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Golden sketches

By Cheche Moral
Last updated 01:35am (Mla time) 08/20/2006

Published on page C2 of the August 20, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

FROM HOW SHE WAS HUNCHED OVER her sketchbook, outlining in earnest the female form on the grids of the white sheet in front of her, it was hard to imagine that Migs Sanjorjo was once the disinterested student she said she was the year before.

The 18-year-old was studying nursing, dreaming like most of her generation, to one day leave home in pursuit of a high-paying job abroad. But Sanjorjo’s heart, she soon realized, was elsewhere. To her, college was a tortuous process that no promise of future dollars earned could make her stay on. After only a year, she quit college and enrolled in a fashion-and-arts school on Taft Avenue in June. Her parents gave in without much protest.

“They said I might as well do something that I liked than waste money,” Sanjorjo says with a glint in her eyes. “I’m enjoying... I want to become a fashion designer. After this [six-month course], I’ll enroll in sewing.”

Sanjorjo’s classmate, Sharlene Chan, 30, finished international studies at De La Salle University, and is involved in her family’s paper business. But once a week for months now, Chan has been attending advanced classes in fashion design.

“I didn’t realize I would like it this much,” she says. Lately she has started making clothes for her friends.

Familiar stories

In her 25 years of running Golden Hands Fashion and Arts School, Eloisa “Chic” del Rosario Francisco is only too familiar with stories like Sanjorjo’s and Chan’s. The school founder and directress has come across diverse tales of how her students wound up in her school, and she relishes retelling them.

Francisco says she once had a batch of home-economics teachers enrolled in her school, sent there by the administration of an exclusive girls’ school in San Juan. Once, there was also a bunch of nuns who took up classes. Then there were owners of big manufacturing firms and ready-to-wear brands.

At the moment she has students with their own dress shops, boutiques or subcontractors for various clothing brands. And, how can she forget, Ivarluski Aseron is an alumnus of her school. Aseron is, of course, one of Manila’s noted young designers, who says Golden Hands is a “good place to learn the basics.”

Francisco may now sound pleased with how far her school has gone, but she’s the first to admit the primary reason that led to its eventual founding had, in fact, not much to do with the desire to teach as much as a personal fancy for beautiful clothes.

Growing up with three sisters in the ’60s, all of whom loved to dress up, she recalled their frequent trips to seamstresses racked up absurd bills that their mother suggested they find a cheaper alternative. But then the sisters were fussy.

“We wouldn’t be satisfied with the quality that the clothes ended up in the back of our closets,” she says. An aunt suggested that Francisco open up her own dress shop. The idea so appealed to the young woman that she vowed when she was ready, she would do exactly that.

She studied at the Madonna School of Fashion after graduating with a communication arts degree from Maryknoll [now Miriam] College. She soon opened her dress shop in a gated Makati village, with clients that included expats’ wives. However, she decided to close shop after nine years to establish Golden Hands.

Francisco had found her vocation.

Books and testimonials

Since then, the woman has authored five books on pattern-making, sewing and fashion design, all of which, she proudly said, are selling well locally (at National Book Store) and abroad (the books are sold on the Internet, at The books are used in her school’s curriculum.

“I have students who enrolled after they got hold of my books,” she says.

The books are easy-to-follow even for beginners, and it has e-mailed testimonials from readers from as far as Texas in the United States to Trinidad Island in the West Indies.

“I never expected the school to last this long,” she shares. “I don’t make money. But I feel I need to do this. Not everyone can afford to pay P80,000 each term,” which she said is what formal fashion schools in Metro Manila charge.

Golden Hands, the school, is a modest affair, occupying two small rooms in a nondescript building on Taft Avenue (tel. 5232347, 5248424; visit; e-mail The school has five instructors; instruction is on a one-on-one basis. Courses take six weeks to a year, and students attend classes at hours convenient to them.

“Some vocational schools have fine prints,” Francisco explains. “They say six months but they mean only 240 hours spread throughout the period. With us, you come in whenever you can, for as long as you like, until you finish the course within the allotted period.” Unlike regular schools, Golden Hands accepts new students throughout the year.

Flexible schedules

For students like Chan, the setup is convenient. “I’m only able to leave work once a week. The flexible schedules suit me.”

“I’m quite happy my daughter learned of this school,” says Rose Balatbat, a new student. Balatbat is a nurse who’s home from the US where she and her doctor-husband are based. “I was getting bored at home since all my kids are grownup. With my free time, I want to learn how to make things to decorate the house.”

Golden Hands also teaches entrepreneurial sewing and design courses, drawing students like Aklan native Haizel Velasco, whose family is in the piña fabric business.

“Competition is tough,” says Velasco, a former pharmacy student, “so you need to learn how you can keep up.”

Francisco herself stresses the importance of learning how to make patterns, particularly to garment-factory workers displaced by the influx of cheap clothing from China.

“When they know pattern making, they can accept made-to-order services. They are assured of a livelihood,” she explains.

These days, Francisco is thinking hard about the future of her school as none of her three children seem poised to take over when she retires.

“I don’t know,” she laughs dryly. “But right now I’m just happy I’m doing something worthwhile. My maternal grandmother instilled in us the importance of contributing to our country. That’s my motivation, especially as I see that my students are going somewhere.”

Email the author at cmoral@inquirer.

Copyright 2006 Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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