Stitching arts and engineering together for a purpose


When Amanda Jarvis was a child and her school in rural Oklahoma lost its arts funding, it was an immediate disappointment, she said. But it also had ripple consequences.

“There was no guidance or programs in our schools to make me realize that [various career paths] could be a possibility,” Jarvis said. “I really want to be able to give back and help kids in those situations.”

Amanda Davis sits in a chair and turns to smile at the camera. She is holding a wearable electronic prototype device.
Mason senior Amanda Jarvis demonstrates a wearable electronic prototype device. When it is attached to a performer, that person's movements make music. Photo provided.

Whether the George Mason University senior is creating a sustainable fashion challenge to encourage students to upcycle and learn about the impact of the fashion industry, making upcycled sculptures, or working on a project that stitches together art and engineering at The MIX, Jarvis said she hopes her unconventional creativity can make an impact.

Her side projects, which she said may inspire her upcoming capstone project for the bachelor of individualized study program, could be the first step in doing that.

A sketch of a performer on paper and a piece of an LED prototype that will be embedded in an aerial performer's costume.
One of Jarvis’ LED prototypes that eventually will be embedded in an aerial performer’s costume. It includes laser cut fabric made at The MIX. Photo provided.

Jarvis, who learned to sew from her grandmother as a child and has been making her own clothes for years, is now being commissioned to create wearable electronics for her friends who are circus performers. When a motion or light sensor is activated, the circus costume is programmed to play different music notes, she explained.

Jarvis hopes the project will morph into an interactive “science fair meets circus” collaboration, where “we could travel around to areas where kids don’t have access to arts and engineering. And they would be able to be exposed to it and hopefully be inspired.”

That’s important because inspiration has the potential to impact society, Jarvis said.

“What’s fun [is] when you do something artistic and creative, you get to play and experiment and discover techniques that can be applied to more serious applications, like medical and assistive technology and special education,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis encountered wearable electronics when she spent time working at a technology company after earning her associate’s degree in business from Northern Virginia Community College. She enrolled at Mason because she wanted to be in a more creative space and study to make costumes for film.

“It’s been really cool to be in this environment within Mason, because if The MIX wasn’t here, I don’t think I would’ve come across this stuff in the way that I did, where it all comes together,” said Jarvis, who works part time as The MIX’s maker manager and coordinates workshops for the Mason community on everything from sewing to 3D printing.

A musical rag harp sculpture. Under a large arch are dangling pieces of yarn that are made from upcycled T-shirts.
A musical “rag harp” sculpture, created with yarn made from upcycled t-shirts. The yarn is embedded with sensors that play music when touched. Photo provided.

At Mason, Jarvis has had additional opportunities to grow professionally, including a costume and textile internship at the Hillwood Museum in 2017 with her mentor and now-retired Mason professor Howard Kurtz.

“Among many other great qualities, [Jarvis] is collaborative and insightful,” said Karen Livingston, associate director for entrepreneurship programs at Mason. “These qualities allow Amanda to act as a leader, bringing multidisciplinary teams together to create meaningful impact, while also providing the much-needed flair of creativity, technical know-how, and out-of-the box thinking to the table.”

“Wherever life takes her, I imagine that those around her will continue to be empowered and inspired by these outstanding qualities and positive energy,” Livingston said.