Cheryl Iron will be the first Native American to graduate from the Design and Merchandising program at Colorado State when she picks up her bachelor’s degree on Dec. 16.
“I have been sewing since I was 11, when my sister taught me how to use a sewing machine,” said Iron, who is Pawnee, Crow and Navajo. “My specific inspiration comes from my three tribes.”
She has already created Native American dance outfits for customers across the U.S. and Canada. Born and raised in Fort Collins, she transferred to CSU from Front Range Community College.
For her senior capstone project, Iron designed four pieces that are meant to be worn in a professional work environment and take patterns and colors from traditional Native American wear. Each garment took two weeks to complete, from drafting the design on paper to sewing on the final touches. One of her designs includes a skirt made from a Pendleton blanket she received as a gift.
“The Pendleton blanket designs are colorful and originally inspired by Native American tribes from the Northwest as well as the Southwest,” Iron said. “Historically, they have always been a highly regarded and desired item among our various tribes. In the past, it was something that had to be earned, and it was often received at an important time in one’s life, such as graduations, weddings, births and other milestones.”
In fact, Iron’s mother was a little reluctant to let her use the special blanket for her project. But after she saw the final pieces, she offered Iron more blankets.
On top of her coursework, Iron has had to help care for her disabled father, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from the long-term effects of exposure to the chemical Agent Orange. She even took a semester off from CSU when her father had an extremely difficult year.
Despite the challenges, Iron completed her internship working with the design team at Joyfolie Boutique in Longmont, where she gained valuable hands-on skills creating new women’s and young girl’s clothing lines.
Iron hopes to continue with a career in clothing design by opening her own business. In addition to her women’s business wear, she also enjoys creating unique purses from different materials.
Iron said Professor Diane Sparks in the Department of Design and Merchandising and the Native American Cultural Center have been especially supportive during her time at CSU.