September 11, 2013 - By C.J. Carnacchio
Kristine Balinski, of Oxford, models a stylish dress she copied from an ad. (click for larger version)
Kristine Balinski is about to get the "Project Runway" experience minus Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn.
The 39-year-old Oxford resident was named as one of 12 finalists in the "Passion for Fashion Sewing Challenge" to be held as part of the 20th Annual American Sewing Expo at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi Sept. 27-29.
Balinski and her fellow finalists will be tasked with designing and sewing garments for judging and a fashion show, just like they do on the popular Lifetime network television program, "Project Runway."
"I'm just excited to participate," she said. "It's something I've wanted to do for the last five or six years."
On Sept. 26, Balinski will meet her model and take her measurements. The next day, the challenge will be announced.
"It's always a surprise theme," she said.
In the past, contestants have been tasked with designing garments or outfits based on everything from insects to classic cars to movie posters, according to Balinski.
Once the theme is announced, the contestants are each given $100 to buy all their materials from expo vendors. Then they have the rest of Friday and half of Saturday to sew their creations.
Saturday evening is the fashion show and judging.
The first through third place winners will each receive a Baby Lock sewing machine.
Balinski earned her spot as a finalist by sending in two garments that demonstrated both her technical skill and creativity. One was a cashmere jacket she created from a vintage pattern that she "slightly updated." The other was a dress she copied from a magazine ad (shown right).
Unlike most women who rely on shopping malls, boutiques and catalogs to buy their clothing, approximately 80 percent of Balinski's wardrobe are self-sewn creations.
"I've always enjoyed being able to take a two-dimensional piece of fabric and turn it into a three-dimensional garment that fits well and is attractive and stylish," she said.
Balinski loves having the freedom to make clothing that's exactly what she wants as opposed to shopping around and finding garments she's "okay with."
"I can make something that looks exactly the way I wanted it to in my head," she said. "And it fits the way I want. It's not too short, too long, too big or too small."
She even sews dresses for her daughter and shirts for her husband.
She began sewing in the seventh grade. She had this vision of a particular skirt that she wanted. After dragging her mother to every store in the mall, the skirt was nowhere to be found because it existed only in Balinski's head.
Her mother decided right then and there to teach her how to sew.
"That was it. I loved it," Balinski said. "I really enjoy being able to turn what I see in my mind into reality."
But soon she wasn't just sewing for herself.
In the eighth grade, she sewed all the outfits for her school's show choir. During high school, she made prom and homecoming dresses for her friends. As a senior, she was hired to sew the bride and bride's maids' dresses for a wedding.
Today, Balinski, who works as a math teacher at Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Hills, is still sewing for others.
"I've had a number of students approach me over the last four or five years to make their prom and homecoming dresses," she said.
A few downtown Oxford businesses that deal in women's apparel hand out Balinski's business card to their customers. She calls her side business KB Designs. In addition to custom garments, she also does alterations.
Although she can sew just about any type of clothing, Balinski's favorite thing to create is formal dresses because they're so much more than just pieces of fabric stitched together.
"When a girl asks me to make her prom dress, I'm very touched because it's an important occasion," she said. "It's something they're always going to look back on and remember."
When asked if she plans to give up teaching for a career in fashion, Balinski replied, "I don't foresee this becoming a full-time career at this stage in my life."
Right now, she enjoys being in the classroom with her students too much to leave the profession she's devoted 16 years to.
"Maybe down the road when I retire from teaching, I would love to have this become full-time," she said.
Balinski noted she's grateful for all the encouragement she's received from her husband, Darin, a full-time Oxford firefighter, and others.
"If it wasn't for the support and encouragement from my husband, family and friends, I wouldn't have submitted an entry for the contest," she said. "I don't expect to win, but I hope to make them proud."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.