Archive | Teaching

I am an embroidery teacher …. but I don’t really teach embroidery

Well, that’s not strictly accurate. Of course I teach embroidery, but it’s not the most important part of my job description. What I actually teach is confidence.

I have been running Beautiful Stitches for over 6 years and during that time I have taught workshops that run for just one day through to classes that have been running weekly for four years. With time and experience it has become very clear that the two most important gifts I can give my students are inspiration and confidence.

You see, at its most fundamental, embroidery is simply “needle up, needle down, repeat”. Of course there are a myriad of ways that this simple process can be varied to create a lovely range of textures and patterns. But in the modern world, you can find almost limitless tutorials online showing you how to stitch all these wonderful effects. There are countless books to inform and inspire. In fact, the choice and range of possibilities can almost be overwhelming.

And that’s where I come in. If you come to one of my classes, I will absolutely show you how to work a range of different embroidery stitches. And we will often look at all sorts of interesting techniques to complement those embroidery fundamentals – painting or colouring the base fabric first, manipulating layers of fabric, playing with colour choices and thread textures, adding embellishments, etc. But my main job is to make sure that the voice inside your head is saying “I’ve got this!”.
When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things. Joe Namath

Free stitching over silk paper layered on painted Congress canvas (by Helen)

 

In my classes, there is no “right” or “wrong” – rather there is learning, exploring, playfulness, and creativity. I want you to come away from my classes feeling confident to keep working on your own. I want you to be inspired to keep learning more. I want you to find a new idea in a book or online and say to yourself “I can stitch that!”

“It’s All About the Pants” includes surface embroidery, applique and beading (by Julie)

 

Last year I taught a workshop that ran over 5 mornings at the Albany Summer School. At the start of Day 2, one of my students said to me that she was finding the class almost too challenging. She didn’t have much experience in embroidery and the class was feeling like a very steep learning curve. I encouraged her to stick with it and give herself a chance to develop her skills so that she could start feeling more confident. At the end of Day 5 she gave me a lovely card with the following message:
Thankyou Ann-Marie for an enjoyable week of colour, beauty and challenge. Though not your best student, I have enjoyed the start of my journey into embroidery. You have been so patient with me. I now find myself counting more. The stitches make more sense as I find my rhythm. It will take me a long time to finish, but I will. You have given all of us the joy of colour, texture and creativity.

I cannot tell you how happy this made me. Because for me this is what it is all about. This is why I started Beautiful Stitches in the first place, and this is why I am excited to keep working on it every single day.

And I promise you that there is just a little bit of magic in this process. When you start to develop confidence, it has a tendency to grow. And the more it grows, the harder it is for external forces to dent it. And then you discover that it is contagious. What started out as confidence in your creative pursuits, finds its way into other parts of your life. Before you know it, you are scaling Mt Everest (figuratively speaking at least!) 😊

Through my education, I didn’t just develop skills, I didn’t just develop the ability to learn, but I developed confidence. Michelle Obama

 

In a few weeks time, I will be starting a new year of classes at Tresillian Arts Centre in Nedlands. If what I have written here feels like a good fit for you, I would love you to join us. In Term 1, I am offering two options:

Creative Embroidery in Colour, Friday mornings from 9.30am to 12.30pm, 7 sessions starting February 15: This class is for anyone who wants to play with embroidery. If you are a beginner, I will absolutely get you started with some basic techniques and simple projects. The “Creative” part can be as simple as taking an existing embroidery design that you like but making it your own by working it in different colours. For those with more experience, you can work on projects of your own choice. We will explore together a range of resources and ideas that will give you the confidence to start creating your own embroidery designs.

Introduction to Embroidery, Wednesday mornings from 9.30am to 12.30pm, 4 sessions starting March 13: This class is for anyone who wants to learn or refresh their knowledge of basic embroidery stitches. We will work on both evenweave and surface stitches so that you have some experience in these two main branches of embroidery. By the end of the four week programme you will be armed with the knowledge and confidence to tackle your next embroidery project.

You can find further details and how to book here.

If you want to find out where else I will be teaching this year, then you can find all the details on my Classes page. And if you would like me to come and teach a workshop to your group, then send me an email and I’ll be very happy to see what we can organise.
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Learning from my students – again!

Do you remember that I wrote about painting on canvas a few weeks ago? Last week I ran the second class on that project where we got down to designing the embroidery and commencing stitching, and then yesterday we were together again to see how everyone was progressing. I am absolutely thrilled at the diversity of designs that are being worked and will make sure I take photos next week to show you some examples. But in the meantime I have learnt a really interesting and quite unexpected lesson….

Last week I prepared by making sure that I had a detailed chart of my design as well as a stitch guide to match it.

Chart and stitch guide for modern canvaswork journal cover.

Chart and stitch guide for modern canvaswork journal cover.

I gave these to my students as resources – to be used as inspiration rather than a pattern to be copied. At the beginning of the lesson, I also gave them a blank sheet of graph paper so that they could roughly sketch out their design before they started stitching. I made sure that the graph paper was designed to be 14 lines per inch so that it would correspond exactly with the 14-count canvas on which they were all stitching.

But most of them were slow to get started on this sketching/designing phase – they were almost reluctant to put pencil to paper. Until one of them said to me, “I think I might skip this step and just work my border directly onto the canvas and then see what I want to do next”. In my usual fashion I replied, “Of course! Go for it – whatever works best for you – this is all about play and creativity”. And pretty quickly most of them had skipped over doing any sketching and were busily working their outer border. A couple of students did continue with their planning and design phase, but most just went straight ahead and started stitching.

I didn’t think much more about this until this morning when I delved into one of my new favourite books, “Show Your Work!”, by Austin Kleon. Austin talks about how it is really important to share the “process” of your creativity and not just the “product”. And it suddenly struck me….

I almost never sketch out a design before I start stitching.

Sure, I have an idea of what colours I want to use, what form the final piece will take, and I will have done a bit of arithmetic to calculate how big I want my piece to be and thus how many threads wide and tall I will be stitching. But…..

….most of the design process happens on the canvas as I am stitching.

Somehow, in turning this project into a class, I had felt that I needed to make the process more structured for my students by introducing a sketching/designing phase. And yet I rarely do this myself….and most of my students were much more comfortable when they too started developing their designs straight onto the canvas.

So, why had I felt the need to impose a step on my students which I don’t normally do myself? Well, the truth is that I hadn’t examined my own creative processess very closely. The end of a project always looks so ordered and this is emphasised when the final design is recorded as some sort of chart, stitch guide and thread guide. I had fooled myself into thinking that the creative process was somehow much more ordered than it actually is, and thus I was teaching it that way! But in Austin Kleon’s words,

“Process is messy”.

Embroidery is a three-dimensional, textural, and colourful art and elements often play off each other in unexpected ways. I need to see each element on the canvas before I add the next one. Of course, sometimes this means that I work something that I do not like and then I need to unpick and try again. But that is a really important part of the design process, and my students clearly showed me that they were much more comfortable with this way of working too, especially in a class that was deliberately designed to get their creative juices flowing.

So once again, teaching turns out to be a learning process for both teacher and students. I have learnt so much about myself because my students have helped me to understand my own creative process better, and this will in turn helps me to be a more creative embroidery teacher. How cool is that?

If you have a story about how students helped you to understand yourself better, then please share it with me via the comments below – I would love to know that I am not on my own!

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Experimenting with paint on canvas

Where do the weeks go? I have been busy teaching, kids and adults alike, and my blog is sadly neglected….again 🙂 But I have been having so much fun, so just had to share it with you!

This week I taught the first of three sessions on modern canvaswork to my local branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild of Western Australia. The goal is to produce a piece like the modern book cover I mentioned in my February post on creativity.

My journal

A5 journal cover in modern canvaswork.

So, our first session was all about painting the canvas and playing with Tyvek. I’ll be honest – I felt like an impostor. I am not an expert on painting on canvas – I just know what works for me. And as for Tyvek, I am only passing on my limited experience after learning it from someone else several years ago.

To help overcome my lack of confidence, I made doubly sure that I was well prepared. I had boxes of paint which I had tested in a number of different ways; I had samples of a variety of painted canvases; and I had a lovely pile of experimental Tyvek pieces.

Prepared for anything!

Prepared for anything!

Of course, we didn’t use anything like half of the materials I had brought with me….BUT from a teaching point of view I was prepared for any eventuality and thus I felt more confident. And the really great thing was that it reminded me about another great role as a teacher. You don’t always have to be the expert – sometimes it is just as good (better perhaps?) to be a facilitator. My students had everything they needed to just play with all the techniques and materials that I provided. And all of them, without exception, produced something completely different from everyone else. You could just about touch the creativity sparkling in the air! I loved it…

Many of these students have been embroiderering for many years and their stitching skills are simply exquisite. It was so much fun to share an afternoon of something completely different with them. I can’t wait for the next lesson in two weeks time when we will start designing and stitching.

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