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  • Eve Mullen

The PUNCH Adviser Who Couldn't Sew

Design by Jillian Lawler '16

Ms. Marsha Scherbel’s Holton career is longer than her gig as PUNCH’s faculty advisor, but it might be less colorful. A conversation with our beloved English teacher and Beowulf enthusiast reveals how she, although unable to sew, came into the position and what she loves about the club.

Mrs. Andrews, a former math teacher, was the club sponsor before Ms. Scherbel, and she talked Scherbel into helping her with PUNCH. It was pretty small when it started, she reports. It started off as a senior project in ‘98 (Mrs. Spak’s and Ms. Siddiqui’s year!). PUNCH stands for People United For New Creative Hunches. The seniors’ idea was that even though the Art Department was really great, they really wanted something that focused on fashion.

Ms. Scherbel said, “It used to just be in the dining room on a couple of cardboard platforms, but with Mr. Robinson’s arrival and expertise, it got a lot bigger! He was able to turn it into a real show in the theater, get the tech kids involved, and now it’s a lot more than just sewing dresses. We get to make a big production out of all the art skills students don’t always get to practice in the visual or performing arts classes.”

When Ms. Andrews retired, “I just took over,” Ms. Scherbel said. “The main thing I don’t have experience in is sewing. I just loved the idea of it being a kind of other art form that lots of kids were interested in, one that we didn’t have a great outlet for at the time.”

Don’t be fooled, though. Ms. Sherbel has made her fair share of contributions to PUNCH. “The thing that I’m most proud of is that I found a charity to work with, Suited For Change, which begins as kind of a clothing organization but is really a social service organization that equips women in the DC area who are seeking employment with professional attire, coaching, and skills.”

The club linked itself with community engagement ever since. Another student got PUNCH started with working for Dress A Girl Around the World, and the students now love to sew new clothes in cheerful fabrics for overseas charities. Even more recently, the club has gotten into the green fashion movement: an alternative to fast fashion and a promise to be more environmentally conscious.

Ms. Scherbel’s favorite lines are often the ones where students upcycle old clothes. Those repurposed lines can be done again and again, but it never gets old. “A couple of years ago, we went to a thrift store and had a competition to find the ugliest dress, and it was just so cool to see the transformation. You don’t always have to trash something, and I love repurposing,” she said with a grin.

A lot of students who aren't PUNCH members think the club is limited to just the fashion show in the spring, but students are really designing, constructing, and sewing all year. “It’s been really cool to watch it bring in lots of tech kids with lots of talents, too,” Ms. Scherbel added, referring to the students who spend time working with PUNCH members to design the showroom. (Ms. Melinda Salata, chiming in from the other end of the English office, thinks the club should be called “Designer’s Showcase.”)

Ms. Scherbel has seen incredible lines in her time as PUNCH advisor, but she brings up one in particular, the “quintessential PUNCH success story.” It’s Sarah Ettinger, who, as a sophomore, designed and sewed a professional quality wedding party, which consisted of not just the bridal gown but all the bridesmaids dresses, too. After the Holton show, there was a community show in Frederick, MD, where Sarah must’ve entered herself. She modeled her bridal gown there, and an audience member from New York City saw it, brought her to the city for a professional show, and “the rest is history,” Ms. Scherbel relayed.

Sarah studied fashion at WashU and went on to work for Kate Spade New York before starting her own label. “She’s a real PUNCH success story, and she sends us free fabric,” Ms. Scherbel said, pulling out a huge tub of material.



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