NEGS has designs on textiles and fashion excellence. An innovative program is transforming the teaching of textiles and design at the New England Girls’ School into a centre for excellence in fashion and design. Technology and Applied Studies teacher, Stephanie Thomas explains the reason NEGS girls are getting a head start in the design industry.
NEGS has been running textile based courses in design for decades. What has changed over the past few years?
For a start, very few schools these days in the state continue to offer both Textiles, and Design and Technology (D&T) as separate subjects. Part of our department’s philosophy is that teaching must promote innovative thinking, problem solving and develop high order cognitive skills. All of these attributes are applicable in almost every career path.
Girls at NEGS have the enviable position of being able to study a textile-based design unit from Year 8 onwards, as well as both Textiles and up to 40 disciplines within Design and Technology electives from Year 9 right through to HSC level. This means they can develop their skills extensively across multiple aspects of design throughout their five years of studies.
Their learning environment has also had a re-design – with its own kitchenette and bean bags, it provides a retreat for girls to get away from things, relax and draw or sew and construct according to their interests.
The school enjoys the support of industry?
As part of a strategic opportunity for Department Heads to develop their curriculum in partnership with industry, we have been fortunate to receive sponsorship from Bernina Australia through local agent Rita Showell.
Bernina looked at offering a scholarship to an individual but felt they would like to help more than just one person, so have donated a sum of money to be spent on Bernina products – we chose an overlocker for this year and hope to increase the number of sewing machines in the future. We are very grateful for this sort of support.
We are also very proud that tutors from the prestigious Whitehouse Institute of Design have acknowledged the strength of design at the school and in March visited NEGS to lead a fashion illustration workshop with our students.
What does the NEGS Fashion Week excursion involve?
Senior design students spend a week in Sydney during Australian Fashion Week in May. Through our multitude of industry contacts, students are exposed to the fashion industry at parades of both world famous labels and upcoming new industry designers, both on the catwalk and behind the scenes.
They quickly learn how much work really goes into major parades.
Other aspects experienced include corporate furniture designers, graphic design studios and marketing.
This year the girls will also visit the Fashion Forward Festival, which showcases 50 top emerging designers at Paddington Town Hall, the UTS fashion parade, undertake a workshop in interior and graphic design and photography at the CATC Design College in The Rocks, as well as visit the Powerhouse Museum and the Object Gallery of Contemporary Design.
And of course, shopping at fabric wholesalers in the fashion design hub, Surry Hills. The girls love their week away and rate it as one of the highlights of their time at school.
What are your former students up to?
Many girls have launched themselves into successful design careers after studying at reputable design colleges. For example, after designing and redeveloping of the Design Studio as part of her 2009 HSC Major Project, local student Kate Carter earned herself a place studying interior design at the CATC Design College in Sydney.
Fellow student Lucinda Nash was awarded an Academy of Design Scholarship for her Australian Wool Awards garment (secondary schools section) in 2009, as did Lily Purkiss, who accepted a Raffles College of Design and Commerce scholarship.
This follows in the footsteps of Jade Tindal and Leila Sweeney, who won this prestigious award previously. Leila is currently employed as a Melbourne based milliner and also has her own design label ‘Lass by Leila Sweeney’, whose clients include seven-times world champion surfer Layne Beachley.
With ‘old girls’ of this calibre, our younger designers have plenty of inspiration, as they continue to achieve consistent high performance in many facets of fashion and design.
You mention the Australian Wool Fashion Awards. What’s your relationship with this auspicious event?
NEGS has been involved with the awards for several years, with students both entering the design competition as well as modelling garments in the parade. This year three Year 10 girls have entered the competition – Olivia Epworth has an entry made from donated wool in the Derby Day section, Nichola Eliott has entered the secondary schools’ section with a creation from donated wool, while Isabella Spencer is a hopeful in the Open section.
In each case, the girls’ award entries make up the practical component of their school assessment, in addition to the normal theory component. They are immensely proud of their works, which involve hours of attention to detail after school and at weekends.
Is there also an international flavour to their studies?
In recent years, staff have attended exhibitions of international designers such as a Christian Lacrouix retrospective in New York, and closer to home, the Valentino exhibition in Brisbane. For the past two years, staff member Samantha Morley has visited countries in Asia, bringing back not just examples of textiles and design, but an insight into each culture.
Previously this included a visit to a batik factory in Malaysia, while earlier this year, she not only spent some time with hill tribes in Vietnam watching them weave on a traditional body loom, she saw the creation of haute couture traditional outfits called Ao Dai, which have extensive bead and glass work. This cultural perspective also links with NEGS’ membership as a Round Square school, where service and understanding of different cultures is critical to creating global citizens for the 21st century.
Photos: Nichola Eliott shows her work to Bernina agent Rita Showell, while Textiles and Design teacher Stephanie Thomas looks over the work of Morgan Fahey and Olivia Epworth. Inset: Mrs Stephanie Thomas with HSC student Ruby Purkiss of Armidale and her dress fashioned in part from knitting wool.
Thank you Stephanie.