On Teaching Fashion: Clothing Construction

This week, in the fourth week of the term, with two weeks’ notice, I took over teaching the basic clothing construction course at my school. To say that I am excited to have this addition to my schedule would be an understatement.   I am beyond thrilled.

A few years ago, earlier in my teaching career, taking on a class partially underway, and teaching that class without much advance preparation, would have had me in a panic.  This month, however, it is a project I have excitedly taken on as an addition to my other courses in progress.

When I say “without much advance preparation,” I mean that, before last week, I had not sat down and prepared a detailed lesson plan for this course, having not had the opportunity to teach it up until now (oddly enough, though, the week before I was offered the course, I had begun thinking about how there was no reason not to prepare a syllabus and lesson plans for this most basic of courses, and how I should probably do so in my spare time).   Other forms of preparation I have had for teaching this course are the sewing courses I have taken, other courses I have taught, years of apparel construction experience, and past employment experiences, so fear not for my students, they are in capable hands!

Taking over this course presents more than a few challenges, and one of the more significant ones is being the experience of being a replacement instructor.   I have been a replacement before, but stepping into the classroom after the class has already started is new for me.   With this new class of mine, the students have already had time to get to know the previous instructor, and were working with that instructor’s syllabus and assignments, and course schedule. The good part, however, is that this course only meets once a week, therefore the students have actually only had three class meetings with my predecessor, meaning they have had little time to become settled in to one instructor’s routine before switching to another’s.

This week, I started off by introducing my syllabus with my course policies, classroom expectations, assignments, suggested supplies, and course topic outline.   Following that, we did some “getting to know you” exercises, and then came the task of figuring out what everybody’s skill level was.   One of the special elements of teaching at community college is the diversity of the students’ educational backgrounds, abilities, and life experiences.

Teaching at universities, I generally had students who were in the late teens and early twenties, with very few exceptions.  At my current location, I have all ages in my classes, from 15 on up. What this means in a clothing construction course is that some students arrive with no skills to speak of and others arrive with decades of experience. That might sound like a logistical nightmare, in terms of planning assignments and making them appropriately challenging for each student, however, it is actually quite enjoyable to teach students with a range of abilities, as there will probably be no moment in the rest of the term at which I will have 27 students all doing the exact same assignment.

Giving students of varied skill levels the option to select projects (pending instructor approval) to complete in order to achieve the course’s objectives gives each of them the opportunity to do something they are highly interested in (good for the learning experience), and a variety of projects being created in the sewing lab presents further learning opportunities for the class as a whole, as the students will be able to see what each other’s projects are, and draw inspiration from each other.   Additionally, at the completion of their projects, the students will informally present their work to the class and discuss the techniques involved, challenges encountered, and skills learned, furthering the opportunity for them to learn from each other.

My institution, has, fortunately, pre-determined objectives for the course, detailing specific topics for me to cover in class (darts, seams, pockets, et cetera).   Here is a question I have for those of you who are not in school, teaching or otherwise.  Think back to your first construction courses when you were in school.   Which, of the skills that you were taught, have turned out to be indispensible in your career? Leave me a comment and let me know.

6 Comments »

  1. Megan said,

    February 26th, 2010 at 7:43 am

    I really enjoyed a product development class with a real life client (ours happened to be Target) and was paired with other majors (Graphic design, Retail Management, and Clothing Design) It was great way to figure out research, break up work and get an idea of some of the cross-functional teams you have in a real-life situation.

  2. Jo said,

    February 26th, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    The importance of pressing is vital. My first instructor told me that proper pressing, before the fabric is cut and each seam after it is sewn, makes it possible to do later steps efficiently. I listened and she was right. It makes all the difference between a amateur looking garment and a professional one.

  3. Beth Miller said,

    February 26th, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I still refer back to my stitching sampler book that I made ages ago. I most often look at seam binding & finishings, mitering corners, welt pockets, various buttonholes. Once you make a dart, you pretty much remember it anyway, some of the more specialty techniques were more important to me. Also basic block drafting & fitting were extremely valuable in understanding good fit!

  4. MS E M GARRISON said,

    December 7th, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    . . . BROWSING THROUGH ALL OF THIS INFO – REALLY CARRIES ME BACK TO MY HIGH SCHOOL YEARS – WHERE I ACQUIRED THE CLOTHING CONSTRUCTION SKILLS – THAT SAVED ME MANY A PENNEY – AS I SET ABOUT MAKING SWEET LITTLE GARMENTS FOR MY TWO DAUGHTERS ( AND FOR MY MOTHER – MADE HER SOME PANTSUITS ) GOT SO BUSY THAT – HAD TO HAVE TWO USED SEWING MACHINES – AND THEN WHEN I ATTEMPTED TO ACQUIRE A DOUBT MAJOR IN MY FIELD ( ADVANCE EDUCATION – HIGHER INSTITUTIONS OF LEARNING ) WENT FOR IT – MY COLLEGE COUNCIL MENTIONED TO ME ( THE BEST PLACE FOR YOU – WOULD BE THAT YOUNG BUNCH – THE SEVENTH THROUGH THE NINTH GRADERS ) FOR THIS IS THE BUNCH WHO COULD LEARN MUCH ( CLOTHING TECHNIQUES ) THE GRADE LEVEL JUST BEFORE YOU RUN INTO DRESSMAKING IN HONEST – QUOTED MY COLLEGE COUNCIL . . .

  5. MS E M GARRISON said,

    December 7th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    . . . IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING MY COLLEGE GRADUATION ( 1971 ) MY FIRST PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT ( WATTS BOUTIQUE ) WAS WITH AN AFRICAN AMERICAN LADY – WHO CAME TO US FROM THE WEST COAST – AND SHE BROUGHT WITH HER – ADVANCE CLOTHING SKILLS – THAT WERE DEFINITELY ALIEN TO US ( THE MID SOUTH ) BUT THEN AGAIN – THATS HOW FASHIONS ARE – THEY START ON ONE SIDE OF THE COUNTRY – AND SOMETIME IT TAKES A FEW YEARS BEFORE THESE ( FASHIONS DEEMED AS STYLES & SOMETIME THEY ARE CALLED FADS ) NEW OUTFITS ARRIVE TO THE OTHER SIDE . . . AM DOING A BIT OF RESEARCH AT THIS TIME – THINK I WILL WRITE A BOOK ABOUT THE ADVENTURES OF MY FORMER EMPLOYERS PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT – AND HOW SHE ARRANGED HER BOUTIQUE ( ONE BOSS LADY & TWO EMPLOYEES UNDER HER TUTELAGE ) AND WHAT PART EACH OF US PLAYED IN THE FORMATION OF HIGH END FASHION ATTIRES – CONSTRUCTED FROM EXOTIC FABRICS – FABRICS THAT HAD BEEN STASHED IN THE CLOSETS OF OUR FAIR CITY – AFTER ACQUIRING THEM FROM ACROSS THE WORLD ( GIFTS / TRAVEL / PURCHASES / ORDERS / INHERITAGES / ETC ) AND HAD DONE SO FOR DECADES – BY THE WOMEN WHO LIVED HERE – AND NO MATTER WHO THEY CARRIED THESE FABRICS TO ( MERE SEAMSTRESS( ES ) NO ONE COULD DEAL WITH THEM – UNTIL OUR MASTER DRESSMAKER CAME TO US – AND THE REST AS THEY SAY – WAS HISTORY . . .

  6. Stacey said,

    December 19th, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Hi,

    I am currently teaching Art/Textiles and Fashion at a Secondary School. I am currently teaching yr9 Fashion construction based on the theme Architecture, i thought about teaching them how to manipulate a skirt pattern and getting them to design and construct their own skirt using the skills I have taught them. Do you have any advice or ideas how I could approach this project?

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