- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

YORKTOWN, Ind. (AP) - Two white sewing machines, garments, pictures of designer dresses tacked up on boards, a heating iron, tape measure, scissors and the sort clutter up a room in the back. Mood boards, garments, pictures and pins fill a narrower room down the hallway.

Ball State University seniors divide up between the two rooms Monday and busily cut, sew and iron fabrics for their designer accessible clothing line, “Sovereign Adaptive Clothing.”

The clothing line is the brainchild of Valerie Birk, a professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. The wheelchair-using Birk suffers from multiple sclerosis, and she says the accessible clothes currently available are about as trendy as trash bags.

“You should see what they put people in,” Birk tells The Star Press (http://tspne.ws/1j2HcNj ). “Seriously, who would want to wear a shirt taped around their neck?”

Birk is overseeing six ambitious and talented Ball State students in Jayden Hirst, Addie Muleya, Sheri Ehrlich, Brady Bader, Maddie Spitaels and Brynn Flaig who intend to upgrade the accessible clothing line. The students drive to her home each weekday for true hands-on training as part of their summer internship.

“I turned down another internship to do this one, because I thought it would look better on my portfolio to work on accessible clothing and design on a team as opposed to just running errands for someone,” says Hirst, a 2011 Central High School graduate.

Birk supplies fabric and offers input when requested, but she grants students the freedom to conceptualize the designs, create the clothes and market the product.

“You’ve got to make your own mistakes,” Birk says. “That’s the only way they learn.”

The group is three weeks into the internship. Each of the six students collaborated the first week before breaking off into pairs to design their visions.

One of the designs is a pleated oncology-friendly shirt with slits in the chest area for inserting medical ports. Another design is a wrap dress with a loop on the back neck. The loop is there for anyone who is inflexible and unable to reach back far enough to put their arms through sleeves. The clothing line consists of pants, too, that mirror the designer styles found in stores except with loops on each side of the waist to ease pulling them up.

Muleya is in charge of the pleated oncology friendly shirt. The design is tricky and Muleya is burning through fabric.

“It’s going to be a thousand dollar shirt,” Birk says as they consult. “. It already is a thousand dollar shirt, but it’s going to look good.”

___

Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com