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Chicago Milliner Brings New Approach To Teaching

Angela Morano in her show room at her home in McKinley Park.

In a trendy black quarter-length sleeve high-low hem dress with black booties, Angela Morano, 26, could almost be mistaken for one of the teenagers she teaches in her program Hats, Headbands & Beyond at After School Matters.

The light pink end of Morano’s braided blonde pony tail swings back and forth as she maneuvers around the table in the center of the room giving student after student design ideas, words of encouragement and new techniques. Steam from the steamer creates a warmth in the room, and conversation flows endlessly and effortlessly between her and the students.

A poster labeled “Fall Trends 2013,” taped on a cabinet contains forms for shaping hats, buckets of thread.

Scissors and rolls of ribbons contribute to the creative atmosphere as students work on constructing pieces to sell at One of a Kind, the annual handmade art show held at Merchandise Mart Dec. 5-8.

They are also preparing for a collaboration with the After School Matters theater program for their performance of Guys & Dolls.

“They’ll be making hats for the song Take Back Your Mink,” said Morano, who divided her classroom into teams for a “Project-Runway-inspired challenge for the project. “Each team presented their idea to the theater program, and the winning design is what we’ll make. They’ve had a lot of fun with it.”

Bold black font spelling out the phrase, “Let it out, let it in,” is permanently marked on the left wrist of Morano.

“It’s from the Beatles song, Let It Be,” said Morano as she stares at the tattoo, pondering on how to best articulate the significance it holds to her. “I tend to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders,” she said. She paused again before continuing, “I’m used to being responsible for myself as well as looking out for others. The tattoo is a nice reminder.”

Despite her nurturing tendencies that have included being a role model to her younger brother and doing charity work with Habitat for Humanity in high school, Angela Morano never thought she would be a teacher.

Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, Morano spent a lot of her time as a child going to art classes at School of The Art Institute and always dreamed of having a career in fashion. However, in 2010, while finishing up her degree at The Art Institute and working as an intern with her professor, and local milliner, Eia Radosavljevic, Morano learned of an opportunity to work with After School Matters.

Radosavljevic knew somebody, who knew somebody at After School Matters, and recommended Morano for the job. “I thought, ‘why not go for it and decided to interview for the job,’” said Morano.

“She’s a teacher’s dream,” said Radosavljevic about Morano. “She’s very dependable and always my go-to person. It’s an important position, and I could trust her to do a good job.”

These days, along with single-handedly running her hat business, Hats by Angela Morano, from her home studio in Mckinley Park, Morano can also be found teaching students the practice of millinery three days a week for several hours at the After School Matters building located at 66 E. Congress Parkway. The class, which ranges from 15 to 16 students during the school year and a larger group in the summer, cranks out project after project each session.

“I never thought it would be as rewarding as it is, but the progress I see with students and the totally unexpected thank you’s and gratitude from parents makes it worthwhile,” says Morano.

Morano is especially surprised and excited to see all the benefits her students gained from the millinery techniques she taught them, such as learning to express themselves in a productive way, learning to work with their hands and gaining confidence.

“If they (teens) identify themselves as an artist and realize there’s value in creating they may seek that out later in life,” said Mary Andrus, president of the Illinois Art Therapy Association. “Learning a skill and showing they have strengths make them feel proud and more confident.”

“She’s an excellent teacher,” said Luis Rios, a former student intern of Morano’s who now studies at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, about Morano. “She’s a role model because she actually does what she teaches. I use the skills I learned in her class because I work in retail and in my classes now.”

Morano, who attended Chicago Public School’s Whitney Young Magnet High School, isn’t a stranger to the Chicago Public School system or art education. She hopes to one day see these types of classes taught at school.

“I would hope that these types of classes could be taught at school,” says Morano. “Maybe college isn’t for everyone. Maybe these hard skills like sewing are really what some teens excel at rather than book work and test-taking. If you learn a hard skill you’re always going to be able to find a job.”

Morano doesn’t know what the future holds for her as far as teaching but believes that doing so has affected her greatly as a designer.

“Sometimes they think of things that I never would have thought of, and it’s also a challenge for me to work through their designs with them to create something new,” said Morano. She cites a mini top hat with a silver hand coming out of it holding a brain as one of the most imaginative creations she’s seen one of her students make.

“I feel like I’m constantly learning, and teaching is a part of learning,” said Morano. “I love it.”

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