When most people at her age are starting to think about retirement, Patricia Zimmerman is just now getting started. A lifelong seamstress who first learned how to sew at Indian Hills Middle, she switched careers and went back to school to hone her sewing skills. With a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas — coupled with a career in marketing and sales — she now has an associate’s degree in apparel design and technology from Johnson County Community College. She sews for WomenSpirit, a local manufacturer of women’s vestments and robes, and also works part-time at The Container Store in Overland Park. Zimmerman grew up in Prairie Village and graduated with the Class of 1977 from Shawnee Mission East.
It was a long time ago that I had been in a college, hadn’t had a sewing class since Shawnee Mission East, so way back.
So I go in thinking this was very strange for me to walk in, and I think everybody looked at me and wondered what I was doing there. I would just sit there and be quiet, and then suddenly, a couple of weeks into it, one of the girls tapped me on the back and I turned around and she goes, can I have your phone number? And I said, why? I didn’t understand why she would ever want my phone number. She goes, I thought you might want a friend. From that get-go, I’ve had the most incredible journey with 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds. They have included me: Bo, in particular, this one young lady just helped me through with Illustrator and the technology side. And then I could help them with my sewing.
Once I started doing the homework and the tests, I just kept telling myself, I’m not getting paid for this, I better do this really good. I knew that first semester, this is where I needed to be.
The second semester, we started getting more into the technology: Illustrator, Photoshop, illustration, higher construction levels of sewing. It was all like, I don’t know if I could do this. And I did it.
One thing, the teachers are incredible here, Britt and Audrey, Susan, Gigi. They were amazing and they embraced me too. The teachers were especially very friendly to me and understood what I was doing (and) thought that it was great. So nobody wondered what I was doing there or questioned me. My husband said one day he came down to lunch and he saw me sitting at a table with 20-year-olds and he thought, OK, she’s made it, she’s got friends now. The whole program took me two and a half years to do it.
Once I started to learn designing a flat pattern and draping — and that was again, something I’ve wanted to do my whole life — that’s when I decided, you know what? I want to be a designer. Making the patterns and making the designs and picking the fabrics and sewing; I loved every part of it. That’s when it kind of turned a corner for me.
I think the pinnacle of this program is the fashion show and that for me was last spring. That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my whole life because I did have to design everything. I had to draw the pictures, I had to make the patterns and we had models that we could choose. You put together basically your own show.
That was better than anything I’ve ever done because, at that point, what I realized when I looked at the other models and other designers is how much our lines were a reflection of us. I could see them and their spirit and what they liked; they kept saying to me, oh, that’s you. That’s why design’s exciting to me. It’s something that comes from inside.
I just want to say that anyone who’d ever thought about going back to school and quickly talking themselves out of it, that they should do it. I’m going to be 60 next month and I feel like I’m about 22, that I’ve just got a whole new career ahead of me. I hear a lot of people talking about winding down and you know, and that’s great, but I’m actually starting back up and I think everything that I’ve done at this point in my life has led me here.