Dominican fashion design professor McKinley Johnson discusses details on a tea-length skirt with designer Megan Knape, designed using pieces of sail and panels with images of Lake Michigan. (David Pierini/staff photographer)

The garments Megan Knape sent down the runway Saturday did not have a familiar silhouette. Nor was the material and print something commonly worn. 

But in the hands of Knape, an apparel design senior at Dominican University, the clothes represent connective tissue to a childhood spent near large bodies of water and on sailboats during breezy Saturday afternoons.

In the year leading up to this past weekend’s annual student fashion show, Knape, 22, meticulously researched, sketched and constructed a collection that tells this part of her story. The clothes, some of her professors say, also reflect her keen eye for graphic shapes and a daringness to explore places far outside the box.

Knape used recycled sails and added a photorealism to other fabrics by incorporating digital photo transfers of water and coastal scenes of her beloved Lake Michigan. She won grants that funded trips to the West Coast and parts of Michigan in search of imagery and, of course, old sails destined for the trash.

The garments, a collection titled, “Adrift,” earned her the school’s award for outstanding senior collection.

“There are lots of people who play with technology, but it’s just play,” said Bill Kerr, a textile artist and chairman of Dominican’s art program. “This is an authentic vision. Fashion is so fickle and it’s hard to take risks because there is a good chance people won’t understand. But for her to go her own way, I think it is paying off.”

Technology, as it has in most fields, opens new doors for fashion designers, Kerr said. A designer can create a unique print and not have to rely on whatever fabrics and prints are available. 

Knape uploaded beautiful water photos to a company that prints them directly onto material. She had to figure out how sail material would hang and flow on a moving body. She spent a few weeks draping various sails on dress forms and twice redesigned the collection.

She settled on pieces of bat wing sails on one outfit, nylon spinnakers for another. 

The rectangular sails of a Chinese junk ship inspire a dress called “Junk.” She even designed men’s sports wear, with a hooded jacket, using a red-and-white racing sail and blue shorts, the color of which comes from water and sky in a picture of Grand Haven.

Knape aspires to work in the world’s fashion centers but part of her heart will always reside in a small town with water, waves and the sight of billowing sails.

“This is definitely emotional for me,” said Knape, who is applying to a London fashion school for graduate studies. “I kind of see things in the past and there’s an energy to being outdoors and on the water. It had an impact on me.”

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David Pierini

In June of 2014, David was honored with the 1st Place Award for Best Photo Series, as well as the 1st Place Award for Sports Photo, by the Illinois Press Association. Check out his award-winning caliber...

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