The Historic Costume Study Collection at Ursuline College includes this 1930s 100-percent silk gown made with hook-and-eye closures. Photograph courtesy Ursuline College.

From the introduction of the sewing machine in 1850 to apps that help users coordinate or design outfits, technology has been integral to the world of fashion. Students at Kent State University and Ursuline College who study fashion design and/or merchandising explore the impact of cutting-edge technology on the ancient conundrum of deciding what to wear.
Jennifer Knaus, fashion design and merchandising instructor in the School of Graduate and Professional Studies at Ursuline College says that, although tech is all around, it’s not the first thing her students learn. First, she says, students have to learn to do things the old-fashioned way. With Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, she explains, “Students learn how to do fashion illustration and sketching, but they have to learn to do that by hand first.”
Pattern-making software is another great innovation, Jennifer says, as she explains that students often learn to use it on the job after graduation. Technology also allows for precise communication between, for instance, a designer who wants to send exact colors and specs to a remote company that will produce fabric or a garment from their designs. “We have computerized sewing machines and students have designed jewelry on our 3-D printer,” Jennifer adds.
Ursuline student Rachel Drees is studying fashion merchandising and fashion design.

Janice Lessman-Moss, award-winning artist, professor and head of the Textile Arts program at Kent State University, works with a fashion student who is weaving a color-and-weave sample on an eight-shaft loom. Photograph by Bob Christy, Kent State University.

Taking a CAD (computer-aided design) class, she says, “expands the way you can design clothing and you can do it in more detail than when doing it by hand.” She adds that she personally likes to illustrate by hand but with computers, she says, “You can be more detail-oriented.”
Isabella Riccelli is studying fashion design and psychology at Ursuline. She says the new, computerized sewing machines offer many choices. “There are a lot more stitches,” she says, as she explains that working with different fabrics requires different stitches. “The new machines,’ she adds, “let you work with whatever fabric you want.”
Fashion design and merchandising student at Ursuline, Angel Bennett said, “The computerized sewing machines definitely changed the game for me with the way they control the stitching and (thread) tension. And CAD helped me to create templates.” Angel also explained how she and fellow students used green-screen technology to put on a virtual fashion show of real-life clothing they had designed.
Dr. Constance Korosec, Ph.D. former chair of the Ursuline fashion and merchandising program retired but then returned to the college as the curator of the Historic Costume Study Collection at Ursuline that she created. “It’s different from a museum collection because it’s hands on,” she says. “I created the study collection 38 years ago so students could see, touch, and wear fashions of the past.” The collection now includes 4,000 pieces including gowns from the 1900s and clothing from every period since, plus hats, shoes, gloves and costume jewelry.
Dr. Korosec says, “The oldest pieces in the Ursuline Study Collection were stitched by hand with hooks and eyes as fasteners. Today, our fashion students stitch garments on electronic sewing machines in class. Our computers allow our students to design a complete collection online in class,” she adds, as she describes in-store touch screens and automated wardrobe-planning tools that give consumers more control over their own fashion choices.
Janice Lessman-Moss, award-winning artist, professor and head of the Textile Arts program at Kent State University has been teaching students how to weave for 40 years. Running through October 2, the Kent Museum exhibition, “Dancing with the Distance” showcases more than 30 of Janice’s weavings, spanning 20 years, including pieces created on hand looms, digital jacquards, and power looms. In addition to textile arts majors, Janice works with students from other majors, including interior design, architecture and fashion.
“Fashion students do amazing and beautiful work and they benefit from seeing the way technology is used,” she says. “We expose students to the way techniques can be transformed and the way we transform materials via techniques. That was always an exciting opportunity for students. In the computer loom room, I talk about how pixels on a screen form the foundation for making a weaving and how we translate that onto the loom. This inspires them to move forward and know that they can in fact make things with their own colors and textures. And they can think more creatively about the intersection of structure and pattern. It is really exciting when they see that have control of the very start of the whole process of creating fashion.”
Janice goes on to explain how she shows students that they can combine hand-weaving with technology. The loom receives direction from the computer to weave one row of thread. “Then,” Janice says, “you can put your own fabric in the loom for textural variation. You put your hands on it and hand weave whatever you want. You can even weave in newspaper or plastic bags.”
Asked whether technology makes fashion design better, Jennifer Knaus says, “Yes and no. It might look more perfect but there is something about doing it by hand, especially draping. It’s organic and original and creative. And you can’t get that from technology.”