LIFE IN THE VALLEY: Handmade fashion dreams

Alberni woman sews up future with dress designing talent

  • Oct. 25, 2017 10:00 a.m.

Designer Christa Granneman, right, is photographed with Naomi Hughs-Hall wearing Granneman’s dress at the Chic Sheets Challenge fashion show. ANA ISABELA LISBOA PHOTO

A former Port Alberni resident is on her way to her dream of landing a career in the fashion industry and she got a boost of confidence earlier this year by entering a design competition. Christa Granneman was only one vote away from taking a win at the annual Eco Fashion Week fashion and runway show when she created a gown from two plain bed sheets.

Granneman was born and raised in Port Alberni and comes from a line of creative seamstresses and artists. Her family emigrated from Germany and her grandmother there was a seamstress. Her mother is a painter who taught the art of watercolours and it is from her Granneman learned to draw. Her mother’s sister is a costume maker and her cousin a designer.

Granneman started sewing both out of interest and need. When she was about 13 years old, she was thin and found it difficult to find clothes that fit her own style and her frame. By the next year, she got her first basic sewing machine, which she used until it sewed its last stitch. She then received another machine as a gift while in high school excelling in a sewing class.

“My teacher said I was talented and that I should pursue it,” Granneman said. “I made my grad dress and one for a friend.”

In September 2015, she enrolled in the Art Institute of Vancouver with the idea to learn as much as possible beyond sewing. That included making patterns from scratch. Partway through this year’s Design Studio: Women’s Wear class, the instructor announced that rather than the final project being the usual evening wear creation, the students would take part in a competition to make a dress out of bedsheets as part of Eco Fashion Week. Eco Fashion Week is an initiative to promote environmentally friendly alternatives in the fashion industry to combat the amount of clothing going to the landfills. The repurposed sheets were donated by the Fairmont Hotel, which also “discards” 1,500 sheets per year to shelters.

“It was a good challenge,” Granneman said. “I thought it would be easy because it is firm fabric, but I chose to challenge myself with the design.”

Each designer had to chose a theme so Granneman went with salmon, inspired by her hometown. Her first step was through a lengthy dye process which she learned through an online video. The fabric was not 100 percent cotton so she boiled it at a high temperature. Then she used an ice dying technique by putting the wet material in the bathtub with ice on top and let it melt overnight with blue dye sprinkled on top. The effect was a blue tie-dye watercolour look. To achieve an impression of fish scales, she took it farther using a “smocking” technique.

The final product ended up as a princess seamed dress with straps and a sweetheart neckline. The long train represents the fish tail.

“We had to have a Canadian theme and the salmon is a big part of my experience growing up in Port Alberni and something I can’t ignore,” she said.

Each designer then had their dress modelled at a fashion show and were judged by a panel, as well as a people’s choice vote.

“I was happy to participate in my first public fashion show before grad,” Granneman said. “I was one vote short of winning the judge’s vote but I feel really good about how I did.”

After the dresses are on display for the year at the Fairmont Hotel lobby and then at the school, Granneman said she hopes to have an opportunity to wear it somewhere special.

“It was a good way to end off the year even though I had no Spring Break,” she said. “It was overwhelming but worth it.”

Kristi Dobson, who wrote stories for the Alberni Valley News featuring the lives of people in Port Alberni, died on July 8, 2017, before some of her articles were published. We are running these stories with her family’s blessing.

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Christa Granneman’s ice-dyed fabric, spread out and dry. She dyed the fabric first before shaping and smocking it to implement as a key piece of her dress. CHRISTA GRANNEMAN PHOTO

Christa Granneman’s Chic Sheets Challenge dress, in progress. CHRISTA GRANNEMAN PHOTO

A model shows off the feature piece on the back of Christa Granneman’s dress during the Chic Sheets Challenge fashion show. JOEY MALBON PHOTO/ BAD-GOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

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