On Teaching: Summer Hobbies

As the semester draws to an end, I am sure we are all looking forward to taking a break from the university setting and diving into our summer hobbies. After my first year of teaching in the Apparel Design department, I was exhausted and decided to avoid any sewing for the entire summer.


When school started up in the Fall and I had to help students in the apparel sewing course, I noticed that my skills were a little rusty. I made mistakes and was having to redo work which is stressful in a classroom setting since you want to instill confidence in your teaching abilities to the students. I realized that it is essential for me to continue working on my craft even when I’m not teaching Textiles & Apparel courses. Now, I seek out exciting projects that motivate me to keep up my skills and also learn a few new tricks that I can share with my students.

Sewing vintage dress patterns, historical garments or accessories is something I have been doing since I was a teenager. I enjoy reading background literature on the time period and getting accurate details in regards to colors used in the past. I also try to challenge my pattern making, sewing, and design skills by working with new materials or trying new techniques. Last summer, I used the Madeleine Vionnet book written by Betty Kirke (with a great forward by Issey Miyake) as my inspiration. It is filled with intricate patterns that you can draft and sew up. I suggest making the bias twist scarf pattern for a fabulous and easy start to the more complicated patterns. If you are looking for drafted vintage sewing patterns, try browsing thrift stores where you will find sewing patterns as well as inexpensive cuts of fabric. If pattern pieces are torn or missing, it becomes a project and you can use your pattern making skills to replace or repair . Tove Hermanson‘s article on WornThrough.com lists many links where you can find vintage garment information among other resources such as museum sites. You could even spend the summer just searching through the various links she provided.


Before the students leave for their summer break I make a point of encouraging them to continue sewing. They need to work on their skills during the three month break, especially if they will start any upper division courses in the Fall. Learning advanced techniques can be a challenge on its own without having to worry about your sewing skills. I can tell which students neglected sewing over the summer break since simple tasks such as threading the sewing machine becomes a slow process as they try to remember which direction to go. Sewing set in sleeves or pockets is a disaster at this point with no practice for months. I suggest that the students take home their patterns and practice sewing for fun. Since there is no grade, I tell them to experiment and really be creative with their sewing. They should not dwell on imperfections since the act of sewing is improving their skills. I’d rather have them sew a few garments for fun with crooked stitches than give up sewing one garment because they are frustrated that it is not sewn perfectly.

My other summer pastime is sewing for charity, especially baby bereavement gowns, which are needed by most hospitals. Sewing these gowns involves handwork, such as embroidery or sewing little trims or other details to make them beautiful. Charity sewing sites can be found by searching online or asking at local churches or charity clubs in your area. Bev’s Country Cottage is a good place to start if you want to sew donations for hospital pediatric units. There is a need for baby blankets, which is just a square with finished edges so it can be done by hand with a needle and thread if you don’t want to use a sewing machine. If you are a knitter or crochet, be sure to browse through the “Knitting for Charity” links provided by Tove on WornThrough.com. Helping others is motivating for me and I am always eager to seek out how I can use my sewing skills to benefit those in need.

I am curious what other teachers do over the summer break. Do you work on refreshing your skills? Or do you find it better to take a break and try a new hobby unrelated to your field? I would love to hear from you. Please share your experience in the comments section below.

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  • Olga Mitterfellner May 16, 2014 01.40 pm

    Dear Karen,

    the last paragraph of your article really touched me. I can only imagine the inmmense pain that parents go through! I think if I had to prepare such a gown I would cry my eyes out, just thinking about the death of a newborn.

  • Karen May 16, 2014 02.06 pm

    Hello Olga,
    Most of the charities that exist were created by women who were in these unfortunate circumstances and they saw a need for help in this area. When I first inquired about sewing for them I was surprised that so many hospitals needed them. I thought it’d be just one or two. Also, there is a need for baby blankets and baby hats and even baby bags. I was told by the hospital volunteer coordinator that the hat regulates the body temperature and blankets are always useful. The baby bags are needed because lower income women take home all their baby belongings in a brown paper bag from the hospital. They are always looking for volunteers who can sew!


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