Artists Across Comm Ave is a series that spotlights student artists at Boston College (across Commonwealth Avenue). The social media installments of this series can be found on the McMullen Museum’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
By Michaela Brant, class of ’23
Boston College senior Katie Garrett does more than study economics; she is also an avid sewer since childhood. She learned from her grandmother in California, who gave her a sewing machine, and believes that everyone should know the skill.
Katie’s love of sewing began with tailoring and mending clothes (although her very first creations were pencil pouches as valentines for her class—which she said were not long enough to fit pencils). If she got a hand-me-down or thrifted a piece of clothing that fit less than perfect, it did not mean it was trash. It just meant she had to make it her own.
“That was my first love with sewing, was taking stuff in or making something a little shorter,” she said. “I didn’t really start to get into making clothes from scratch until probably the past two years. It felt like something I was never going to be able to do, but I think as you get into a hobby like that, it kind of takes over, and you’re like, ‘Totally, I could try this out.’”
Traveling back and forth from California to Boston College every couple of months meant that Katie had to leave her sewing machine at home. At first, she found that sewing machines on campus were only available to students who had a connection to the Theatre Department’s costume operations. She needed another option if she wanted to keep sewing.
Meanwhile, the Boston College Design and Innovation department sought to bring more design thinking to campus. So in the summer of 2021, the department installed a makerspace where students could use equipment (including sewing machines) to do their own projects in the basement of Higgins Hall, the home of several BC science departments and classes. Spending time down there, Katie realized she wanted to bring her passion for sewing to the rest of BC. Once the makerspace, renamed The Hatchery, moved to BC’s newest academic building at 245 Beacon Street, Katie saw her chance. The idea for Patches, a sewing and upcycling club, was born.
Starting a club on campus is not as simple as grabbing your friends and booking a room—it requires a process that includes meeting with the Board of Student Organizations (BSO), proving there is a need for the organization, and documenting interest. Because STITCH, a club of crafters primarily focused on knitting and crocheting, was deemed too similar to her idea for a sewing club, the BSO rejected her first application proposal sophomore year. Rather than let that derail her, she decided to reapply the following year and get creative in proving that students wanted and needed Patches on campus.
At the annual Boston College Arts Festival in April, not-yet-official Patches set up a booth to sell clothing and collect interested students’ emails. By the end of the day, they had sold almost all of their clothing and had a lengthy list of interested students’ emails.
In the fall, once Patches was an official club, Katie tabled at the student involvement fair, gaining even more interested participants. The first general interest meeting, she said, drew about 60 people, even though it was at 9:00 pm on a rainy Monday night.
Patches uses the sewing machines in The Hatchery for sewing meetings, meaning members need to take the safety orientation, then complete a sewing machine training. Katie is among the group of student workers at The Hatchery who leads training and helps people out during open hours.
The hardest part of teaching people to sew, she said, is that they underestimate their skill level. She compared learning to sew to driving a car or following a recipe—once you get the hang of it, it feels natural.
Making clothes from scratch and upcycling, while it may seem small, is a way for Katie to resist the fast fashion industry and overconsumption. Textile waste is a vast pollutant worldwide. The EPA estimated in 2018 that the United States created 17 million tons of textile waste.
“My ability to sew is something I’m really grateful for,” she said, “because it allows me to be sustainable in a way that a lot of people don’t have the ability to be.”
Upcycling clothing is one way to divert textile waste from landfills or already overrun thrift stores. “It allows me to be more thoughtful about the ways that I consume,” said Katie, “which I just try to take advantage of.”
As an economics major, Katie hopes to work to regulate banks and financial technology companies in the future. Although she does not see sewing playing a role in her career, she knows she will be sewing for the rest of her life.
Although the arts scene at Boston College can sometimes appear limited to traditionally popular forms, like music, theatre, dance, and visual arts, Katie and Patches are helping create artistic spaces for anyone interested.
“People who do art, or who want to do art, or like art, give you that respect and encouragement, like, ‘No, that’s cool, you should keep doing it,’” she said. “And I feel like meeting people like that here, even though I wasn’t still sewing [as often], encouraged me to…sew now more than I ever have in my life.”