Friday, 29 January 2010

a different kind of sewing class

I learned to sew as a kid. I watched my mum sew, I played with bits of fabric and the sewing machine, and as I got older I gradually tried to complete projects on my own. When I got stuck I asked mum or I just fiddled and fiddled until I got it right, or realised why it was never going to be right. While I had a high 'failure' rate, every one of those failures taught me the things that make me a confident sewer today.

When I started teaching sewing and craft one of the problems I came up with again and again is that structured classes just don't work like this. The process of setting a goal, working through the process and solving problems along the way just doesn't fit into a class built around assuring a common outcome and pace for all. Don't get me wrong, for some things and some people that methodical step by step learning is ideal - obviously since that's how pretty much all classes are structured.

But I think knowing how to get started or how to improve on basic skills can be really difficult if you haven't had that learning by osmosis experience. Sometimes there isn't a class that speaks to exactly what you want to do, sometimes you feel classes move to fast or too slowly or can't commit to a whole lots of classes in one chunk. You want some help to get started, someone to ask questions and get an inside edge to working out different ways to do things. A lot of you who think you don't know anything simply need the encouragement to have a go and work it out along the way.

Adult learning principles stress that adult learners come to the classroom with finely tuned skills in other areas and that means no two students will be alike. It also means they often don't enjoy the controlled content and pace of a formal class. Adult learners tend to be more task or outcome focused. If they are learning a new skill they will have a reason for doing so and if the class doesn't connect well to that reason, it may not work for them. This again means that what they are interested in, ready for and challenged by may not be at all predictable and almost certainly won't be shared by a whole room full of people. Adult learners direct their own learning at the pace and to the goals of their choosing.

But running a class like this is complicated and I think that's why you don't see them much. For a start it's less comfortable for some people to take responsibility for what they learn back from the teacher to themselves. It requires a bit of prework, some discussion between the teacher and student, some careful thought about projects and materials and realistic expectations. This is not a one size fits all take it or leave it sausage making kind of class, it's not about churning out sewers with the same approach, skills or projects. So students really have to be prepared to set themselves some goals and pick a project or skill they really want to go for.

That doesn't have to be scary, in fact these classes can be very exciting and liberating and addictive too - there's every chance that after one a student may want to do another, either to finish something, to have another go at a failed attempt or to get straight onto a new idea. It is a place to not just learn from the teacher but to be inspired by each other's ideas and projects. A space in which by choosing a goal you really open yourself up to real achievement.

This has been my experience on an informal, and occasionally on a more formal basis. Sometimes it happens with friends, or with students within more structured classes. When people ask questions and follow their instincts and get excited. One thing leads to another and soon enough they are absolutely flying. People who ask me for help so often don't want me to 'be the teacher'. Often they don't want to hear that there's only one way, the proper way. They want to hear what I think they could do, what their options are, how I would reason through a problem and decide on a solution. They appreciate that I have a ready store of both failures and successes to draw on and that the central point is always in getting further to where they want to go, not where I think they should go.

So I spent a good deal of time thinking about how I could bring this framework to the classroom. I want to teach in a way that is fun, sustainable, exciting and varied - satisfying for me and my students. I want to be accessible to people who want to learn this way, who are ready to be challenged and who are excited to learn. I couldn't see how to do that in the structure of my old classroom.

When Tessuti Fabrics opened in Melbourne one of the things I loved most was that a visit to the store would invariably thrust me into a world of possibilities mindset. It is no challenge to think up projects or new ways of applying skills when you are surrounded by so much quality, interesting, unique fabric. From day one it seemed to me a fertile and inspirational place.

So I am super super excited, thrilled, positively giddy to be able to announce that come February I will be teaching regular workshop classes there.

I want to learn to sew, but I want to do it my way

If you've ever thought you might like to sew but just didn't want to do a standard learning to sew course then the beginners Sew Inn might be the place for you. These four hour workshops are an opportunity for small groups of beginners (no more than 5 - half the number in many standard classes) to do what they want with the help of an experienced advisor (that would be me). Whether your project is as ambitious as a stylish new frock or as simple as a quick make do children's dress up, the focus of this workshop is for each participant to gain the confidence to pursue their own sewing dream. This is not a class in which a teacher will be telling you what you must do, dictating how fast you must go or what the proper way to do it is. Instead the advisor (that's me again) will help you work out what it is you need to do next from choosing a pattern or fabric to working out how to finish off a collar or fix that whopping big mistake you made.

As a beginner you may not be aiming to produce a masterpiece straight away - and maybe for you that's never going to be what excites you. Maybe you really want to know how to just make something quickly and easily that's good enough. Or maybe you want to take the time and attention to detail to try and develop truly expert skills. Either way you pick your project for the workshop and you set the pace. You can come to just one workshop to get the ball rolling or return for more help and inspiration, it's up to you. Because the workshops are all about you and what you want to achieve there's no requirement to sign up in any set way.

The beginners Sew Inn will be held in Tessuti Fabrics Melbourne store during shop hours one Thursday (10-2pm) and one Saturday (11-3pm) per month. That means if you want to you can pick up your supplies in the store after you have had a chance to talk to me about what you are thinking of doing. Alternatively you can come fully armed with all the gear you need, or stop by the store prior to the workshop and talk to Lisa or Nichola or Liesl to get some advice on how best to prepare yourself to take the maximum advantage of your workshop time.

Workshops will cost $80 for four hours and groups will be limited to a maximum of 5 students. Sewing machines will be supplied, but you bring your own scissors, pins, fabric, thread, pattern and whatever other supplies you need. If you forget something or decide on a project while you are there you will be able to take advantage of a super special class discount of 15% off any purchases made at Tessuti on the day of the class.

Class dates are: Febraury 18 & 20, March 18 & 20, April 15 & 17, May 13 & 15, June 17 & 19 and you can book classes by calling the store on 03 9654 4566. You need to pay at the time of booking and a fee may be charges if you cancel and your spot isn't taken up by someone else. All the details will be available when you book.


Leonie said...

That sounds like a fabulous idea. I hope it is well attended and works out for you, it sounds like it could be quite exciting, never knowing quite what the students will come up with!

Ali said...

Sounds like exactly my kind of class, but the commute would be too brutal sadly.

Sarah said...

Oh this is exactly what I need. I keep calling my mum who says "oh it is far too long since I sewed anything" and changes the subject.

I hope it goes really well for you.

Now if I could just find something like this in Sydney!

captain plaknit said...

Really glad to hear you talk and be passionate about that kind of creative learning, soozs! I work on creative community projects with people with and without disabilities, and I think it is a great approach for everyone! I wish I was in your part of the country so that I could come along and get some of your super sewing advice!! Very exciting! :)

Kate said...

How are the classes going?

sooz said...

Hi Kate. In answer to your question, the classes are going very well! I find them at times very demanding to teach - the individual nature of the student's projects means it is pretty non stop from the teacher perspective. And just like when you sew at home, you need to concentrate and think things through and fix mistakes and solve problems - but for 5 projects at the same time!! But of course, these are the very reasons why I like it too - it's never boring and no two classes are the same. I am strarting to see more students returning for second and third classes too, which is both very gratifying (I must be doing something right!) and makes me feel like there is lots of scope for real progress for them. So all up, I'm very very happy with how the whole concept is panning out.