The Day – Dress to Succeed: High school student Quinn Lee, from Oakdale, sells clothing designs to local artists


Quinn Lee, a junior at Saint Bernard School in Uncasville, had no intention of displaying the unconventional-materials-meets-haute-couture dress they made from trash found in a classroom art at school.

With cotton fabric as the base, the dress was constructed with cardboard serving as scraps of fabric, sketchbook paper crumpled in a way that resembles flowers, and dried paintbrushes providing extra interest at the waistline.

Lee was convinced by their teacher, Marsha Regan, to put him in an exhibition at the Hygienic Art Gallery in New London which featured the work of pupils from Saint Bernard, New London and Waterford grammar schools.

Lee had no intention of selling the piece.

But then professional artists Mark and Juner Patnode, who are also husband and wife, saw him at the Hygienic. They loved it and wanted to buy it and display it at Sapphire House in New London, where Juner teaches art to all ages.

The hygiene officer contacted Quinn’s art teacher, Marsha Regan, and explained the situation to her. Regan spoke with Lee and a deal was struck.

The Patnodes bought the dress for $250, and the piece is now in the lobby of Sapphire House. It inspires the art students who walk through the door, just like the works of professional artists and some students do the same in the rooms inside.

“I was over the moon,” Lee recalled. “I had never considered selling my designs before, so this was a big moment for me.”

Mark Patnode speaks of it as a sculptural creation. He remembers seeing it and “I thought, ‘Oh my word, that’s almost a candidate for a patent, because there are three criteria for a patent — it has to be new, unique and not obvious to someone trained in the arts. I was standing in front of this, saying, “David Smith and Henry Moore wouldn’t think of that kind of sculpture, Rodin wouldn’t think of that.” That brings things to a another level, but it also touches on the aspect of textile arts or fabric arts embodied in the sculpture.It just goes beyond that, especially when looking at it from a high school level.

Lee, he says, “thinks beyond.”

“I knew it was special”

The idea of ​​using what was essentially classroom trash for the outfit was inspired in part by the Saint Bernard students trying to restart the environmental club. Plus, says Lee, “I really don’t like when things get lost. So if it’s not used, then do something about it.”

So, while working on a quarterly project for the Fine Arts III class, Lee asked Regan for mats and used brushes. When Lee brought the finished product, Regan said, “I knew it was special. I knew it had to be in the art show.”

Regan, who is director of visual arts at Saint Bernard, says Lee has both an artistry when it comes to making clothes and an absolute love for it. Lee makes parts at home; it’s like it’s in Lee’s blood, Regan said.

Regan adds, “You can’t teach that much. They have to do the work.”

Indeed, when Lee took the time, everything suddenly clicked. Lee was able to see as an artist sees, Regan says.

Sewing during the pandemic

Lee was in second or third grade when they learned to sew from their aunt. But they did not continue until the pandemic.

With the quarantine, they say, it was “free time, nothing to do and nowhere to go”.

Ironically, they add, “Quarantine has actually been the busiest I’ve been in for a while.”

They ordered fabric online and began designing and sewing on the old sewing machine her mother had used when she was trying to make Halloween costumes back then.

Lee has always loved going to the JOANN Fabric and Craft Store to look at fabrics, especially the shiny fabrics which, they laugh, “I gravitate like a moth to a flame.”

First they created an asymmetrical dress in shimmering fabric that changes from light blue to a darker shade, depending on the light.

Seeing the result, they recalled, “It was, ‘Oh, my God, I can really do this, and it doesn’t look terrible.'”

They moved on to bigger projects, including a ball gown and a still-in-progress ball gown they would wear to St. Bernard’s Ball. (Like all Saint Bernard students, Lee wears a school uniform.)

After Lee is done with a dress, they put it on and take a picture for social media.

Lee is also heavily involved in dance, taking classes at both Dance Extension in Waterford and AMA Dance Theater in Mystic and doing a bit of all types of dance from ballet and contemporary to tap and hip. -hop. One of their teachers tried to get them to make dance costumes.

They have not decided on their career.

As for what they love about making clothes, Lee says, “I loved making fun little outfits to draw when I was a kid, and now I can make those designs as well as the outfits from the shows I watched when I was a kid. I was younger…

“I love how I can do things that I imagine.”

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