What Are They Even Looking For?

Throughout the semester I have found out that several of my teachers are admissions advisors. The system for acceptance at FIT for fashion design is actually quite impressive!

Had you chosen to send your application via the internet like most applicants, your portfolio will be assigned to 2 judges, one for design and one for art. There are atleast 50 judges who sign up each application period to be on the judging panel, so there is no fuss about finding THAT nasty admissions advisor who rejected you. Each judge is assigned a set amount of applications to review and grade, and then once reviewed from a design judge the application is sent to a second judge from the art department. SO, your application is reviewed TWICE… and from what I was told, each judges spend about 15 minutes on reviewing every application. That is a far cry from the 15 second flip through of standard schools!

So what are they looking for?

There is a list each judge is given of things to grade on, however every judge is impressed by different things. The most important thing I was told is your ability to follow directions. Did you follow EACH and EVERY direction just as they were explained to you. I have heard many a times that applications were thrown out on minor errors for all fairness. So make sure you label everything correctly, interperet every direction with common sense and DON’T assume you can do anything.

Second, are you teachable? They will be looking to see if you have enough strength in your application to keep from falling behind your first semester. Does your portfolio look too hastily put together or does it look like you care about it? Can you comprehend instruction easily? Is there a sense that you care about the presentation of your portfolio? Do you understand the basics of garment construction? Do you have enough of a sense of drawing that it can be improved upon? Do you even have taste in your style? Do you know what a croqui is?

For these things I would definitely recommend trying out a few patterns before beginning the application to help yourself get a sense of what a garment looks like. Try your best to find some sort of fashion sketching guide to work from. Google some sketches of current designers and try your best to get to a portfolio day before you apply.

Two points I want to make:

1. If you do not understand the basics you WILL fall behind at this school. The pace is extreme, and dropouts happen. Don’t expect anyone to sit down and teach you what a bobbin is while everyone else is beginning to drape skirts. Do yourself a favor and prepare as much as you can ahead of time so your first semester will be easy. Don’t fall behind because there is no domino effect worse than at this school. You will have a hell of a time catching up.

2. Don’t be discouraged if you get rejected. I have several students in my 25 student block who were accepted on their third try, some of the better students in my class! It may not mean anything about your talent. It may just be minor errors or lack or readiness. Try again, and if you are ever concerned about why you were rejected you can always call to find out the email of your advisors and ask.

Good luck 🙂

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There Is No Manhattan, New York

Moving to New York has been the single most expensive, fund crippling thing I have done in my life thus far. No worries.

The cost of renting a place in the most expensive city in the United States is…well, a lot. You won’t see much for your money either. Those incredible NY condos you see on television with sleek, modern furnishings and floor to ceiling windows… NOT gonna happen. Unless you are gifted with a well-off mommy and daddy or you’re originally from outer New York, be prepared for some MAJOR downgrades. Stop imagining that Seinfeld or Carrie Bradshaw Manhattan apartment, you’re just teasing yourself. Say hello to your new walk-in closet/bedroom!

Of course, you don’t have to live in Manhattan. You could just as easily pay less and/or get more for your money in one of the outer boroughs and commute into town, but in comparison to other parts of the country you will still in general be paying a good amount higher. Living in one of the outer boroughs is a great way of saving money on living costs!

New York City is made up of five boroughs: Brooklyn, The Bronx, Staten Island, Queens and Manhattan. These are boroughs, NOT cities. Manhattan is a borough of New York City. There is no such thing as Manhattan,NY. If you live in Manhattan, you live in New York City, NY. If you tell someone you are from Manhattan, NY you might as well wear a sign on your back that says “I’m from out of state”. Got it? Don’t do it.

Anyways, living in Manhattan is a thrilling, lively experience that you may very well get addicted to. Living in one of the other boroughs can be just as amazing as well. Research well to find somewhere affordable and safe for your new place. The subway system is incredible so don’t be afraid to commute! Here’s a great resource by NY Magazine on the most livable neighborhoods in NYC:


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Portfolio 101- Swatching

In case anybody is unfamiliar with the word “swatch” beyond the watch company…

A swatch is a small sample of fabric, usually about a 2 x 2 inch square, that can be requested from fabric stores to take home. The reason this is important to know is that most portfolios, including the one for FIT, want you to include swatches of actual fabric with your design. When you have to submit say 15 designs with a swatch for every top and bottom and/or jacket, that can be as much as 45 swatches… not including the many you decide not to use.

Clothing and furniture companies send out buyers all the time to collect fabric swatches to bring back to headquarters, where a decision maker can select which fabric they want to use for a product they are mass producing. Fabric stores also hope that you as a student take the sample and then eventually decide to buy that fabric for something you’re making.

For the most part, stores will freely snip swatches for you. However, snipping little pieces of fabric wastes quality and money so many popular shops are tightening their swatch policy.

This post is just about getting the easy part of your portfolio done. Read the websites or call the fabric stores in your area ahead of time to find out their swatch policy. If there is none, great! Go there and if you need a ton of swatches, explain your portfolio and if necessary offer that you understand the annoyance of students constantly needing swatches as an apology.

Sometimes they will let you get up to a certain number of them. In that case just plan to come back a few times, simple. The problem arises when they plain don’t allow swatches. Incredibly frustrating. In this case you will have to buy their minimum purchase, which might be 1/3 or 1/2 a yard. PLEASE dont splurge on swatch fabric! This is not the time to run to the nicest store in town to find luxury fabric. Even cheap fabric at $7 a yard can run you over $100 for 45 thirds… and most fabric will be more expensive than that. Do your best to find discount fabric stores or free swatches.

No one will even be able to tell the difference between a piece of 100% silk and a silk blend from a scanned picture of your work. Besides, when you write the fibre content under the swatch on your portfolio, just write down 100% silk. List high quality descriptions under swatches of synthetic or medium quality versions of the same fabric. This is not cheating, you are merely identifying what you would want to use if you were to create the design.

DO NOT.. and I repeat DO NOT list synthetic fabrics. Schools want to see that you value quality and would always prefer to see you using natural fibers such as silk, cotton, wool and linen. Seeing tons of polyester listed throughout your fiber contents will make you look inconsiderate of quality.

Lastly, when you do stick your swatches on your drawings make sure to cut nice even squares. Trim or edit out strings. Don’t get them dirty. BIG TIP: cut them with “pinking shears”. These are scissors that cut with a zigzag edge and keep fabric from shedding. They will make your swatches look extra clean and nice. You can get them at any fabric store, JoAnnes or Michaels for like $5 or $10 bucks.


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Portfolio 101- Photographing

I just wanted to add a little snipet about photographing your work. Photographing my work was a little bit of a hassle.

The first issue that will arise is finding a model. If you used a standard sized dress form to create your garments than you will need to search for the smallest starved girl you can find because industry sizes are SMALL. Most commonly, dress forms are purchased in sizes 4, 6 and 8…. way smaller than the actual 4, 6, and 8 at the store! As long as you can find someone that your homemade skirt will zip up on you will be alright. Regardless of having to find an unimaginably small model, I found using a dress form to be the best way to make proper fitting garments.

I would advise against finding a model first and making clothes to fit them after. Constantly needing to have your model present to alter and re-alter the fit is a pain in the ass.

You can find local models on websites such as modelmayem.com. There are both very experienced models that you can pay, or less experienced models that will work for photos to add to their own portfolio. I happened to have a tiny little cousin that I paid $50 for a couple hours of work and a good friend who did hair and makeup so I lucked out. Hair and makeup are things you can do yourself. Nothing fancy, your clothes should shine.

On the same website you can also find a photographer under the same terms. You could also choose to hire a professional photographer if you wanted, but for the budget conscious this website is a great alternative. Hiring a friend who takes great pictures is another good option. Just have your clothes steamed and your model ready so when the photographer comes over you can make quick changes on the time crunch. Also, don’t be afraid to direct your model constantly!! These are your photos so make sure you get what you need from them!

I decided to photograph by myself with a little crappy Cannon Powershot. If you want to take your own pictures also, YouTube a little bit about lighting and make sure you have a plain wall in your house or an outdoor location. You want to control the light on your model by placing artificial light(lamps) or directing natural light from your windows towards only one side of her. Too much light from both sides will give you whitewashed photos or red eyes. Just have your model sit in the middle of the shot area while she is getting her makeup done, so you have time to take tons of practice shots to see and adjust the lighting until you are happy.

Last tool of advice… photo editing.

Many schools will say they want unaltered photos, although this is impossible since sometimes they also expect you to put the backview and the frontview on the same photo. This requires you to “edit” two images together. The school mainly wants you to avoid erasing mistakes on your garment or blurring details so the pieces look better. As long as you dont fudge with the clothes themselves, you can get away with some editing.

Photoshop is amazing if you have it and you know how to use it. If you don’t, a great alternative is the photo editing website picnik.com. You can upload and edit your photos online for free, including fusing multiple pictures together using their collage templates. For about $5 you can also get a months worth of an extended range of editing tools that I really reccommend. I did my best to avoid retouching clothes other than smoothing a few wrinkles and erasing a bra strap, but playing with the contrast and colors of the picture really turned my novice photographs into great pictures!

Okay I know that was more than a snipet.

Found this example online from a current FIT student.

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Portfolio 101- Sewing

The idiots guide to sewing like you already knew how because you were suppossed to have known how to be able to apply to this school in the first place even though that’s what they are teaching you when you get there…


When I started my portfolio it was the beginning of the new school year. I had just graduated in May and spent the entire summer working full time to save up enough money to take one semester off. Looking back, I don’t think I could have finished a damn thing if I had kept working. So, if you are a beginner and you can afford it, take the summer or a semester off to start sewing from scratch. You need a lot of time if you have no idea what your doing.

You could just as easily decide not to be a procrastinator like me and start sewing years ago like most people who go to this school do. You probably wouldn’t be reading this then.

Step One- Get a sewing machine

I found mine on Craigslist from this cute little old lady who, of course, liked to quilt. There are lots of amazing, fancy sewing machines out there that you could drop a good chuck of change on. Although, I have heard numerous times that a Bernina is the Toyota of sewing machines(minus the recalls). I bought a $100 Bernina Bernette 65, which is basically like their barbie version for basic sewers. It’s not the most amazing thing out there, but it gives me no problems and does what it is suppossed to do. This machine is all you need to get the job done and it’s perfect for those of you that don’t want to spend a fortune on something you don’t know how to do.

Update: Since being here I have found out that once you get here you are suppossed to use nothing but Juki industrial machines. So, if you can spare a mini-fortune and the space for a table bound industrial machine…you’ll be ahead of the game.

Step Two- Learn to use your machine

I had taken a few sewing classes when I was 8 years old so the machine was no foreign object. Still, I needed lots of refreshing. I looked on Yelp.com for independent sewing teachers and tried to sift through the super-mom quilters to find even one person who had a website with more than pajamas and pillows. I found a younger woman who taught a teen sewing camp and called her to ask for a lesson on how to use my machine and start sewing (’bout $60 bucks).

Step 3- Patterns

To begin making clothes you can do one of a few things:

The first is follow a pattern. Joannes and most fabric stores all carry 1000’s of patterns you can make by following the instructions. However, most schools don’t like or allow this. They prefer to see your original work. If you are going to use a pattern anyway, atleast try to alter it. A good sewing teacher can show you how to do that in a class or two. There are plenty of terms in the instructions you may not know, so it would be nice to have an experienced sewer or a computer next to you for clarification.

The second option is to start tearing apart old clothes and re-sewing the pieces back together. This will give you an idea of what a pattern looks like laid out on a table, and how a garment goes together. You can even trace those pieces onto paper to make a pattern you can alter using a different fabric, by manipuating the length or width or details etc….

The third option is to make a pattern yourself. I asked my teacher to sit down with me for one class and show me how to use a dress form. A dress form is like an expensive version of a mannequin that you can pin into. You “drape” crap fabric around the dress form and figure out a pattern from it. It’s hard to explain but easier to see. My best advice it to look for videos about draping on YouTube or ExpertVillage to get an idea of what draping is. Then you can do what I did and think of what you would like to make, buy some fabric and supplies and take it to your sewing teacher to ask her how to make a pattern for it. You can take classes forever on draping professionally, but to be totally honest, after completing one project from scratch with my sewing teacher I understood how to do it. Simple patternmaking is not as hard as you might think!

All in all I needed four classes (2 1/2 hours each)… one to learn the machine, and a few to complete one simple garment I designed from scratch. If you don’t have the money don’t let your teacher talk you into taking any extra’s. Use the internet, books, or whatever to teach you whatever you need in between classes to save you some money. My teacher rented out work time at her studio to use dress forms and her sewing and serger(look it up) machines. After those few classes I spent the next few months working at home and renting worktime until I finished. I bet any sewing teacher would be happy to make money for use of their supplies or some advice, so just ask!

Don’t be intimidated, classes aren’t the expensive part. Its the supplies. Find a discount fabric store, save your scraps and don’t take excessive classes and you will be just fine. I promise! It’s easy to be a beginner if your school expects you to be, but its not as easy (or cheap) to learn to sew this fast. You don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune or go hiring people. Most everyone has a family friend or relative home sewer, so if you do it wouldn’t hurt to ask for help! All you truly need is someone to sit next to while you work who has enough experience to guide you when your stuck. In three months, I found having a teacher the saving grace to learn everything in time!

Oh, and before I forget… do NOT get sucked into the tempting trap of cheating!! You can almost always tell when someone used a pattern by the professional finishes and level of detail. The same goes for having other people sew your work for you, or using storebought garments as your own. Don’t try and turn them in as your own work. I have definitely heard horror stories from these pitfalls. Most importantly, when you begin classes and everyone knows what they are doing except you…you will severely regret it!

Hope what I did works for you 🙂 Get started now and good luck!!!!

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Portfolio 101- Sketching

So lets pretend you know zip. Nada. Absolutely NOTHING about making a fashion design portfolio.

Well if you’ve been following you atleast know the instructions. (For other schools, search their websites to see if they list the portfolio requirements, and if not you can find it with some Google research. Someone always spills the beans like me.)

First things first, you must draw.

Sketching for fashion is very different than illustration or figure drawing. The fashion figure (called a “croqui”) is an incredibly idealistic and exaggerated form of the human body. They are unrealistically tall and thin with whittled waists and toothpick wrists. Seriously, nobody looks like this!!  But, for the purpose of fashion, reality will be sacrificed. And don’t let anybody lie to you, clothes look better on skinny women. I am no petite princess but I do understand that fabric just falls better without boobs and butts and lumps in the way. There is no sugarcoating it… so just draw by the rules and go rogue later.

You will need these two very important things:

1. Nine Heads textbook- the fashion sketching bible. I have found that nearly every school requires this textbook, so I bought it and this IS what taught me the correct way to sketch from scratch. It will teach you step by step regardless of your artistic talent level. And it isn’t cheap, but you will most likely need it in school anyways, so buy it. You exactly need to read the whole darn thing. You can skim it, follow the pictures, whatever. You WILL need it.

http://www.9headsmedia.com or you might try finding it used on ebay or amazon.

2. Prismacolor or Chartpak markers and colored pencils- also expensive but very necessary. Do not skimp for cheaper brands!! These are the standard. I would suggest atleast 20 colors, but however many you buy make sure you get a few skintones, 2 or 3 different % grays and most importantly ATLEAST 2 colorless blenders. The book will teach you what and how to use blenders.

All you need is to follow that textbook.

Start by practicing the front and back figures, get the shapes down. A “nine head figure” is nine lengths of the head long. The proportions are very VERY important. A ruler, a good ol’ fashioned gum eraser and some tracing paper are good investments for this project. The book will teach you where every joint and facial feature line up, and the more you practice proper figures the more your croqui will begin to look like Gisele Bundchen rather than Mr. Potato Head or Gumby.

When you are ready grab a magazine and try to draw your figure in the poses of some of the magazine models. Eventually, when you feel comfortable with your capability, sketch 10 – 20 of your best poses front and back. These will be your lifesavers! Save these and from then on, whenever you want to sketch a full color drawing you can trace one of these figures and add the clothes to them. It will save you so much time and make you thankful you aren’t starting from scratch every time you need to put a design on paper.

YouTube also helps. There are many tutorials you can find by just typing in fashion sketching that will get you comfortable with what you should be doing. Also just browsing through Google Images of famous designers sketches is a cool way to see different drawing styles and techniques. (A cool tip I picked up on YouTube was to use a white out pen to draw in shine on fabrics or the gleam on the eyes!)

So practice your little fashion loving heart out and don’t get too impatient. Forget adding color and drawing hair until you’ve got your croqui down. Jot down clothing designs that come to you randomly as you think of them without worrying about making pretty drawings, and snag magazine pictures that inspire you whenever you find them.

When the time comes to get this portfolio going (try leaving yourself atleast a couple of months) all your practice and inspirations will be at your fingertips. Be disciplined. Follow the directions. BE NEAT!(no smudges or wrinkled paper!) and knock it out of the park!!!!!!

Good Luck!

Here’s one of the finished drawings from my entrance portfolio.

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Manhattan watch out! I’m on my way to the Fashion Institute of Technology for Fall 2012!

Somehow I got into this school and let me tell you, the way I did it will give you hope people. All is not lost if you’re not the hidden gem home sewer whose childhood drawings were always the awe of 3rd period Arts and Crafts. The portfolio for FIT is designed to weed out the rookies. What is required for this project is purely fashion focused, unlike most major fashion schools, and require skills normally learned in fashion design college classes.

When I first saw the guidelines my initial thought was…”so, basically FIT wants me to take fashion design at one college to learn what I am going to learn at FIT, so I am good enough to apply and retake it with them?” I was a rookie, and I did not exactly know how to sew. Alas, I was accepted anyway and I will tell you how I did it!

Here is the FIT portfolio project for fashion design:

1. 6-10 color sketches of clothes you design front and back with swatches.

2. Choose a destination city and season. You can only bring 1 jacket, 2 bottoms and 2 tops for a weekend trip. Sketch 4 outfits front and back with swatches.

3. One sketch inspired by anything you choose, inspiration submitted also

4. 6-10 photos of garments, front and back, that you have made ON MODELS or DRESS FORMS.

5. A few essays and one short essay written as an editor at a fashion show commenting on one of two pictures you are given to choose from.

There are many assumptions in this portfolio that can really trip a rookie up. Some may sound silly, but dont throw your nose up because there our thousands of hidden fashion geniuses out there without the tools to tango with this school. To start, they assume you know how to sketch, that you know they are looking for “fashion” sketches, that you know how to fashion sketch in the first place, that you know how to correctly design by season and that you know that seasons in fashion are not the same as seasons of the year. They assume you know how to sew, that you know how to sew well enough to not use a pattern therefor you know how to use a dress form, that you know how to use photoshop to put the front and back of a garment on one picture, that you know what an actual fashion editor sounds like, and most importantly that you know how to follow directions flawlessly. PHEW! If I was talking instead of typing I would be out of breath.

Oh yeah, did I mention they give you two weeks to do it? (from the time you receive the email telling you the portfolio instructions) Good thing you already know what it is.

Step by step rookie guide to killing this portfolio coming up!

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