February 10, 2006

Fashion design students benefit from software gift

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Students in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's fashion design and merchandising program will create clothing apparel using the latest technology thanks to a gift from a software company.

Gerber Technology, based in Tolland, Conn., gave the SIUC program 27 copies of its Pattern Design System for just $100 a copy. The regular price is about $12,800 per copy, making the total value of the gift $345,600.

The technology is a significant upgrade from the six-year-old software that computer-aided apparel design students were using. Jane Workman, the professor who teaches the design course, said the donation means SIUC students will have an edge when entering the competitive industry.

"That's one reason Gerber was so willing to give us this software – students need to know how to use it," Workman said. "They will be prepared. It will really help students find a job."

The software allows designers to lay out and manipulate various clothing patterns on the screen. Necklines, sleeves, taper lines and pleats are shown in a highly accurate form, as the computer also handles the various adjustments needed to create different sizes of the same item.

Thus, what once was a painstaking effort by designers as they physically laid out full-size sewing patterns on a table is now accomplished with a few click-and-drags of a mouse. Workman said that results in a less wasteful, more accurate product.

"This software gives an immediate, exact measurement," Workman said.

The fashion design and merchandising program is part of the SIUC School of Architecture, in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts. It trains students for success in the rapidly evolving, technology-driven world of fashion.

Workman, who has trained on computer-aided apparel design since the 1980s, started pursing the upgrade about a year ago. The software arrived in time for students to use it during the current spring semester in the large computer lab at Quigley Hall.

The software allows students to start designing from a basic pattern, such as one for pants, and then add their own variations. It also allows designers to start from scratch, using only a simple circle or rectangle to start. Workman will grade them on how well they learn to use the software to follow patterns and create their own designs.

The software can interface with a variety of other equipment, including automatic cutting machines, which in a factory environment would slice fabric into the proper configurations to assemble hundreds of garments. The program at SIUC doesn't have such machines, but Workman said students still need familiarity with the set-up portion of such a process.

The University's technology fee fund paid for the software at the discounted rate. Students pay the technology fee as part of their tuition and fees each semester. The money goes into a fund, and University departments can apply for funding to buy technological items aimed at improving student programs.

Terry Owens, director of the School of Architecture, said the new software is a critical component of the program.

"It's important for us here in a more remote location to have these kinds of opportunities," Owens said. "It will prepare our students very well for the industry."

Recruiting and enlisting allies with corporations is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.