On Teaching Fashion: Teaching sewing to new students, getting the basics right.

I have taught in the same adult education class younger students who have never sewn items of clothes and wished to progress to a future course and career in Fashion, and students who have not completed any dressmaking in many many years and wish to take this up again as an enjoyable past-time. Both ends of this scale are equally wonderful to work with, and within the setting for the class they have focus and drive. As September comes closer in my full time job, teaching individuals to use a sewing machine is something Fashion teachers do a lot of in the Autumn!

In my last post I spoke about the education my grandmother completed in the 1940’s and beautiful work she had produced, as well as the very interesting syllabus in Educational Needlecraft, by M. Swanson and A. Macbeth. However I fully understand today’s modern climate, mixed abilities and mixed interests that are presented to teachers. I think before you can design and construct anything or even ‘pass go’, individuals need to be able to use the sewing machine, happily, comfortably, safely and importantly: well. I have much enjoyed reading the comments from my last article on the Worn Through Facebook page, from professionals in response to my question about the importance of sewing. Individuals have been posing ideas such as the importance of the modern industrial technologies, intern’s lack of practical skills needed for the industry work place but also a positive involvement of sewing in the curricula being addressed today.

However, to create great seamstresses, manufacturers and constructors of tomorrow that can fit, drape, and produce couture standards pieces initially they probably are a young students being taught by family or at school level. I was interested to read the comment posing the idea; from my last article, about are European countries teaching garment construction to a high level? This is something I definitely wish to learn more about. Also an art in teaching I believe is to go back to the beginning of your knowledge and deliver this to students with drive.

Referring back to the basic level of teaching individuals how to using a sewing machine, I find common issues throughout the cohorts of students I see. The first being (and at this point we are working on paper or fabric squares) pushing and pulling the fabric through the machine, far too heavy handed. An act of second nature that needs to be counteracted, as hands are there to steady and glide across the fabric, as the machine does all of the moving.

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Secondly before you can progress, individuals, even those refreshing their skills are very nervous with the weight in their foot, causing the machine to start, stop and jump. This can be due to the studio unfamiliar machine they have not used, so I begin students with straight and curved line tests to practice how much weight to put on their foot for a comfortable speed and even flow. I always stress as skill and confidence grows we can go faster; from the beginning there is no need to race. Here I also have the opportunity to challenge the students to sew a seams’ width down the edge of fabric, a crucial skill for any garment constructor. Finally I test students on more complex shapes with tighter curves, right angles and flowing shapes to move the fabric around- the big test being will the fabric lay flat at the end of it. Students’ need to be able to feel the fabric, have confidence to control the machine and have accuracy in what they are doing.

After this standard is set, I look forward to progressing onto more challenges throughout their studies with me.

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