Students stitch in sewing studio

A SEWING STORY: Shannon Barry 15 and Ellen Gang intricately examine designs. Gangs class has woven a community, putting fabric and people together.

Colby Siegel

A SEWING STORY: Shannon Barry ’15 and Ellen Gang intricately examine designs. Gang’s class has woven a community, putting fabric and people together.

Sarah Sommer , A&E Editor

Upbeat music blasted from a radio on the table, filling the whole studio with the lively melody. In the front of the room, a line of mannequins stood like soldiers, each draped in a unique uniform of brightly colored fabrics and pins. Pictures of girls modeling dresses and fashion sketches lined every wall.

For many Staples students, this is the setting they spend two hours in each week, either working on long-term projects or learning about fashion. It is the home studio of Ellen Gang, a Westport mother who began her career in high school, making costumes and clothing.

“I was making an outfit a week. Every time I went on a date, I made a new outfit,” Gang said.

Gang received a degree in women’s wear design from the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked for 25 years in the fashion industry. In about 2007, she opened the Ellen Gang Design Studio and began teaching group, semiprivate and private sewing lessons to students of all ages.

“I could see that there was interest growing. It was fun for me. I love having the kids here, and I had so much stuff and so many ideas of what I could do with the kids,” Gang said.

In private and semi-private lessons, students generally come in with a sketch or idea, and spend the year working on one project—often a prom dress or items for a college portfolio, Gang says. In group lessons, which are generally comprised of six or seven girls of a similar age group, Gang spends time drawing fashion sketches and talking about the general process of garment-making.

However, Gang’s classes are also beneficial to students in ways that stretch far beyond the fashion industry.

“[The class] has definitely taught me that hard work pays off,” Ella de Bruijn ’16, a long-time student of Gang’s, said.

“It’s more than just the actual stitching… You know, it’s a puzzle, and you have to understand how the parts work together and the shapes, so there’s a lot of life skills in here and a lot of critical thinking that can prepare you for anything,” Gang said. “It’s all very valuable. I don’t think any of it is a waste.”

Fashion design also provides many students with new ways to use their outside skills.

“Ellen’s classes have certainly given me perspective on how I can make my drawings applicable through design,” Alyssa Domenico ’17, who began sewing classes after years of being interested in drawing, said. “She’s really boosted my self-esteem and I think my drawing skills have benefited from that.”