Surrounded by a vibrant New Orleans energy, Make it With Wool (MIWW) fashion finalists presented their vast creativity during this year’s national fashion show. From well-tailored garments to hand-knit sweaters and dresses, the fashion show provided a glimpse into the inspiration wool can ignite.
New York’s own Haley Smith won first place during the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Fall 2018. This made her a finalist to participate in the National MIWW in New Orleans. I was excited to support Haley by going to the MIWW fashion show! The diversity of technical design approaches was impressive and inspiring.
A National Sheep & Wool Organization Forms
As the National Make it With Wool fashion show is part of the broader American Sheep Industry (ASI) convention, let’s take a brief look at its history.
During the early to mid-19th century, New York was a leading wool state. Early imports of sheep, emergence of wool manufacturers, and transportation networks provided a basis for the state to become a leader in wool production. In 1845, New York had over 6 million sheep that produced over 13 million pounds of wool. This provided a foundation for a strong network of sheep farmers interested in developing a path for economic sustainability.
The National Wool Growers’ Association (previous name of ASI) hosted its first meeting in Syracuse New York in 1865. The organization was developed to address the interests of both wool growers and manufacturers. The first president was Henry S. Randall of Cortland New York. He was an expert in sheep husbandry with American Merinos, Rambouillet, Cotswold, and Leicester sheep. In 1865, the US had about 25 million sheep and more than 75% were Merino sheep in states east of Mississippi river. South America, Australia, and Africa were global leaders in wool production. Over the years, the National Wool Growers’ Association continued to host annual meetings to support the development and sustainability of US wool growing and manufacturing. Although the amount of US sheep has declined with about 5.2 million sheep in 2018, the American Sheep Industry continues to support sheep and wool producers.
70 Years in the Making ~ Optimism with Make it With Wool
The Make it With Wool (MIWW) competition developed to “promote the beauty and versatility of wool.”In 1947, the first MIWW competition began with participants from 12 states. This years fashion show included participants from over 25 states. About 40% of participants were from Midwestern states, 33% were from the West, 14% from Southern states, and 7% from the Northeast.
A main requirement was for outfits to have at least 60% wool. Fashion show participants modeled their MIWW outfits to Textiles and Apparel faculty from Louisiana State University- Baton Rouge, a previous MIWW National Director, ASI president, and producer. Their outfits were judged based on handwork, needlework, embroidery, construction, and design. There were three main categories for adult, senior, and junior participants.
Make it With Wool Fashion in New Orleans
Let’s learn more about Haley’s design that make her a finalist for the National MIWW competition.
Growing up in Upstate New York, Haley learned to sew during summers with the 4-H program. She has been entering the New York MIWW competition since 8th grade. As an undergraduate at Cornell, she continued refining her skills in sewing and fiber arts. In an interview, Haley expressed, “It’s so exciting to finally see my hard work pay off, and this is also my favorite outfit I’ve entered, so I’m happy that others appreciate it like I do.”
The goal behind her award-winning outfit was to create a timeless design. This is reflected with her use of black and light blue tones. She used commercial patterns from Vogue and Butterick and chose to focus on current trends such as a knee length coat and wide pant legs. The coat is made of wool fabric produced by Pendleton in the U.S. She received it for her participation in a previous MIWW competition. The coat is lined with silk that was hand-dyed with black beans. The black jumpsuit is made of a wool and spandex blend from Sawyer Brook.
In between fashion show rehearsals and judging sessions, the MIWW finalists got to tour New Orleans. Haley explained, “We learned a lot about the history of Mardi Gras by visiting Mardi Gras World, a warehouse where many of the floats are created throughout the year. We also got to see the history, riding on the wooden railcars and visiting the French Quarter.” She also enjoyed seeing the outfits of fellow MIWW finalists. She reflected, “Everyone was so friendly and created such different looks, it was fun to hear their experiences and stories about Make it With Wool from the past.”
Haley’s main highlight was to model her wool outfit with the fellow MIWW finalists. She explained, “We spent so much time creating them, it was exciting to showcase them to an audience who was as excited and passionate about wool as we were.” A look that stood out was by Renata Goossen from Kansas who won the Senior award. Haley explained that after getting to know her, she found that the outfit also matched her personality. Haley also found all the knitted outfits to be memorable. Knitwear included sweaters, dresses, shawls, and gloves!
One of my favorite looks was by Emily Waldron, who won first runner up for the Senior category and received an exemplary construction award. She created a hand-knit combined blouse-shawl and paired it with a well-fitted pencil skirt with a surprise inset godet in the back. The combination of hand-knit and woven textile structures was a great way to integrate both types of fabrics.
Continuing to Make it With Wool… and Mohair
The fashion show presented several exciting creative possibilities with wool. I also appreciated the inclusion of mohair from angora goats. In fact, three participants were recognized for their looks that included mohair. The MIWW annual fashion show provides an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of these natural fibers in their various forms. Both as yarn and fabric, including hand-spun yarn from small farms and manufactured fabric from Pendleton Woolen Mills that sources wool from US sheep farms.
As we look into 2019, let’s take a design cue from these wonderful designers and consider how animal fibers can be used to clothe us for all seasons.