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Garment District Designer Uses Computers to Create 21st-Century Patterns

By Mathew Katz | April 2, 2012 9:09am
A machine-embroidered rose design made by Cortes.
A machine-embroidered rose design made by Cortes.
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The Thread Atelier

MIDTOWN — In more than a decade working in the city's fashion hub, garment manufacturer Samanta Cortes has come across nearly every kind of fabric, technique and design — but she's always looking for the next big thing.

That search led Cortes to embrace the latest design tool — computers hooked up to $42,000 machines that can embroider never-before-possible patterns into all sorts of fabrics. And now she's trying to spread the word among her fellow fashionistas working to keep the Garment District thriving.

"These days, we can use lasers to cut fabrics instead of hand-cutting. A machine can lay down sequins and stones and beads," said Cortes, owner of Fashion Design Concepts, whose three-day "Thread Atelier" workshops at 338 W. 39th St. give longtime designers around the city a chance to try their hand at combining the traditional handmade designs of the Garment District with modern technology.

"It's something you only really learn in the field — that's never really been taught in schools. We're trying to change that," she added.

Cortes has dubbed the technique "machineria couture," and she has signed up more than three-dozen students so far to the $675 course, which is run in conjunction with the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The technology Cortes employs has been around for years but has mostly been used in factories overseas.

The machines, which are about the size of pianos, are able to take designs created on a computer and etch and stitch the materials selected directly into fabrics, helping to reduce the work normally required for hand embroidering to a fraction of the time.

That's an appealing possibility in the Garment District, where designers are constantly competing against factories overseas who use the machines, along with outsourced labor, to keep costs down.

So far, Cortes, who is also co-founder of the group Save the Garment Center, said the response has been overwhelming, with the first class maxing out at 30 students and several others starting soon. It's become so popular that she's planning on purchasing additional machinery needed for even more complex embroidery.

"The plan is to bring more equipment — different embroidery machines, big industrial quilting machines, even things that can lay down sequins,'" she said.

She's also planning to hold more advanced classes later in the summer, along with classes for those in the general public who may want to design their own bedding or cloth.