Archive for the ‘Embroidery’ Category

What Makes a Great Teacher?

April 22, 2010

While quilting is my main passion, I do like to play in other sandboxes, so to speak. Taking a class now and then in embroidery, needlepoint, knitting, gardening or some other area that focuses on design principles and/or new techniques is inspirational and often leads to new ideas for my quilts. Soooo, when a local shop announced they would be hosting a day-long workshop a few blocks from my home with a world-renowned craftsperson, I was one of the first to sign up and pay my $90. I then purchased my supplies ($97.02, excluding tax) and counted down on the calendar. It felt like Christmas in a way and as I thought about the upcoming class, my expectations about what I might make with my newfound skills grew each day. A side note here: The workshop was to focus on teaching about color and two techniques. I had zip experience with the two techniques, but according to the course description, this class required only the basic skills, which I have. I have a fairly good understanding about color, but am primarily self-taught, so I feel there is always room to learn more.

Okay, you know this is not going to turn out the way I envisioned, right?

What I had not anticipated when I walked into the classroom all eager to learn was an instructor who, in my opinion, was far less eager to teach. Teaching is hard whether you are teaching rambunctious first graders or adults with a wide range of experiences and expectations. I have taught many students, colleagues, and clients through the years in my varying roles as a quilter and business consultant; and at the end of a workshop, I am wiped. Teaching in front of large groups does not come naturally to me, but I always give a 110% and make sure the content is on point with participant expectations.

Whether you are teaching a craft or leading a workshop on how to write a business plan, many of the same basic rules apply. Most are common sense, but as I learned several days ago, not always followed. Here are a few I never lose sight of . . .

  1. Write a clear and accurate workshop description that can be communicated to participants beforehand. This is what participants are going to read to decide whether a class is worth their time and money. If this is a workshop where something will be produced (e.g., a quilt top, a sweater), show a picture. Keep this description close at hand as you outline the content since the description and content should match.
  2. Know your content. If you are not comfortable with or don’t have the depth to talk expertly about a topic, it should not be part of the agenda. Content should never be dumbed down because of the instructor’s lack of knowledge/curiosity, and the work of others who do view it seriously should not be discounted.
  3. Refresh your content. Who wants to be teaching the same class year after year. If you are bored with the content, it will not take long for that to become evident to your students.
  4. Think through the supplies list in any crafts class. Would it be more beneficial, from a cost and/or learning standpoint, for participants to buy a kit (possibly choosing from several color options) or to assemble the items themselves? Being mindful of students’ budgets can go a long way in building strong relationships, with the instructor and the local shop sponsoring the event.
  5. Hand out an agenda. Everyone wants to know where they are going throughout the day and what time parameters have been set for each item on the agenda. The course description should be reiterated here.
  6. Start the workshop with introductions, beginning with yourself. Participants should introduce themselves and state what they hope to learn. Write down these learning goals on a flipchart.  As the instructor, this is where you need to manage expectations and amend the content – if everyone wants to learn a particular technique, show them, even if it wasn’t part of the original plan. If you skip the introductions or do them half-way through, you’ve missed an opportunity to manage expectations and it implies that you really don’t care who they are or what they want to learn. Revisit the goals periodically throughout the day to make sure you are working through the list.
  7. Lay out the ground rules about food and beverages during the workshop and apply it to all. As a coffee addict, I love being able to drink and sew, but only in my own studio where there is one cup of coffee and one person’s fabric stash to consider. Participants have invested in their supplies and to risk ruining them with a cup of coffee is simply disrespectful. In the class I took, the instructor’s coffee cup went flying at one point and spilled coffee everywhere. Luckily, it did not hit anyone’s supplies. However, the tone was set for what was allowed. When I moved a fellow student’s “filled to the brim with no top on” coffee cup to an empty table about 20 feet away from where people were working, she was slightly miffed.  It had been sitting on the floor within inches of hundreds of dollars worth of her fellow students’ supplies!
  8. Make use of visual aids, including handouts and slideshows. This will help to reinforce the content and give participants something to take away and look at when they are at home. And, certainly don’t tell them to buy the book to learn the technique that they are supposed to be learning in the workshop.
  9. As an instructor, never be defensive or snappy. We’ve all heard it, “there is no such thing as a bad question,” and as the instructor you have to reinforce this.
  10. Wrap it up at the end of the day. Summarize key techniques and anything else you want to reinforce, check the list of key learning goals to make sure what you set out to accomplish has indeed been accomplished. Share participant’s work with classmates for one final learning opportunity. You may have done this on an ad hoc basis throughout the day, but do it a bit more formally now, giving constructive feedback by pointing out why something really works or does not work in the projects.
  11. Collect feedback on the workshop. When you are teaching, you need this feedback to know where you need to tweak content and make adjustments to your delivery. As a student, there are many times when you want to give feedback about what the instructor is doing right and where they could improve. It is especially frustrating when there is no means of giving this feedback after an experience that did not meet expectations.

These are just a few ideas of what makes a great teacher – student experience in a workshop setting. What do you think makes for a great workshop? What makes a great teacher?

A Review of Kata Golda’s Hand-Stitched Felt

February 23, 2010

Kata Golda’s recent book, Hand-Stitched Felt, is a must have for anyone who likes to embroider – or thinks they might want to give it a try. Her approach is forgiving but the end result is whimsical and perfect in its own way.  In the introduction, she sends her readers off with this closing sentence: “With this book, I hope that you, too, will be inspired to create your own large, colorful, and uniquely imperfect stitches.”  What a nice break from the precise quilting I am used to!

The sections on “Tools and Materials” and “Stitches and Knots” provide the necessary background to get started on the 25 projects included in this book, all of which employ basic embroidery stitches and only a needle and thread to complete (i.e., no sewing machine required – yeah!). The text and pictures are clear – there is no “say what?” reaction when you read through the directions the first time.

It took about 30 minutes to whip up this charming little picture for a friend’s baby boy. While Ms. Golda explains how to use a template to get the stitches in the right place, it is her section on “Drawing Stitches Freehand” that I really liked. It reminded me of how the artist Paul Klee explained “a drawing is simply a line going for a walk ,” and it felt this way when I began to stitch the details on this little bunny.

I will definitely be tucking some of these projects into my purse to work on when I find myself with a bit of unexpected down time away from home.

As an aside, this book is perfect, too, for younger stitchers (I’d say 8 and up). It would make a great gift when combined with some wool felt, embroidery floss, embroidery needles and a pair of scissors, all placed into a sewing basket.

For now, I am off to find a frame to finish this project up. If you want to see more of Kata Golda’s work, visit her website here.