May 26, 2002
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—With prices for academic gowns ranging from $300 to almost $800, Catherine McGeoch, a professor of computer at Amherst College, decided last August to flex her creative muscle and cut expenses: she sewed her own robe. Her final cost? About $50 and five evenings of her time. She proudly donned her creation at Amherst College Commencement Exercises of May 26.

For her design, McGeoch bought a Butterick pattern for choir robes, then searched the Web for the strict Ph.D gown regulations. These requirements include the familiar bell-shaped sleeves with three black velvet chevrons as well as velvet panels running down the front of the garment, which itself is primarily a light wool. The hardest part, McGeoch recalls, was sewing the velvet, which was both heavy and slippery.

Asked if she would ever attempt the project again, perhaps for her husband who is a colleague in the computer science department, McGeoch protested laughingly that “one is enough!” Nevertheless, she did admit that she dreams of a lighter-weight summer robe and perhaps even a waterproof one for rainy ceremonies.