Today we welcome retired Threads Executive Editor Judith Neukam to talk about the Threads Challenge, its origins, and the changes it has undergone over the last 20 years.
The 2019 Threads/Association of Sewing and Design Professionals (ASDP) design challenge has begun, and in response, sewing rooms all over the country are humming with new invention, sparked style, and brilliant skills. I was part of the first design challenge 20 years ago, and have a warm place in my heart for the efforts made since then to keep this event flourishing in the sewing community.
2009: Seam Challenge, Issue #148 Page 37,Monique Saviano’s hemstitched seams in an organza, chiffon, and brocade strapless dress won the Best Implied Seams and Audience Choice awards. Photos by Jack Deutsch.
Originally, the challenge was cosponsored by the fabric industry; the first challenge called for garments made of mohair. In those early days, designers sent their garments to the Threads offices, where they were judged and then returned to the designer to take to the ASDP’s annual fashion show. That first year, the magazine’s administrative assistant coordinated receiving the deliveries, unwrapping them, hanging them, and keeping all the related paperwork with the garment for preliminary and final judging. She was allergic to the mohair and had to limit her exposure to 15-minute periods—when unwrapping and then re-wrapping the entries.
2009: Seam Challenge, Issue #148 Page 36. Ruth Ciemnoczolowski's interlocking and topstitched seams in a felted wool jersey dress won the Unexpected Seam Award. Photos by Jack Deutsch
Each challenge has been conceived to offer the designers an opportunity to stretch their design and technical skills. We have covered numerous design areas, including creative seams, no-waste design, embellishment techniques, specialty fabrics such as lace, and iconic silhouettes—all cutting-edge topics within the fashion industry. Many designers have professional practices that don’t allow them to test their creativity regularly. We try to invent design problems they may not have faced before and encourage them to come up with original solutions and showstopping looks.
2003: Reversible garment, Issue #109, Pg. 86 Lena Stepanenko’s silk taffeta coat and cut-silk velvet dress combination won her the Most Surprising Transformation Award. Photos by Scott Phillips
We’ve learned lessons with each challenge ourselves. One example was the “Reversible Garment” challenge (2003), which required each garment to appear on the runway twice to display both sides. This doubled the length of the fashion show. The challenge authors learned how important it is that every facet of the challenge suits the entire production. Another instance of inadvertent problems arose with the first “Inspired by Art” challenge (2007), when we ran into copyright restrictions that prevented us from reproducing all the inspiration pieces in the magazine.
2011: No-Waste designs, Issue 160, Pg. 42 Joyce Hittesdorf’s two-piece mother of the bride or groom ensemble won the Best and Most Original Jacket Award. Photos by Jack Deutsch.
We have always used a judging formula followed by art shows. An important aspect of our judging is that it is done blind: The designers’ identities are never revealed to the judges until the winners have been selected. The first step is for each judge, including any guest judges, to categorize each entry as a “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.” Then the judges debate the maybes, keeping the yeses and nos isolated in their respective groups. Our goal is to move the maybes into one of the other categories. The final yes selections become the finalists. As we assess the garments, we pay attention to how well each entry satisfies the challenge brief and the contest requirements. This is when every little element is taken into consideration. We also read the artists’ statements, and the ASDP challenge coordinator verifies that the entry abides by the organization’s rules (including meeting all deadlines, providing the required photographs, and providing a title).
As the annual challenge became more popular and the demands on the Threads staff became overwhelming, we decided to do the first round of judging by photographs. This eliminated all the shipping, and gave the finalists more time to fine-tune their entries even after the first judging round. The final judging now is at the ASDP conference the morning of the fashion show. The only garments sent to Threads today are the winners, which are photographed on models by our fashion photographer in New York City. We love how this fashion shoot brings the pieces to life!
2011: No-Waste designs, Issue 160, Pg. 44 Debby Spence's layered dress with asymmetrical tucks won the award for Best Column Made from a Tube in the 2011 No-Waste Designs Challenge. Photos by Jack Deutsch
What’s in it for you, if you decide to take on the challenge? First, you declare your intention to create an original design, following the challenge brief that is issued immediately after the fashion show. You’ll deliver photographs of your finished garment by the stated deadline, for preliminary judging. You’ll also need to include an artist’s statement describing your design inspiration, the techniques used, and fabrics and embellishments. The process of preparing the garment and the entry documents can help designers learn how best to market their work, for greater professional success.
2013: Lace Challenge, Issue 166, Joi Mahon’s fur-infused lace bolero and full-skirted dress won the Audience Choice Award. Photo by Jack Deutsch.
Some of the designers enter almost every year. Over the years, they develop a deep collection of their own designs to show their style and talent. The entries also show the member’s growth in design and construction. If the garments are made in model sizes, they’re ideal for the designers to display in fashion or trunk shows. If they are made in the designer’s own size, they gets to wear the garment(s) themselves, and that’s a priceless bonus.
This challenge is always inspiring because it features the best work of professional seamstresses, tailoring experts, bridal designers, and custom clothiers. The winners are chosen for their application of cutting-edge and complex sewing techniques on a stunning garment that will make an inspiring magazine article. So, whether you compete or appreciate, following this challenge will benefit your work as a designer.