While at Washington State College, Carolyn Campbell Schactler of Yakima was a violinist and swimmer in the synchronized group, Fish Fans. She later taught both of these skills, but it was her designing and sewing that launched her career and led to international recognition. Although she graduated with a B.A. in music in 1949, she says, “That wasn’t really my thing. I had been designing and making clothes in my spare moments ever since I can remember. That was really my forte.”
Schactler studied at home and abroad, earning an M.A. from Central Washington University and doing postgraduate work at the University of Texas and Potchefstroom University in South Africa.
In 1976, she joined the faculty of CWU, where she taught for 28 years. She was the director of the Apparel Design Program and taught students to make garments from the ground up. They learned everything from pattern making to historic costumes.
Schactler regularly wins both national and international design competitions. One of her latest creations is named The Blue Danube. Made of a shimmery, hazy blend of blue, green, and purple fabric, the evening gown has a diagonally cut bodice and large skirt with a detachable bustle of harmonizing color. The design is gorgeous enough to tempt any woman, but wearable enough for real people to own.
Inspiration for a design can come from many sources. “I’m inspired by lots of wonderful designs from eons ago. I can be inspired as when my granddaughter said, ‘Grandma, design something about Scheherazade.'” Schactler threw herself into the project, researching the character and what people from her time period wore. She chose the sumptuous fabrics suited to the Persian princess and then designed and created the costume.
Schactler loves all parts of the design and execution process. “I love thinking it, because I get an idea and begin to develop it in my mind. I nurture this idea till it begins to grow and I have to do something with it. I love the idea of getting the pattern made, whether it be by draping or flat pattern. The next step is choosing the fabric, but sometimes I have the fabric first. It depends on how I’m inspired-and then I love putting it together. I like doing handwork. If I didn’t, I’d be in deep trouble, because some of the garments require many hours of doing handwork.” One of her designs for this year’s design competition includes an extremely time consuming ’20s beaded cloche hat.
Schactler has donated her personal clothing collection to WSU’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles. The collection contains nearly 300 items of clothing and accessories dating from about 1840 to 1970. Some of the items are vintage, and some are replicas Schactler designed and made for teaching purposes.
Selected items from Schactler’s collection were shown last August in an exhibit in the CUB Gallery entitled, Lace, Lawn, and Lingerie in the Belle Epoque.
Schactler’s accomplishments are all the more remarkable in light of the fact that she and her husband, Dick ’49, have reared six children. Two of them are Cougars, as are several grandchildren. Schactler’s father, brother, and father-in-law are also Cougars.