The MILL Textiles Team engineers fashion

Jenny Gerber, the second-place winner of the People’s Choice Award made her way down the runway in a dark pink tulle dress. The dress, adorned by ribbons, was a challenging material for Gerber to work with for her first time manipulating tulle. // Photo by Aanya Sawhney/Student Publications

On the drizzly afternoon of Saturday, April 8, the MILL Textiles L&D Team transformed the lobby of the Love Manufacturing Building into a runway, hosting their first ever MILL Fashion Show. Lines of chairs for the audience outlined the shape of a catwalk, and at the front of the room sat three tables featuring five highly coveted prizes, including a crochet set, LEGO flowers and a knitting machine. 

Not only was the event a fashion show, but it also served as a competition for the individual designers to show off their design and construction skills in front of the audience and a panel of judges. The contestants were competing in five categories: Best Overall, Most Creative, Most Innovative and for two People’s Choice Awards, for which QR codes to vote were posted around the atrium.

The leader of the Textiles Team is Helen Liu, third-year MSE, who planned the event from scratch. Liu joined the MILL, Tech’s open-access make and measure space in her first year. 

“I joined the MILL, specifically the Processing Team and the Textiles Learning and Discovery Team, because I was interested in combining my passion for materials science with my creative hobbies, such as sewing or crocheting. The MILL has been a great place for me to explore the intersection of the two!,” she said.

Through her involvement in the MILL, Liu was able to gain access to state-of-the-art equipment and further her interest in the intersection between textiles, materials science and engineering. As such, the MILL’s L&D Teams themselves are entirely undergraduate-run by students such as Liu, allowing undergraduates the autonomy to shape the way they learn and discover materials. The MILL Fashion Show is but one avenue of textile engineering and manipulation in a vast network of others; it allows audiences to experience the breadth of textile engineering while also giving the designers a creative outlet and a space to innovate. 

However, at the end of the day the MILL is student-run and student-imagined, meaning that designers in the fashion show had the ability to make it their own; whether their goal was to innovate on the interactions between different materials or just to make a cute garment and have fun with the process, all student designers found a space for their creative voice in the show. 

Additionally, the MILL as a whole is committed to making materials science more accessible and engaging by holding many other events, such as stained glass workshops and embroidery workshops.

Liu kicked off the show with a brief introduction of the makerspace and the L&D team and by introducing the judge panel. The fashion show was judged by Sundaresan Jayaraman and Sungmee Park, both MSE faculty. The judges were in charge of handing out all of the award titles except for the People’s Choice Awards. Thus, the judges took detailed notes and photos of each contestant as they strutted down the catwalk.

The show kicked off with ambient music from the speakers setting a backdrop for each contestant to walk down the runway. Liu gave a brief overview of each designer and a description of the garment they designed. Some designers chose to walk themselves, while other designers elected to have a model wear the design down the catwalk. 

The first contestant to walk was Jenny Gerber, second-year MSE, in a deep pink tulle dress. Gerber made the pattern from scratch and is planning to wear it to “The Eras Tour” later this month, highlighting the silhouette and playful color of the garment. 

“I’ve been watching TikTok sewing videos, and I saw a lot of tulle stuff, and I’ve never used tulle before, so I knew that I wanted to [incorporate it] … and I had to figure out how to make [the dress] without having a mannequin here,” she said.

Fashion and involvement in the MILL has helped Gerber develop her personal style and engineering skills, saying “[sewing] has helped me with my problem solving. I actually wrote about it in my college essay: how thinking about pattern-making is great for … logic puzzles. [I like] thinking, ‘how does this fit together?’” 

The next contestants to walk also demonstrated their love for sewing and polished garment construction. The next few outfits had sleeker silhouettes resembling two contrasting forms of evening wear. Shreya Paliwal, first-year CS, designed a Victorian-esque cargo pant using thrifted material that matched her vampiric aesthetic, styling her piece as a dark academic evening pant. On the other hand, the next designer, Aarya Doshi, first-year CS, created a silk cowl slip dress with a lace-up back. The soft peach color of the secondhand fabric created an evening-wear vibe that further contrasted the preceding piece.

Fourth to walk was Kathryn Bairley, fourth-year MSE, who also made an outfit to wear to a concert, creating a matching crop top and bucket hat that she made for a Jack White concert. After her, walked Alexandra Aiello, fourth-year ME. With her minor in ID, Aiello’s outfit brought together her love for knitting and her experience as a Craftland Master at the Invention Studio. 

“The MILL Textiles Team shared their fashion show with the Invention Studio. The Invention Studio announced and said anyone is welcome to sign up, so I signed up!” Aiello said.

Aiello also described the importance of thrifting in her final outfit design. 

“I went to a couple of second hand thrift stores. I went to a crafting thrift store that I really like … I picked some fabrics that I thought go really well together, and then I picked out some lightweight yarn for knitting socks,”  she said. The knitted socks were one of the focal points in Aiello’s design, which championed the sustainability of recycled fabrics.

Many other designers also emphasized the importance of thrifting and upcycling in their pieces. Taylor West, first-year LMC, designed a corset mainly made of repurposed fabric from Goodwill. Additionally, Wren Adkins, first-year MSE, demonstrated the future of repurposing garments in fashion. They made a capelet from a skirt as well as a
matching cape and accessories.

The next few designers brought in a summery breeze along with their usage of flowy fabric. Tina Tran, second-year MSE, created a body-hugging black dress reminiscent of a summer night with a fluid silhouette from the waist down. A pop of white lining around the neckline of the fabric highlighted its elegance. Natalie Raia, fourth-year MSE, modeled her first handmade garment in the show. She played into the sunny vibes of her piece that was perfectly crafted out of curtain fabric.

One very interesting outfit of the night was constructed by Hai Dao, third-year CS. His passion is in outlandish fashion, which he highlighted as he walked down the runway in a full-body black jumpsuit with handmade tentacles fastened on. “In the 21st century, everyone wishes they could have more hands to be more productive. It isn’t extra hands but it is the next best thing: tentacles,” Liu read as Dao entered the catwalk.

The last few pieces of the night truly highlighted the student leaders in the MILL and their involvement and passion in their makerspace. The Science of Art (SOA) Team is another L&D team in the MILL, similar to the Textiles Team. SOA created a stunning piece for the fashion show, speaking to the spirit of collaboration between MILL Teams and their members. It was heartwarming to see student leaders supporting each other’s events with such vigor. 

The SOA Team styled the model in a simple nude slip dress, elevating it with their own touch. Overlaying the dress was a network of interlocking chains almost resembling full-body jewelry. Attached to the chains were intermittent shards of stained glass that were soldered smooth, creating a kaleidoscopic effect. All in all, “the stained glass dress incorporate[d] 45 individual pieces of hand curated glass that were painstakingly soldered and linked to illustrate how both a team and different materials can come together as one,” Liu said.

The last piece to walk was Liu’s own creation, which her sister, Emma Zeng, modeled. Last year, Liu experimented with a bodice that featured an armor-like array of 3D-printed spikes. This year, Liu described her piece as “pay[ing] homage to a more traditional method of decorating a textile piece. With a combination of Intarsia hand knitting and duplicate stitching over panels made on the knitting machine, this sweater vest inspired by an album cover is a modern interpretation of a classic knit style.”

The sweater was truly one of a kind, and the model wore and walked the piece down the runway perfectly, manipulating and moving the fabric. 

At the end of the afternoon, the audience was ecstatic to see that Liu’s piece won the Best Overall award from the judges. Though she insisted that she did not want to compete, Jayaraman said, “we overruled her … The design was just out of this world. The Intarsia knitting was beautiful, and the color combination was really wonderful. The craftsmanship came together very elegantly, and … combined the 3D-printed hard material with other soft materials.”

Paliwal won the award for Most Creative, heralded for her paneling on her cargo pants. For Most Innovative, the SOA Team won the prize for their elegant combination of hard and soft materials. Lastly, for the People’s Choice Awards, Gerber took home second place with 18 votes, and Doshi took home first place with 74 votes. 

Overall, the first ever MILL Fashion Show was a huge success and hopefully set a tradition for fostering a connection between arts, fashion and engineering. 

“I thought it was so fun and exciting to have something like this at Tech,” said Taylor Bandy, third-year EAS. “It was really cool to see all of the different materials, designs and themes that walked tonight.”

As the afternoon darkened into the evening, audience members mingled about, reflecting on the amazing creations they had just seen. Additionally, many audience members reflected on the thread of sustainability weaving through the designs, signaling the importance of upcycling and environmentalism in the future of fashion on all levels. 

“I think it’s super important that something highlighted in today’s show was sustainability. A lot of the clothes that we saw walk[ing] on the runway were repurposed materials and secondhand materials, and having a showcase for sustainability and eco-friendliness was super important,” Bandy said. 

As the fashion industry hurdles grapples with its future and the climate crisis, the engineering behind it must follow suit, refocusing towards sustainable design. At the MILL Fashion Show, the future of fashion peeked through the stained glass, thrifted garments and knitted eyelets.