Blog

One day at a time in the life of Eileen Pappas: knitwear designer, Trekkie, and closeted rock star.

Progress!

This morning, I was all nerves walking to my class.  I had just been informed the night before that my class was now cut down to just 30 minutes, and I had no idea how my talk with my kids had gone over this past week.

In spite of my decreased class time, my students were absolutely incredible today.  I could never get around to everyone when I had one hour at my disposal, let alone half that amount, but the students I wasn't able to get to occupied themselves with quiet conversation, civilized cell phone game play, and (I hope) some homework.  Those that had lost their needles in the first week apologized for it.  The boys were phenomenal; Gregory, who knew how to knit, sat quietly, cast on his stitches and knit a few rows, and by the end of class I had taught him how to purl.  I was able to teach two more students how to do a slipknot and cast on.  The others sat patiently, one worried because he would be out of town next week, another asking if we could get hat looms (they are hopefully in the mail on their way to me as I type).

To say I was proud would be an understatement.  I was met with such dedication, grace, and yes, even love today that I was completely blown away.  My students' hearts were bigger than they were.

I left alive and grateful.

 

In other news, I am halfway done with sweater #2 of my 10 sweaters.  Photos to come.

A day just like any other day

It has been a while since I last posted, and I'm sure those of you reading this (all two of you, if that) are wondering where I've disappeared to.

To say that a lot has happened since the last time I wrote here would be an understatement.  But I'm not here to talk about that.

I'm here because it would be a crime to let a day like today go undocumented.  Where do I begin?

It all started sometime in early November when I came across a Huffington Post article titled, "Mommy, I Promise We Will Never Be Hungry Again."  The economic (and social, because the two are inseparable at this point) situation in Greece has had a big impact on me for years now, but it was this article that got me thinking... and doing something about it.

I threw a crazy idea at my parents the next morning at breakfast: "What if I could teach some Greek kids here in Astoria how to knit?  And what if we could auction off their work and donate the money to an orphanage in Athens?"  I'm a firm believer in the power of knitting to do good in this world and if a sweater can actually feed a child, well, that's a sweater with superpowers.  I am, of course, all for this.

My mother passed on the idea to Deacon Eugenios at St. Irene's Church in Astoria the following morning.  Deacon Eugenios was also a teacher (now principal) at St. Irene's Greek School.  He was moved that a young professional would offer up her knowledge and time to a project like this.  (It didn't hurt that he really wanted to learn how to knit as well.)  So the next weekend, he gave me a class of about fifteen middle school students.  And we began.

I have mentioned before my love and appreciation for teaching.  And I never took for granted the honor and privilege it is to be able to teach, and teach children/young adults at that.  But teaching this class is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

It's been well over a month now.  We have had many challenges.  My kids are not... tame.  They are brilliant, sharp, and funny.  They are also unbelievably wild and tireless pranksters.  I have never been a confrontational person.  I do not like to yell, and I do not like to fight.  I am far more comfortable interacting with people one-on-one than in groups, much less rowdy and fragmented groups.

You can tell where I'm going with this.

Amazingly enough, I had a couple students genuinely interested in learning and exploring the subject matter on their own during the week.  These were the students that not only remembered what we had done the week before, but had actually moved ahead.  I did not want to kid myself - their learning was more their doing than mine.  But one of my mentors told me that even if I could teach four kids how to knit by the end of this, then I would have done a great job.

Four out of fifteen is not great odds, but given my mentor's years of teaching experience (and the fact that she is a mother of two young kids herself), I knew well enough to believe her.

This morning, like every Saturday, I went to school.  Like every Saturday, I knew whatever plans I'd made for class during the week would go out the window in the first five minutes of class.

This was quickly becoming a non-workable situation (and unfortunately not the only non-workable situation in my life at the moment).  But, as it turns out, I was not the only teacher for which this was the case.

I will spare you the details.  What it came to was a conversation I had with my class at the very end, a conversation where I shared with them exactly what I've shared in this post with you - the article I read (and yes, I cried talking about it, just like I cry EVERY time I talk about it), my dream for this project, the importance of making a difference in people's lives.  I spoke to them the way I would speak to any of my friends, family, coworkers.  I asked for their help to make this happen.

I believe that my kids are capable of greatness, even when they turn the classroom into a volleyball court (yes, that too happened this morning.)  I believed in them since day one.  If anything, I am genuinely curious as to why they do the things they do, because I was never like that as a child.  But I was also invited into this school to do a job, and fulfill a mission.

After my heart-to-heart a young gentleman came to sit at the front of the class.  He is one of the wildest of the bunch, and had even started giggling as I poured my heart out earlier.  (I do not hold this against him - maybe I would have laughed at the crazy lady crying about sweaters and feeding kids too.)  All of a sudden he asked, "Am I doing this right?"  Not only had he cast on a number of stitches - CORRECTLY - he was knitting.  KNITTING.

I had no idea he had even gotten past making a slip knot.

 

I do not know how far we will get.  I do not know whether next week will be any different.  But I am thankful for today.

Olympic Costume

I hadn't realized it until now, but the Olympic Games seem to have a recurring significance in my life.

It all started in 2004, with the Athens Olympic Games.  I had just completed my junior year at Brown University, and had stayed in Providence, RI over the summer to take an MCAT preparation course and following that the MCAT itself.  My 21st birthday took place the day before the opening ceremony for the games - the games that after so many years were once again returning to my birthplace, with the entire world watching.

I'm not going to lie - I, too, was nervous about whether Athens could pull it off.  But I soon found myself watching the opening ceremony on a tiny TV set with tears in my eyes, astounded at the beauty, the simplicity, and the millennia of history that was presented with such clarity and grace and... poetry.  It was a celebration of my country, but also of humanity.  I was filled with pride and joy but also heartbroken that I was thousands of miles away from it.

The following morning, I went to take the MCAT.  Later that evening, my parents and I were out celebrating when my mom said, "I have a confession.  I had been given tickets to the opening ceremony of the games, but I didn't want to tell you because I knew you'd be upset you couldn't be there."

I did not say anything.  Instead I broke down in tears.

 

I took my longing and disappointment and turned it into inspiration.  My senior thesis was about the city of Athens and its transformation in preparation for the games.  (I majored in Architectural Studies.  Some of the things I wrote, now almost a decade later, have turned out eerily prophetic.)  That December, I got to go back home and even visited the Olympic sports complex, which was already becoming a ghost of its former glory.  I snuck into Calatrava's stadium (there were padlocks and chains on the gates, but they were unlocked), walked around, and took pictures to my heart's content in complete solitude.  Four months ago, this giant steel rib cage had enclosed the heart of the entire world.

 

I did not know then that my thesis was actually a 50-something page love letter, a love letter to the place that I had called home for 17 years, that I hated living in and did not in a million years imagine I could miss until I no longer lived there, to the place that I did not know I loved as much as I did until it broke my heart. 

Fast forward to the spring of 2012 - another Olympic year, and my junior year at Parsons.  The CFDA scholarship project was upon me, during the most difficult time that I have ever faced in my entire life (my grandfather's passing, and inability to be there, in Athens, to pay my respects).  There was nothing to do except look back to the most touching, moving, and inspiring experience I could muster: watching that 2004 opening ceremony:

And so I came up with a collection inspired by the rhythm of the zeibekiko, the rhythm of the heartbeat, and what being Greek meant to me.

 

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Then, last week, in a conversation about running the marathon (helloooo Olympic Games), I also mentioned to a friend my guilty pleasure love of professional wrestling.  (Yes, it's 100% true.  I came out of my senior thesis photoshoot just in time to take a bus to New Jersey with my dad for Wrestlemania 29.)   And she astutely observed that wrestling, long before it became "soap opera in spandex", was an Olympic sport.

I let this sit with me.  I let it all sit with me this week.

Until this morning, when I had another thought - a thought that I later realized was a dream: I want to design the Olympic uniforms for Team Greece one day.  It should have been obvious to me sooner, but I did not see it until now.  (Sophia Kokosalaki had the honor of designing the costumes for the opening ceremony in 2004.)

I have already put the wheels into motion.

The Inauthentic Fear of Failure

"What would you attempt today if you knew you could not fail?"

That question seems to be coming up quite frequently lately, from different areas and different people in my life...

I remember a conversation we had in our Business Seminar class at Parsons last year.  Our teacher was fond of asking the question, "Does fear stop you or motivate you?"  Naturally, it became a big consideration for me as I scanned my life over to find the answer.

Truth be told, I've taken some big risks the past few years - living in Budapest for two years while going to medical school, leaving medical school and moving to New York to pursue a career in fashion, and lately giving my word to doing things that I oftentimes have neither the necessary knowledge nor resources to accomplish.  Until recently, moving to a place of my own was one of these things.  (The good news is, both the resources and the means to accomplish this have since come to be.)

Given all this, I suppose fear does not stop me.  But I'm not sure I would go so far as to say it motivates me; I simply choose to act in spite of the fear.

This past Sunday was the day of the New York City Marathon.  I was honored to have two friends run that day (and finish with amazing times too), and got to be a spectator for a few hours as I cheered on not only my friends, but hundreds of complete strangers as well.  I have to say, there are few moments in my life where I've been so proud to be a human being.

And then I reminded myself that running a marathon has been on my bucket list for six years now - one of those things that I wanted to do, but SOMEDAY.

Well, this past Sunday, I decided to put a date on "someday" and announced to several friends my plan to run the NYC Marathon in 2015.  Am I afraid?  Terrified.  Afraid of failing, afraid of getting injured, afraid my knees won't handle it, afraid my asthma will make it impossible for me to ever run long distances, afraid of bad weather the day of the race... You name it.

 

But is my fear going to stop me?  Not this time.

Give the people what they want

My life this past week has consisted largely of sketching body con dresses because that is apparently what is going to sell... 

Those of you that know me see the tremendous irony in me having to focus on this particular project as I am not a very body con kind of gal.  It's been a good exercise - like in high school art classes where they make you copy a drawing that is only slowly revealed to you upside down in order to work the right side of your brain.  I don't know that I am reinventing the wheel when it comes to body con, nor that I ever will, but I am immersing myself in the experience.

Working with a mass market company has many challenges - limitations on fabrics that can be used, limitations on how creative you can be while still keeping your designs commercial.  But the most difficult aspect by far seems to be getting into the head of the buyers from our major retailer.

How can I give the people what they want when the people don't really seem to know what they want?

Just a question to throw into the void as I embark on my second week.

In the meantime, I'd like to share some videos from an old Geoffrey Beene runway show that are pure unadulterated fun.  (Thank you again, Garmento.)