When people ask Vineyard Haven clothing designer Lorraine Parish if she got her start while studying at Rhode Island School of Design, she laughs and tells them, “No, it was ninth-grade Home Ec.” Her career in fashion took off from there.

She developed a love for antique fabrics, and for years, her source was a Baltimore department store owner with a basement full of them. “He was a fabric hoarder,” Ms. Parish said. The elegant clothes she could create with these led to her long-standing relationship selling to the high-end New York store Henri Bendel.

She opened her own store here on the Vineyard in 1980 while still selling wholesale to major department stores and doing trunk shows up and down the East Coast. At one point, she had stores in Boston, Nantucket and Aspen but consolidated at her State Road store in 1995.

Her latest venture is teaching fashion design and sewing, but not just to adults: she has two classes of 12 and 13-year old girls who have met once a week since November and will continue through March. Ms. Parish plans a shorter summer session starting in June to accommodate visitors who are only here for a few weeks.

“Those TV shows, like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model, have triggered something,” she said.

Ms. Parish approached guidance counselors at the Island schools with the idea for her classes; at the Tisbury School, the information was passed along to family and consumer science teacher Marcie Nichols. She suggested her seventh-grade students Lorrane Menezes and Leah Fortes. “They were already making ski hats and shorts or pajama bottoms in class,” she said. “I thought these girls would enjoy more sewing instruction.”

They were joined by the Tisbury School’s eighth-grader Kaitlyn Bruni, August Welles of the West Tisbury School, and Julia Guerin of Edgartown, who attends the Falmouth Academy.

“I got interested because my mom likes to sew and my grandmother was a runway model in New York,” August said. Because of her experience sewing and interest in design, she got a mannequin for Christmas.

“I’ve done a tiny bit of sewing but I like sketching,” Julia said.

Classes started with a review of the history of costuming from the Egyptian period through the twentieth century.

Ms. Parish notes the 14th-century style of hats so tall that building entrances had to be redesigned to allow ladies to pass through without ducking, or ruffs from the 16th century — think Queen Elizabeth I — sticking out so far from necks that special long-handled spoons were made to help food reach the wearer’s mouth.

“Sometimes they took decent ideas and totally exploited them to the extremes,” Ms. Parish said, although her students were able to trace a tamed-down version of some of the outlandish styles to today’s fashions. “I noticed that Greeks and Romans have something to do with what’s worn now, like flip-flops,” August said.

And they’ve found ways to use their new knowledge for school projects; Kaitlyn created a poster of costumes with her own sketches as a book review and Lorrane tied fashion into a project on Egypt.

They’ve learned about different fabrics and collected swatches; they experimented with their own fashion sense by making sketches based on Christian Dior’s designs. To inspire them, Ms. Parish made storyboards of fabric, button and trim samples.

“Most of them had never felt fabrics like these,” Ms. Parish said, pointing to samples of linen, silk and chiffon. “In fact, neither have their mothers.” Silk is definitely their favorite.

Now when they go shopping, the girls say they get funny looks because they feel the material of the clothes. “I go into a store and think — I know this fabric,” Julia said. “Now I pay more attention to fabric and how the clothes are made. And when I look through a magazine, I can name the fabrics.”

“I’ve learned how to take something plain and make it stand out or be cute — make it be me,” Lorrane said. She loves the bright colors of the 80s look with shoulder pads, skinny jeans, and legwarmers.

The students are working on what Ms. Parish calls the “Re-Threads” portion of the class. They buy plain white blouses at the Thrift Shop and redesign them, choosing different fabrics for collars, cuffs, and pockets and replacing buttons. For now, the girls sew on the buttons and Ms. Parish sews the rest, but before the session concludes this month, they will learn to use a sewing machine.

“Lorraine taught us that you can take a basic dress design and change the top with a bow or a different collar and neckline,” Leah said. “She’s put into our minds that there’s more variety than T-shirts and jeans.”

Both Leah and Lorrane think they might like to own fashion businesses.

Julia wants to open a store in Paris with all her own designs. “Even when I was little I wanted to have a store and be a famous designer,” she said.

August wants to help her friends make outfits for dances. “They think it’s cool that I know the tricks,” she said. She’s already surprised one friend by mending a stuffed bear that her friend’s dog ripped up.

Kaitlyn wants to be able to design her own prom dress, although “it could take three years to make,” she said. “But I’m going to make Lorraine sew it for me.”

To gain some retail experience this summer, the students will be selling their creations at Ms. Parish’s shop behind her clothing store, Lorraine Parish Home. Retooled thrift shop blouses and flowered, Grecian-style headbands should give the T-shirt vendors a bit of competition.