For today's post in my series focusing on turning sewing into a viable career I want to talk about teaching.
Before I had children and started sewing softies all the time I was a teacher. I worked in education for six years all together: two as a Teach For America corps member teaching middle school French and Social Studies in the Mississippi Delta, two as the Education Director at a non-profit that worked with under-served kids in the Boston public schools, and two as a sixth grade teacher in suburban Newton, Massachusetts. I have a master's degree in education from Harvard. I love teaching.
And I love sewing.
So the idea of teaching sewing sounds just about perfect to me! And maybe to you, too?
I'm teaching a sewing class tomorrow at Sew Easy in Wellesley. I've been teaching adult classes there regularly this year and it is one of my favorite parts of my new career as a sewing professional (I sew professionally! Really? Yep, well that's the goal, at least.)
I'm not going to explore the ins and outs of teaching online because I've never taught an online class. If I was going to pursue that, though, I would start by taking Sister Diane's online class on teaching online classes. That might be one of my future goals.
Today I wanted to talk about what it takes to teach a successful in-person sewing class. I think my classes are effective and run smoothly, but there is always more to learn so please add your thoughts in the comments whether you've been a teacher of sewing, or a student.
When I first decided I wanted to teach sewing I held workshops in my home. I started by just inviting friends over for "craft night", teaching them a simple, hand-sewing project. They didn't pay me for this, it was just for fun and so that I could explore whether or not teaching sewing was something I enjoyed.
Once I realized that I like teaching sewing, I offered a class at my home for just the cost of materials. We sewed sock monkeys by hand and I had several women over who were beginners. From this class I learned something crucial about teaching sewing: everything takes longer than you expect! What you can sew in half an hour will take a class of eight students three hours to complete.
I think there are two reasons. First, I am very comfortable with the materials. I can thread a needle and tie a knot in about a minute, for instance. For people who haven't done it in a while that can take ten minutes.
Second, although I take sewing incredibly seriously, for the people in the class this is a leisure activity. They are there to have fun, to relax, to chat, and make something cute. Intense focus on the project or the skill being taught may not be their aim.
Once I had done these workshops in my home, I wanted to teach a class that involved use of sewing machines. This meant reaching out into the community to find a venue and this brings me to my next point.
A big part of being self-employed is reaching out and asking people to hire you. You need to get comfortable tooting your own horn!
There is a quilt shop in Wellesley not far from where I live. It is independently owned and I always enjoyed going in there. In fact, I bought a lot of the fabric I used in The Artful Bird there. I called them and asked to speak to the owner. I explained that I had a book out about sewing birds and asked if I could come by for a few minutes to bring her a copy. She was neutral on the phone and seemed a bit confused by what kind of birds I was describing, thinking at first they were quilt appliques of birds.
Plowing ahead, I went to the shop at the appointed time and gave the owner a copy of the book and I also brought samples. Once she had three birds in her hands, without my even asking for it she started booking dates for a workshop. We decided to hold a five hour workshop and make the lark that is on the cover of my book.
From this workshop I learned about the profiles of various kinds of students. It seems every class has: someone who moves more quickly than everyone else, someone who needs the directions explained again individually after the group instruction, and someone who changes the project and makes something different from what everyone else is making.
Just knowing that these types of students will be in every class helps me to be more patient and prepared to work with each person and further them along in their learning.
I begin with a brief story about how I learned to sew and what I love about it. I show my book and talk about the patterns I design and the work I do. I often bring samples so that people can see and touch. This establishes trust. Students see that you know what you're talking about, that you are an expert.
And guess what? I often sell things to students. Bring extra supplies, especially specialty supplies that may not be available elsewhere. Bring copies of your book, or your patterns. Bring samples of your finished work. Many people want some further connection to you or to the class and they will buy what you brought. You'd be surprised! (If you are teaching at a quilt shop, ask the owner first whether this is okay. You don't want to step on any retail toes.)
Next I ask everyone to introduce themselves and tell us about their sewing experiences in one or two sentences. I find once their voice is in the room students are more likely to speak up again later. And it is helpful to me to gauge skill levels and learn each person's motivation for signing up for the class.
And then I explain the goal of the class and the steps we will take to reach that goal. Everyone feels more comfortable when they know where they're headed!
My best words of wisdom are to be prepared. I write a detailed outline for each class and I make step-outs to illustrate each step of the project.
And then a day or two before the class…I sit in my studio and pretend to teach. I know, it sounds strange, but I think it is actually the most important step of all. Keep a notepad next to you and teach to your empty room! Saying everything outloud will make it obvious to you what you know and what you actually don't know and need to research before the class. It will remind you what tools and materials you need to remember to bring. And it will make you less nervous when the day of the class arrives. Make notes on your notepad so that you can add to your outline, or your "to bring" list.
Create a handout to give students that includes your contact informtion so that they can get back in touch with you, visit your website, and sign up for future classes. I give out step-by-step directions for the project, too, so that they can replicate it at home if they'd like to. People will also take notes on the handout.
Plan to be in the classroom for 10-15 minutes after the class is over so that you can clean up the space, round up all your tools and materials (referring to your "to bring" list helps!), and chat with students who have further questions and or who want to connect with you.
In addition to group classes, I also teach private classes in people's homes showing them how to use their sewing machines. Both types of classes are lucrative and satisfying. It can be hard to make $200 for two hours of work in this business. Teaching is one way to do this.
If you are considering teaching an in-person class, I recommend giving it a try. And please comment here with any additional thoughts or questions, or just to share your experiences as a teacher or student. Thanks for your awesomeness, as always.
If you find this series helpful to you, I hope you'll consider making a donation to help support it. Each post in this series takes several hours to research and write, and I love doing it! Knowing that you are willing to support it helps me to continue to write in-depth about each of these topics. Thank you!