Focus on Fashion Engineers

Honoring Two Great Designers

Lilly Pulitzer

It all started with a juice stand in Palm Beach.  Lilly, a young, sassy New York socialite had eloped with Peter Pulitzer, grandson of the Pulitzer Prize’s Joseph Pulitzer and settled in Palm Beach to live the life of the rich and famous.  Peter owned several Florida citrus groves, but Lilly needed a project of her own.  So in 1960, with Peter’s produce, she opened a juice stand on Via Mizner, just off Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.

Lilly’s business was hit, but squeezing oranges, lemons, and pink grapefruit made a mess of her clothes.  Realizing that she needed a juice stand uniform, Lilly asked her dressmaker to design a dress that would camouflage the stains.  The result?  A comfortable sleeveless shift made of bright, colorful printed cotton in pink, green, yellow and orange.  The dress even had custom dressmaker details like lining and lace seam bindings.  It was perfect for the job and became Lilly’s first classic shift.

Although her customers liked Lilly’s juice, they loved her dress.  When people began to ask if they could buy the dress, Lilly had a few more made up to sell in the stand.  Soon Lilly was selling more dresses than juice, so she decided to stop squeezing and to focus on designing and selling her Lilly originals.  Before long, Jackie Kennedy, an old school chum, began wearing Lilly’s designs and as First Lady was featured in Life Magazine wearing a Classic Shift.  Then, of course, everyone wanted one and Lilly Pulitzer became a fashion sensation.

Bonnie Cashin

Bonnie Cashion was a highly influential innovator in fashion design who created loose-fitting sportswear and light, layered clothing.  She first designed sportswear for the fashion house of Adler & Adler from 1937 to 1943.  Working for Twentieth Century Fox from 1944 to 1949, Cashin designed clothes for some 60 films, including Laura (1944) and The Keys of the Kingdom (1944).  She started her company, Bonnie Cashin Designs, in 1952 and was one of the world’s most prominent designers during the following two decades.

In 1962, Cashin was hired by Gail Leather Products, the original parent company of Coach, as their first designer.  Coach would go on to become one of the world’s most successful purveyors of handbags and other leather products.  Many of the company’s iconic handbag designs still produced and marketed today were created by Bonnie Cashin.

Celebrate National Women’s History Month by sharing the legacy of these two great American designers with your FACS students!

Tomorrow we’re building a bridge and improving automobile safety!  Stay tuned!


March is Women’s History Month!

Getting Inspired!

I love it when things in my life seem to “magically” come together, don’t you?  That kind of experience always makes me feel like I’m on the right track, which energizes and excites me.  Well, I had one of those moments late yesterday afternoon while doing research for a new curriculum resource I’m developing.  I’m calling the new resource FACS From STEM to Earn, Engineering Our Future, the emphasis of which will be the engineering component of STEM in the FACS curriculum.  Through this research, I have discovered all of these remarkable women engineers who have accomplished so much in FACS-related areas and I’m so excited to recognize them for their work.  Many of them will be featured in FACS From STEM to Earn, of course, but then it dawned on me that March is Women’s History Month!  I don’t have to wait to share my excitement about these amazing women! I can begin spotlighting their achievements now through this blog!  So today begins my personal tribute to these great women who have left an indelible mark on FACS and the fabric of American life.  I hope you will share this information with your FACS students, because our young girls and women are in desperate need of some really smart, successful role models!

I’d like to begin this series by spotlighting three women engineers who worked in the field of clothing and textiles.  You might not recognize their names but you will surely appreciate their contribution to this foundational FACS content area.

Helen Augusta Blanchard


Helen Augusta Blanchard was one of the greatest inventors of the industrial era.  She was often referred to as “Lady Edison”.  She held 28 patents, 22 of which had something to do with sewing machines.  She was born in 1840 to a wealthy family from Maine.  When her family lost their fortune, her mechanical skills came in handy.  She filed her first patent for her most famous zigzag sewing machine in 1873.  This zigzag stitch sealed the raw edges of the seam, which made garments sturdier.  The prototype for that machine is now on display at the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.  Other remarkable inventions by Ms. Blanchard are self-taking needles and a surgical needle.

Ellen Curtis Demorest


Ellen Curtis Demorest was a true nineteenth-century Renaissance woman.  Not only was she stylish and smart, she was also sassy, progressive, and truly committed to women’s empowerment.  Ellen didn’t invent the concept of a sewing pattern, but she transformed it from something only available to tailors into the modern mass-produced paper pattern we use today.  Trained as a dressmaker and milliner, Ellen opened up a millinery shop in Saratoga Springs, New York.  The success of that business emboldened her to move to Brooklyn where she met and married William Demorest, a successful dry goods merchant.  Ellen worked in the family dry goods business which produced the first commercially available paper pattern in 1854.  Her patterns were first sold through stylish periodicals like Godey’s Lady’s Book.  Ellen and William eventually published the quarterly magazine Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions to promote and distribute their patterns.

Mary Brooks Picken


Mary Brooks Picken was born on August 6, 1886 in Arcadia, Kansas.  Not much of her early life was documented, but what is known is that from an early age she had a knack for sewing.  Mary moved to Kansas City to study fashion and after that moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where she founded The Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences in 1816.  Similar to online schools of today, the institute was a correspondence school that offered classroom instructions in dressmaking, millinery, cooking, fashion design, beauty and homemaking.  The school’s enrollment reached 300,000 at one point, becoming the largest school in history solely dedicated to the education of women.  The school offered an affordable option that allowed women to immediately generate income after graduation during a period in history when women couldn’t vote and less than 10 percent of women worked outside the home.


I’d love to hear from you, our FACS friends!  Who are the women who inspire you?

More tomorrow!






Presidential Palates Culinary Quiz

This is the official conclusion to our Presidential Palates blog series highlighting the food preferences of twenty-four American Presidents.  I thought it might be fun to provide a simple matching quiz to use with your students to measure what food facts they have retained from these posts.  Just a reminder that the entire Presidential Palates series will be available as a free download on our website later this week.

Presidential Palates

Culinary Quiz

Directions:  Match the American Presidents on the left with their favorite foods.

             Part I (1789 – 1933)

  1.               George Washington                         A.  Gingerbread cookies
  2.              John Adams                                        B.  Roast turkey
  3.              Thomas Jefferson                             C.  Milk fresh from the cow
  4.              Andrew Jackson                                D.  Fried chicken with milk gravy
  5.              Zachary Taylor                                  E.  Apple cider
  6.              Abraham Lincoln                             F.  All types of cheese
  7.              Andrew Johnson                              G.  Creole cooking
  8.              Ulysses S. Grant                               H.  All types of nuts
  9.               James Garfield                                   I.  Macaroni and cheese
  10.              Theodore Roosevelt                         J.  Popcorn
  11.               William H. Taft                                 K.  Squirrel soup

    Part II (1933 – 2017)

  12.               Franklin D. Roosevelt                    A.  Cheeseburger Pizza
  13.               Harry S. Truman                              B.  Texas barbeque
  14.               Dwight D. Eisenhower                   C.  Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
  15.               John F. Kennedy                               D.  Pork Rinds and Tabasco Sauce
  16.               Lyndon B. Johnson                          E.  Chili
  17.               Richard M. Nixon                             F.  Chicken Enchiladas
  18.               Gerald Ford                                        G.  Beef Stew
  19.               Jimmy Carter                                     H.  Jelly Beans
  20.               Ronald Reagan                                   I.  Rare beef steaks
  21.               George H.W. Bush                            J.  New England Clam Chowder
  22.               Bill Clinton                                         K.  English muffins
  23.               George W. Bush                                L. Cheese Grits
  24.               Barack Obama                                   M. Cottage cheese with ketchup

Answers:  1. H, 2. E, 3. I, 4. F, 5. G, 6. A, 7. J, 8. B, 9. K, 10. D, 11. C, 12. C, 13. I, 14. G, 15. J, 16. B, 17. M, 18. K, 19. L, 20. H, 21. D, 22. F, 23. A, 24. E


Don’t forget to vote tomorrow!


For more ideas for bringing history and social studies into your FACS curriculum, check out our resource Historical FACS on our website at