MSU design students reap what they 'sew'

Author: Linda Breazeale

Students design dresses for 4-H members

Students design dresses for 4-H members (Photo by Linda Breazeale)

A service-learning class at Mississippi State University taught clothing design students much more than just how to construct a dress.

Caroline Kobia's Apparel Design 1 students joined Oktibbeha County 4-H members to learn the basics of clothing construction. This was the second semester the MSU Center for the Advancement of Service-Learning Excellence linked MSU students with community partners in a sewing project.

"Last semester, we conducted a similar project with a 4-H group in Louisville," said Kobia, an instructor in the MSU School of Human Sciences. "Most of the Winston County participants were from low-income or single-parent homes and were recovering from the April tornado. That initial effort was so successful, we wanted to repeat the program but closer to home."

Kobia's 17 students were matched with local 4-H members. Her students learned to take measurements and consider clothing patterns and personal preferences for fabrics and colors. Then, each student taught her 4-H partner the lesson. The MSU students hosted the 4-H girls on campus in the clothing construction lab.

"You learn so much from the teaching process. Most of these university students had no background in sewing. In some cases, the 4-H members had more experience, and they were able to help each other," Kobia said.

Kelsie Bynum of Laurel was one of those inexperienced students. A sophomore in fashion design and merchandising, she said the class has helped her prepare for a future career.

"This was a very challenging class— learning how to put in zippers and follow patterns," Bynum said. "It will definitely strengthen my job interviews when I can say that I understand clothing construction and know how to sew. This is a dying art. It was rewarding to see how happy the dress made my 4-H friend."

Iree Gordon of Jackson is a junior in the class. She did not have a sewing background either.

"We absolutely could not miss one day of class. No one wanted to get behind on a lesson," she said. "The finished project amazes me, especially after so much frustration."

In addition to learning their lessons, constructing the dresses and working with their 4-H partners, each student had a role in producing a fashion show at the conclusion of the semester.

"We learned organizational skills. Some of us created a video of the projects to show at the fashion show. Some were responsible for food or decorations. Everyone had an additional job," said Allie Downs, a junior from Booneville.

Downs served as the director of the fashion show on May 2, themed "Spring into Fashion 4-H 2015."

"We wanted all the participants to have the complete fashion design experience," she said. "The service-learning aspect of the class was easily our favorite part. We loved working with the 4-H'ers, and they were eager to learn.

Paula Threadgill, associate director of the MSU Extension Service, oversees the state 4-H program. She described the project as a perfect fit for the 4-H members.

"Mississippi's 4-H program has a rich history of helping youth learn by doing," she said. "When they are guided through an experiential-learning process, there is a tremendous potential for positive youth growth and development."

Threadgill said the enjoyment factor of this project went beyond clothing construction lessons.

"These 4-H members had the opportunity to interact with college women and get a glimpse into academic career options," she said. "Even if they do not major in a fashion-related field, this experience has laid the foundation for future college dreams."

The Fashion Design and Merchandising concentration is in the School of Human Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Find out more at

Date: 2015-05-08

Human Sciences