Tag Archives | Teaching

A celebration of teaching children to sew

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that one of the things I have done over the last few years is teach a wonderfully enthusiastic group of children. The group started in July 2012 and I have typically run 6-7 classes per year. The goal was to teach the children some basic sewing skills as well as sharing the sheer joy and passion that I have for stitching things by hand. It has been an absolute privilege to work with such a lovely group of children, to witness their joyful creativity, and to see their sewing skills improve so much.

We had our last class together on Sunday, so today’s post is dedicated to a celebration of these kids and the wonderful work they have done over the last three years.

2012 – Sewing for the School Fair

In the first year, we squeezed sewing classes into one and a half hours after school. It was lots of fun but the pressure was always on to finish projects in such a short time. Nevertheless, the children did an amazing job and attacked every new class with boundless enthusiasm. Our goal became making items for a stall at the school fair. We had so much fun making cute little owls (each one had its own personality), felt elephant brooches, Christmas decorations and colourful bookmarks stitched on Aida cloth.

All ready to sell the fruits of our labours in November 2012.

All ready to sell the fruits of our labours in November 2012.

2013 – New venue and Sunday afternoons

In 2013, we moved to a local hall on Sunday afternoons. This proved to be a huge success. Sunday afternoon gave us time to finish projects without feeling so rushed and we had plenty of room to spread out. There was also a lovely seat in a large bay window where the children liked to sit whilst stitching. Extra time and the children’s developing skills allowed us to explore some more challenging projects. My personal favourites were embroidery hoop pictures and creating clothes for wood and wire dolls.

This embroidery hoop picture project also taught the children to sew on buttons securely :)

This embroidery hoop picture project also taught the children to sew on buttons securely.

Creating clothes for wood and wire dolls.

Creating clothes for wood and wire dolls. Can you spot Rapunzel?

2014 – The journey continues

This year has seen the children’s skills improve significantly. In fact, one week I came away feeling like I hadn’t done a very good job of teaching them…. until I realised that they simply didn’t need so much input from me any more! Their skills were improving so much that I could provide materials and directions and off they went. I think that has been the most rewarding part of the whole journey for me. I could always rely on these children to freely express their creativity, but this year it was coupled with the freedom to make choices about what stitches they wanted to use for a particular task. We have made cushions inspired by Namibian embroidery, coasters embroidered with wool on plastic canvas, tiny felt finger puppets and pretty Christmas cards embroidered with metallic thread. With every new project the children have impressed me with their skill and inspired me with their creativity.

Some of the projects completed in 2014. Just love the turtle!

Some of the projects completed in 2014. Just love the turtle!

A Big Thankyou

I love saying thankyou and it is even better if I can find or make a small gift as a token of my appreciation. Earlier this year I bought some gorgeous fabric with pictures associated with famous cities around the world. I had planned to use it for a project with the children, but in the end we hadn’t needed it. So, I used it to make a mug rug for each child and added some tiny Christmas decorations and a special pair of tiny, sharp scissors.

A thankyou gift from me to the children.

A thankyou gift from me to the children.

It was so much fun handing these out on Sunday afternoon and having each child get excited about which city they had on their rug. And it was just a small way to say thankyou for the pleasure I have had in sharing my passion for sewing with such a lovely group of children.

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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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Embroidery from Namibia

I cannot tell you how lucky I am to have a husband whose job takes him to different parts of the world, because whenever possible he brings back beautiful textiles for our whole family to enjoy. The latest trip to Namibia was no exception – just look at this magnificent tablecloth he brought back!

Beautiful hand embroidered tablecloth from Namibia.

Beautiful hand embroidered tablecloth from Namibia.

It is really hard for a photograph to do justice to such a large piece – it measures approximately 1.5m x 1.7m! So let’s look at some of the motifs in detail….

Woman killing a snake!

Woman killing a snake!

Traditional hut with fence and a bird.

Traditional hut with fence and a bird.

Wonderful elephant!

Wonderful elephant!

Aren’t they fantastic? I love them – they are whimsical, colourful, and naive and yet when all seen together they form this exquisitely cohesive whole.

But I love this piece even more for another reason. It is a simply wonderful teaching piece for my children’s classes. They can see in these designs that very simple shapes and lines can be stitched with a simple repertoire of stitches to create really fantastic pieces of embroidery.

My plan is for each child to embroiderer a cushion cover using these African designs as inspiration. And I really want them to see that the stitching doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. The elephant’s trunk above is far too big for his body, but he looks brilliant nonetheless! And the giraffe below is not filled with exquisitely smooth satin spots, but he is still quite clearly a very elegant giraffe.

A delightful giraffe!

A delightful giraffe!

And what about this cool windmill showing the water being collected in a tank and trough – with just a few simple lines the stitcher is telling a whole story about the preciousness of water.

I love this simple water story!

I love this simple water story!

I will be sure to share with you some photos of the children’s own versions of simple embroidered pictures after we have had the class later this month. In the meantime, please be sure to let me know if you have a treasured textile that inspires you – I would love to hear about it:)

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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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Brand new sewing classes for children

Don’t you love that feeling when plans start to come to fruition? When things start falling into place and you say to yourself “this just might work!”. I love it…. And I am having just that feeling as I write to you today.

One part of Beautiful Stitches is teaching children to sew. I started with a small group of my daughter’s friends nearly two years ago. We met once a fortnight after school. The children were enthusiastic and I loved being able to share my passion for all things hand-made, and especially hand-sewn, with them. Pretty soon a second group had started and they were having just as much fun.

Learning to sew on buttons whilst creating an embroidery hoop wallhanging.

Learning to sew on buttons whilst creating an embroidery hoop wallhanging.

Last year, I decided to take the whole thing onto a more businesslike footing. I hired a venue and decided to run the classes once a month on a Sunday afternoon. This gave me longer than an after school class to give the children more time to finish off a project. And once a month worked really well. The children were always eager and interested when they came to class and I was always excited to meet up with them again and start work on a new project.

One of my favourite classes from last year - stitching simple outfits for wood and wire dolls. A groovy guy with a mohawk, Rapunzel, and a trendy girl on the town :)

One of my favourite classes from last year – stitching simple outfits for wood and wire dolls. A groovy guy with a mohawk, Rapunzel, and a trendy girl on the town 🙂

We took a nice long break over the long, hot, Perth summer – in my experience small hot hands and sewing are not good friends. But with the arrival of cooler weather it is time to start up again. I have a new venue and am doubling the number of classes I run – from one to two. OK, so it doesn’t sound like a big thing but it is another baby step in gradually expanding my business. I have recently started following a very cool blog by Coral called Creative Women’s Business. In a post from January this year, Coral talks about taking one step at a time – even micro-steps inch you a bit closer to your goal.

And hence my great excitement. My first class is fully booked, mostly with students returning from last year. That in itself is an achievement – I am so happy that they are all keen to continue. But even better, I am taking bookings for my second class from brand new students. I received a phone call from an interested parent today and I haven’t even started advertising yet! How cool is that? I confess that I got off the phone from her and did a little dance of excitement because I just got that tingling feeling that all the painstaking plans and niggles of the last few weeks were starting to bear fruit.

So, if you know of a child in Perth who might enjoy joining a sewing class with me, then please share this post so they can contact me for more information. I am just so excited that the children’s classes are underway for a third year!

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The joy of teaching

I had an “Aha!” moment yesterday – one of those days when you say to yourself, “Yes! I know exactly why I am doing this”. I was teaching my patchwork group how to stitch the selvage strips I showed you in my last post. From a teaching point of view, this is not a technically difficult project to teach. The skills needed are pretty simple and it really is all about having fun.

I always try to make my students feel like there is “no right or wrong way” to do something. Sure, there may well be an easier or more efficient way to do something. And of course, there is often a traditional way to do something. But no single method is “right” or “wrong”. If it enables you, the crafter, to produce an item which gives you pleasure then whatever method you chose was “fit for purpose”.

For most people, patchwork and embroidery are leisure pastimes that should be a fun and creative outlet. To my mind, weighing down the process with notions of “Am I doing this right?” tends to kill creativity rather than enlivening it. So, I try very hard in my classes to say, “This is how I do it, but by all means give your method a try if you think it will work better for you.”

Teaching selvages is great for this because the process is naturally so free. Choose a bunch of selvage strips – all one colour family (all reds maybe?), or coordinate a set of colours (reds and greens with a dash of yellow perhaps) or just grab a selection and see what happens (the rainbow or scrappy effect). Overlay the strips onto a backing fabric and wadding sandwich, and stitch down such that the selvage edge of one strip encloses the raw edge of the next strip. Continue for as many strips as you need to cover your block. Stitching not quite straight?  No problem. You will still end up with a beautifully interesting block ready to be used in a myriad of different ways.

So yesterday was always going to be fun because I love teaching projects where I can really encourage my students to relax and just enjoy the process. The “Aha!” happened when one of my students quietly took everything off in her own direction. She was overlaying the strips on her wadding/backing fabric sandwich just as I had suggested, but instead of using a simple straight stitch to sew down the selvage strips, she decided to use a variety of decorative machine stitches. The effect was superb! Sort of crazy machine patchwork meets selvages. I absolutely loved it.

But I loved even more that it just completely reinforced that teaching is always a two-way street. Every time I teach, I learn something from my students. It is humbling and rewarding at the same time. So much effort goes into preparing notes, sourcing materials, packing everything up and then setting up at the venue….but this is all so worthwhile when you have the privilege of witnessing someone else’s joy in learning something new, or their own creativity getting to work and taking your ideas in a completely new direction.

Image sourced from http://www/edudemic.com

Image sourced from http://www.edudemic.com

So this is why I do what I do… for the sheer joy of teaching and sharing my passion.

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