Relyn Kitson has her eye on the fashion department for more than her degree.

You’re not likely to meet a more apt example of the word “petite” than Relyn Kitson. (Relyn stands at only 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs a mere 84 pounds.) But Relyn’s small stature belies a mighty spirit and a veritable fount of creativity. She is so prolific with her sewing and designing, you probably won’t see her in the same outfit twice.

Relyn is working on two certificates in Cañada’s Fashion Design & Merchandising department: Custom Dressmaking/Small Business, and Technical—Apparel Industry Oriented. She is taking three fashion courses plus English as a Second Language (ESL) this semester and hopes to complete her studies by the end of Spring 2018. After that she plans to transfer to a fashion program at a four-year university—perhaps San Francisco State.

Formal fashion training is new to Relyn, but sewing is not. “I learned how to hand sew when I was six years old,” she remembers. “I always loved sewing, always wanted to make clothes and sell them to other people.”

Relyn is originally from a small village called Candelaria in Masbate Province of the Philippines. “We didn’t have electricity or anything. That village still doesn’t have it.” Because of this and other challenges, she reflects that “it was hard for students to work on their homework.” No one in the village had a computer, and the school didn’t have a library. “The only thing we had was radio,” she recalls.

Relyn also didn’t have access to a sewing machine, but she put her hand-sewing skills to work every chance she could. Her small size made it almost impossible to find clothes that fit, so she began making her own at a very young age. “When I was about eight, I would go into the attic and take just one sleeve from one of my father’s shirts,” she remembers. “I would make a top or a skirt out of it.” (I told you she was tiny!). Eventually her neighbors figured out she knew how to sew and started bringing her clothes they wanted duplicates of. “They would bring me a pile [of garments] and say, ‘Make me one of these for my daughter. You can keep whatever else you want [from the pile].’”

Relyn laughs when she recalls her mother’s realization of what was going on. “My mom was so happy, seeing me wear [new] clothes, but she didn’t know where they came from,” she explains. Once her mother found out that Relyn was cutting up clothes in the attic to make her new garb, “Then she was mad. I stopped sewing and didn’t start again ‘til I got to the U.S.”

Relyn’s life took a dramatic turn when she came to California two and half years ago. She attended De Anza College for a semester and began taking ESL. Noticing they didn’t have a fashion program there, she looked for one elsewhere in the area and found Cañada College. “I fell in love with the classes at Cañada,” Relyn gushes. “We’re like family there.”

Perhaps that’s why she hopes to return to the Cañada fashion department one day, not as a student, but as an instructor. Her admiration for the current faculty is apparent. “All of the professors are very talented,” she observes. As to what specifically Relyn would like to teach, she has two subjects in mind: construction and fit. And she thinks she can put her “copy ready-to-wear” skills to use as well. She is matter-of-fact when she states: “Just show me a picture [without instructions or a pattern], and I can do it. I want other people to be able to do that.”

But has Relyn’s mom gotten over her daughter’s clandestine attic raids yet? “Now she wants me to sew things for her,” Relyn muses. Sounds like she’s been forgiven.

One of Relyn’s impressive creations. “I love flowers,” she explains. “For me they symbolize peace and happiness.”

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