semester in your major? Are you curious about what students learn in fashion design school? Were you surprised by any of the 10 lessons above? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Posted on on January 17, 2013 / Filed Under: College Life / Tags: , , , , ,

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25 Responses to “10 Things You Learn During Your First Semester as a Fashion Design Major”

  1. 1
    January 17th, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    This is so interesting!

  2. 2
    January 17th, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    I really liked this post! I hope there’ll be more, or some very in-depth ones or something about a few garments. I love making clothes!

  3. 3
    January 17th, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    I loved this post SO MUCH. I’m actually not in college, but a junior in high school, and within the past week I’ve been looking at different colleges and majors involving fashion. This post inspires me so much more to proceed with this idea of majoring in fashion design. Thanks for the insight.

  4. 4
    January 17th, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    This post made me really happy, I’m a fashion design student in Seattle! Thank you for sharing some of the real hardships of fashion design majors, it’s not all glitz and glamour like it looks. I lost count of how many people dropped out because they thought it’d be easy. Keep up the good work!

  5. 5
    January 17th, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    Wow, this is so interesting, I’m majoring in engineering, this is so completely different than anything I’d do, I’d love to see more articles like this!

  6. 6
    January 18th, 2013 at 1:06 am

    Not in fashion design but always had an interest in it.. Insightful article!

  7. 7
    January 18th, 2013 at 1:07 am

    Brilliant post!
    My favorite thing about this post is how it shows that fashion designing is not as easy as some people make it out to be! (:

  8. 8
    January 18th, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Great post! I’m a fashion design major at FIT and love it. Definitely not easy at all like everyone thinks…its good to show some insight on a website where non fashion majors get to see this!

  9. 9
    January 27th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Thanks for all of the positive comments! This was my first post, so it’s good to hear that you guys like it! If you have any other questions about my college experience or suggestions for future posts, feel free to post them in the comments.

  10. 10
    February 1st, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    This was great to read, especially being a Fashion Design major myself! I can say that I completely agree with these points. So far, this is exactly what I have learned.

  11. 11
    May 11th, 2013 at 12:30 am

    what do you learn for the two year of college for fashion design?

  12. 12
    May 11th, 2013 at 12:33 am

    i’ a junior in high school going to be a senior in 3 months… so can you please give me a summary abt wat u gonna learn for ur first two of colleges and wat u need to bring etc…please!!!!!!!!!! Thank you

  13. 13
    July 31st, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    This is a really nice briefing i actually didn’t have any of this knowledge before and i’m looking forward to my first year in Parsons. This post has kind of eliminated every sense i had in mind. Mucho gracias

  14. 14
    January 11th, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Thank you soo much for this, im applying to parsons and i am so nervous about what it will be like if i get accepted, this helped me ease my mind.

  15. 15
    June 2nd, 2014 at 2:57 am

    This is really good job for me n its my dream to be a desginer n i know i will do it

  16. 16
    July 28th, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Thnks. I am a fashion tech. student and this is a really nice briefing about what we learn during our first sem. Its making me feel quite good to hear all our adjustment, learning and some sacrifices. Hope to see some more article on fashion student coz there are much more people that think of us like a spoil brat and think its nothing to do with learning and studying. I mean we are not fashion models or alcoholic or drug addict or party hunter, why are they confused so much? Try living a life with 5 hours of Design, 3 hours of research work, live through the 5 hours inspiration work, historical themes, searching of different inspirations, preparations of colg exhibition , assignments deadline, full day 24/7 in front of lappy making ppt n cdr work. Any assignment takes immense researching to get a plan ready, then do the analysis, make the models, render them, flat sketch, spec sheet, make the presentations, make the printouts, wake up all the night while my friends are busy watching a movie, then do the submission making yourself a zombie. In-spite of that, you’ll find us as a full spoiled one just becoz we are pursuing a glamours line, trust me its all differ by how it looks from outside. :)

  17. 17
    July 31st, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Thank you Whitney! I found this article invaluable and provided exactly the insights I was hoping for. After 20 years in marketing, I’ve decided to pursue fashion design and feel so scared and exhilarated all at the same time. Some of my friends and co-workers think I’m insane because I have a very good job- a dream job for most, but not if fashion is your dream. ;0) Thanks for sharing your hard earned knowledge, I will treasure your wisdom as I begin my journey. Also, do you have any tips for a good sewing machine? I’m afraid of going too basic or too fancy. Since I will be attending online, I won’t have access to the industry machines. Thanks!

  18. 18
    August 28th, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Whitney,thank u sooooo much for this articule,really gives me more hope nd more push to pursue my dream since I don’t ve any finacial help to go to fashion school,and I know I ve passion for fashion design,I often sketch design and ur articule about fashion design sketching really help me,now I can sketch fashion designs,I really hope and pray for opportunity to show what I can do comes.thanks nd hope to get more from u.

  19. 19
    September 17th, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    I’m so glad I found this article! I’m past my teenage years but have always had a love affair with sewing, lately I’ve been thinking about taking that major step and going to school for it. This article gave me anow awesome idea of what to expect.

    Thank you!

  20. 20
    September 25th, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    i like to study about fashion design

  21. 21
    January 17th, 2015 at 1:19 am

    Fashion design is not an easy affair for everyone. It needs mind power and creativity. Basically fashion design consists of 3 years. It is better to take admission in fashion design from recognized and reputed institutes. It is better to take admission into a college after verifying its past result and its experienced faculties.

  22. 22
    February 10th, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    It’s really nice now I am very confident to select fashion technology …………….thnkssss. a lot…….

  23. 23
    February 18th, 2015 at 3:42 am

    Not a fashion designer yet I’m only 13 and I have along way to go thank you for this article it the greates thing I learned about fashion schools

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