Columbus, Ohio USA
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A Passion for Fashion

DIY sewing and knitting in vogue at Milk Bar
By Karen Edwards
March 2010 Issue

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Esther Chung, the face behind Kilala Meows, a new teaching project featuring sewing and knitting classes at Milk Bar, 1203 N. High St. Visit

Quick – name a fashion designer.

Depending on your age and your own tastes in fashion, you may have named Chanel, Dior, Karan, Wang, McCartney, Rachel Roy, Austen Scarlett – or Esther Chung.

If that last name sounds unfamiliar, you may not be as current with the local fashion scene as you should be.

Chung is a Columbus independent fashion designer who is known for her draped garment design as well as her knitwear for men and women. She designs for her own label, Torn Angel, as well as for such Short North clients as Undone Lingerie & Shoe Boutique and for the Milk Bar’s “Dry Clean Only” label – in addition to an array of private clients.

When she’s not designing clothes and lingerie, you may be able to find her at the Columbus College of Art and Design where she is in her second year as an instructor in the college’s Continuing Education program, teaching would-be fashion designers the principles behind pattern drafting and construction.

Dressing Barbie
Chung found her passion for fashion at an early age. “I was probably eight when I started to design dresses for my Barbie dolls,” she says. Of course, it may have helped that her mother sewed (and knitted and crocheted). Chung remembers Easter clothes and Halloween costumes her mother designed and made for her. “She taught me how to sew,” says Chung.

On her Torn Angel Web site,, Chung confesses there was a reason she begged her mother for sewing lessons. When she was small, she and her mother would watch soap operas together, then later Chung would reenact scenes from the shows with her Barbie dolls – which, of course, needed all those amazing party fashions, wedding dresses, and clothes for social climbers worn by the soap opera characters.

But Chung’s interest in fashion did not end in childhood. Her fashion sense began to develop while Chung was a teenager at Upper Arlington High School. “I’ve always been interested in fashion, and like most teens, I’d follow the trends,” she says. She was enrolled in art classes and advanced art classes in high school, and for her senior thesis, Chung decided to make her own prom dress – something no one would have seen before, either in the stores or at previous proms. The dress was cut from a cream silk, and Chung designed it with a Greco-Roman feel. Working on the dress convinced her, she says, that fashion design was the career choice for her.

“I looked around for a fashion school to attend after high school,” she says – and while she considered those in New York City, what some deem the nation’s fashion capital, she elected to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “It was closer to home for one thing, but it also taught the fundamentals of fashion, how to do it all yourself,” says Chung. “The New York schools taught pattern design and construction, then they’d send your design out to a seamstress. I wanted to learn how to not only design the dress but how to make it, too.”

Scottish style
While in Chicago, Chung was named the recipient of the 2002 Emmanuel Ungaro Marshall Fields scholarship, and a year later she won the Styles Scotland International Design Competition.

“I wasn’t as focused on the competition as I could have been,” says Chung, “It came while we were putting together a five-piece final collection for a grade, and I was putting most of my attention on designing and making those pieces.”

And yet Chung won with a floor-length evening gown design, made from the Scottish tartan material she had been given. “It had a deep V and a long slit up the middle,” she says. She also included a long jacket for the dress, made from the boiled wool, manipulated “bubble” fabric she makes herself, and which has become her fashion signature. “I think the whole thing took me two days to make,” she says.

Now that she’s back in Columbus, Chung works on custom orders and occasionally sells her own designs on – the Web site for all things handmade. Then, there are those continuing education classes at CCAD, which are open to the public, by the way.

“I love teaching,” says Chung, who considers it a way to give back to the community. In fact, she loves teaching so much, she has started to offer classes (under the name Kilala Meows) at the Milk Bar in the Short North’s north end.

These are not your mama’s sewing classes by the way. Not by a long shot. Think “Project Runway” meets the movie “Cocktail.”

Class or party?
“Every class is a BYOB because it’s more fun and cheaper than going to a bar,” proclaims Chung on her site where information and registration forms for the Kilala Meows classes at Milk Bar can be found.

“I met Eric Hayes, one of the owners of the Milk Bar, and he told me if I ever wanted to offer classes at the Milk Bar or do a trunk show or anything, to let him know,” says Chung. Hayes also commissioned her to design sample tee-shirts for the Milk Bar’s “Dry Clean Only” line. Later, she approached him about the sewing and knitwear classes, which she just began to offer in January.

“The classes fit into Milk Bar’s mission,” says Hayes. “We try to educate our customers, and we think that if they see the kind of work that goes into making an outfit or knitting a garment, they’ll have a better understanding of why clothes cost what they do.”

Chung has already fallen in love with the new Milk Bar classes. “It’s a social get-together as well as a class,” she says. Most people register through her Web site because class sizes are limited, but she does take the occasional walk-up student as well.

“I’d say most of those in the class are in their mid to late 20s up through their early 30s,” says Chung – but that doesn’t mean older or younger people should stay away. “We’re open to everyone,” she says.

Her class offerings include basic sewing (you’re invited to bring your own machine) with fabrics provided. “We’ll make a basic zippered bag,” says Chung – which may be all beginning students can handle, but Chung also has to be careful not to teach projects she is contracted to teach at CCAD.

Chung offers a knitting machine demonstration for those who want to move beyond knitting needles – and for a small fee, you can even use the machine to make your own scarf. For traditionalists, however, Chung also offers knitting (needle) classes, but she does so in a clever way.
“I offer it as a two-part class,” she says. She’s taught enough to know that when students learn the basics of casting on, casting off and purling, they go home and promptly forget what they learned before they go much further on their projects.

“That’s why I have them come back the next week,” says Chung. “They can ask questions, and I can also remind them how to do those things they learned how to do the week before.”

UFOs and DIYs
Basic sewing and knitting classes will always be offered, says Chung, but she plans to mix up the classes – according to the season and student requests. This winter, classes include making a Mohawk Hunter Hat and long leggings. There are also classes in how to make your own panties, pom-pom accessories and devil horns.

One special class that’s not currently being offered anywhere else in the area is what Chung refers to as her “UFO” class – the acronym for “UnFinished Objects” – and who doesn’t have some of those lying around? “It doesn’t have to be knitting,” says Chung. “It can be anything – sewing, needlework, something you’ve started but have never finished.” The class offers you a solid three-hour block and space to gather with other procrastinators and socialize while you make a concerted effort to complete the project started in a previous class, or something you’ve started all on your own.

In the future, Chung wants to offer additional do-it-yourself classes – maybe making stained glass or jewelry. “If they want to bead, I’d probably tell them to check out the classes at Byzantium,” says Chung, who keeps herself aware of other class offerings in the area.

If you’re not sure what class you’d like to register for, or maybe you’d like to learn more about the classes themselves, then don’t miss the “Stitch and Bitch Mimosa Sundays” which are held at the Milk Bar the last Sunday of each month. Sure, it’s a chance for knitters to come together for mimosas and a good time – but you don’t have to be a knitter or a mimosa-lover to attend. Simply show up for a chance to meet other creative people, learn about the classes, socialize and maybe best of all, have a chat with Chung, herself.

“She’s just a very creative person and she has some great ideas,” says Hayes.

In other words, if Chung and her Milk Bar classes don’t inspire your own ideas and passion for fashion – be it practical, trendy or way out there – then no one will.

Kilala Meows: March Classes with Esther

Lessons of a Hooker: March 8, 8-10pm Fee $25
Learning to crochet can only best be taught by an experienced hooker. In this class we will learn the basics of
crochet techniques such as chain stitch, single, double crochet and, for the adventurous, triple crochet. Starting with the most basic, learn to do the granny square and learn to make an amigurami snake friend. Bring Sport or DK weight yarn and Size F or G Crochet Hook.

Stab Stab Stab: March 10, 8-10pm Fee $25
This is needle felting at its purest. Learn to needle felt yourself a small 3-D object, either an animal, pastry or creature from your heart's deepest depths. Nothing needed, just come prepared to stab away unless you
have some fabric or clothing you want to put a design onto. All materials are provided.

It's SEW Basic: March 15, 8-10 pm Fee is $25 
Intro to basic sewing skills and the different seams
and types of stitches you would use for a variety of fabrics. Fabrics are provided for this class. You will be making a small Monster zipper pouch in class.

Unraveling it - 2 Pt: March 17 & 24, 8-10pm Fee is $50
Learning the ways of knitting from the beginning. This is a beginner's knitting class to teach you the basics of Cast On, Cast Off, and how to KNIT! If you don't know what those mean don't worry, that's why you’re taking the class. I'll also explain the mysteries that experienced knitters share such as swatching and gauging. Bring one pair of size 10 straight needles and a bulky or worsted weight inexpensive yarn in a light color (Lambs Pride is a good starter).  Two hours each night.

Sew-On: March 19, 8-10pm Fee $25
The second class to Sew Basic. You will learn some of the more advanced things you can do with a sewing machine such as blind hems for shortening those dress pants,
decorative stitches to spice up a simple project and learning to make pockets. The project in this class will be a bag (purse, tote, messenger) using the techniques just learned. If you have pants to hem please bring them! Some fabric will be provided but if doing a messenger bag you’re encouraged to bring your own. *Hardware will not be provided for strap adjusters, buckles, zippers.

Purlwise: March 22, 8-10pm Fee $25
So you know how to knit but can you purl? Continuing with the beginning knitting class we will learn to purl to make a clean stockinette stitch. This way you can add some shape and pattern to your zigzagging run of the mill scarf. Must know how to cast on and simple knit stitch. We will start to knit a fun and easy checkerboard scarf. *Please bring yarn and appropriate needles, if unsure buy size 10 needles with a bulky or worsted yarn such as "lamb's pride" that is easy to work with.

UFO: March 27,  8-11pm Fee $25
No this is not about Aliens it’s all about your Un-Finished Objects! Three hours to finish up any of those projects we started in class or something at home that you just couldn’t wrap your head around. Serger and sewing machines will be available and some fabrics will be on hand. If you have a machine I suggest you bring it.  Maybe you just need that extra table space to lay it all out.

Stitch N Bitch Mimosa Sunday: March 28, 6pm-8pm
Come out and hang out. Open to all knitters, crochet queens, and Mimosa fanciers. You don’t have to be any of these either to join. It’s a casual social time for people to gather and learn more about the classes with Kilala Meows. Suggested Donation of $3-5 to help pay for drinks or BYOB

Visit to register


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