Designing lives: Lorraine Parish turns teacher
In a twist on the old adage about a stitch in time, Vineyard Haven fashion designer Lorraine Parish launched an innovative design and sewing class last fall at just the right time for a varied group of Island residents. The initial class was an eclectic lot, ranging from young women searching for career paths to 40-something careerists looking for new beginnings.
Minor Gibson Knight, 46, is a former documentary filmmaker who returned to the Island in 2005 after 15 years in Paris as a film archive researcher. She is now fulfilling a childhood dream of fashion designing. "Isn't it odd," she said, "that I spent 15 years in the city of art and fashion, then rediscovered it here on the Vineyard?"
Ms. Knight was committed to a career in fashion, but she decided that commuting to Rhode Island School of Design was unworkable. "Then, one day - boom," she said. "There was this huge sign in Lorraine's window advertising the class. I went in and begged her to take me even though the class was intended for teenagers, and she agreed. It may sound silly but I'm grateful that she is here. Lorraine has a huge talent for teaching. She guides and respects my perspective."
Theresa DiMattia, 19, is a 2009 graduate of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School who said last week that her class with Ms. Parish informed her decision to pursue fashion merchandising at Newbury College in Newton this fall.
At six feet, six inches, and 270 pounds, with demonstrated skills at ice hockey and tile installation, Jeremy Bradshaw is perhaps the least obvious candidate for a career in fashion design, but he is currently making room at his Martha's Vineyard Tile Co. airport office park offices for a third sewing machine.
"I was a hockey player - and a pain in the neck. I went in the Navy and then had a couple of careers, now tile installation... I want to do something different in the second half of my life," Mr. Bradshaw said.
The 48-year old father of three sons described a Eureka moment similar to Ms. Knight's: "My wife, Annie, and I were driving down the street in Vineyard Haven and I'd been talking about wanting to do this, and she saw the fashion class sign," he recalled.
Mr. Bradshaw's grandmother had clothing stores and his aunt, Marie McCarthy, was a well-known designer in New York. "When I was 10 or 11, I asked my dad for a sewing machine for Christmas," he said. "'You have five brothers and a sister,' he told me. 'There is no way you are getting a sewing machine.'"
The youngster in the group, Julia Guerin, 12, demonstrated a dedication last year that led to a summer internship with Ms. Parish.
Ten students in all, mostly junior high and high school girls, attended early afternoon fall and spring semester classes. Adult classes were set for late afternoon to accommodate work schedules.
A second class of students is signing up now for fall classes, which will begin this month at Ms. Parish's shop on State Road near Main Street in Vineyard Haven.
For Ms. Parish, teaching has been a learning experience, based on more than 30 years as a designer and fashion retailer. "I spent years doing it, and now I can teach others how to do it," she said. "I had never thought about teaching, but I began thinking about the phases in our careers and our lives."
The unexpected success of her teaching project has Ms. Parish scrambling for local and federal grants for materials and equipment and for better copying equipment for her students.
The curriculum includes a comprehensive, illustrated text authored by Ms. Parish for the class, as well as hands-on design and apparel making that has produced immediate results for several students.
Ms. Knight, for example, made and sold two dresses, one a blue-ribbon winner at the Agricultural Fair in August. She also sent a dress she made to Michelle Obama two weeks ago. "I'm not being presumptuous. I just think it's a dress that suits her," she said.
Ms. DiMattia explained that she created her senior project for high school during Ms. Parish's classes. It included three dresses, a blouse, and a bag, a 10-page paper and a slide presentation. "Learning from a professional designer in a retail environment was amazing," she said. "Right now I'm taking a course in fashion and society and I am so far ahead because of what I learned in her fashion history class."
Ms. Parrish's instruction - all agree she's a motivating and impressive teacher - seems to promote an anything's possible attitude.
Mr. Bradshaw, who made two blouses last year and plans to move on to coats and dresses, hopes to develop his own line of apparel. He laughed and said, "Someday you'll see me on 'Project Runway.'"
Jack Shea is a regular contributor to The Times.
Lorraine Parish offers sewing classes that meet once a week for two hours. Classes for teenagers meet after school; adult classes are scheduled in afternoons and evenings. Costs vary according to class size. For more information, contact Lorraine Parish, 508-693-9044.