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Like most colleges, the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design was quiet on the afternoon of July 12.
There were very few students walking through the grassy campus on their way to class, and even the large Texas Building felt empty upon entry. But just down the hall a little, coming from the Sewing Room, were the loud sounds of laughter, playful teasing and calls for help.
“Sarah, I need help!”
“I’m going to do the fringe on this one!”
“Where are the scissors?”
Amid the raucous noise of a half-dozen young girls and mounds of potential material was Sarah Naomi Jones, who, as part of the Athena Project’s Girls Create mentoring program, was teaching sewing and fashion design to sixth through 10th grade girls for a week.
“There’s a lot of project options for the girls, but they can basically make whatever they want,” Jones said. “When I was planning the projects, I started thinking pretty in the box, but once we started, I let them decide what they’d like to create.”
All the girls who participate are at different skill levels with sewing, stitching, and the other necessary techniques, and each wanted to tackle something different.
Caroline Ortman, a 10-year-old from Denver, made a complete outfit out of material she brought in especially for the camp.
“I love sewing. My grandma taught my mom, and my mom taught me,” she said. “My family went to New York City, and I got some cool fabric I’m using to make a skirt and tank top.”
For Torrye Hosier, a 13-year-old from Lakewood, the camp was a chance to learn some techniques, meet new friends, and make lots and lots of pillows as practice.
“I got into fashion because I wanted to start making my own clothes,” she explained. “Most people don’t make clothes that are my size.”
Design has always been a passion for 13-year-old Isabella Pettyjohn, from Highlands Ranch, and her main project at the camp was a dress inspired by the kind Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia wore in the Star Wars movies.
“I’ve always been really interested in fashion,” she said, as she worked on the dress. “I love that you can design what you want, and as long as you have the right material, you can make it.”
This is the second year the Athena Project, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women through the arts, has had a summer camp program for middle school age girls, and the first time it has offered a fashion camp.
“At this age, you’re usually too old for a baby sitter, but there aren’t a lot of options for things to do,” said Angela Astle, Athena Project’s executive producer. “There really aren’t many fashion camp programs for girls during the summer.”
Athena’s summer camps started with Girls Write, a week-long camp which taught girls about playwriting and putting on a show, and has grown this year to include the fashion and visual arts camps.
“We want to empower these girls’ voices and make sure they know their artistic expression is important, and people want to hear what they have to say,” Astle added. “We want to give them the confidence to express themselves.”
In Jones’ fashion program the girls learned more than just a new skill. They also learned the value of making something, the often exploitative way many clothes are made today, and how far creativity can carry them.
“Just like in life, sometimes if you look too close, it might look like you messed up. At those times its important to take a step back and look at the project as a whole and realize it’s not a big deal,” Jones said. “Sometimes you just need to slow down and see what you’re capable of.”
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