On Teaching Fashion: The art of learning from our students.

During my working career I have learnt a great deal of knowledge from my students, albeit practical methods, creative thinking processes or previous information that they have ascertained. Some of this has been related to my specialist area of teaching being fashion and costume. Whilst other times not, such as how I can now tell you know how to programme the lighting desk in our theatre and the difference between the generic lanterns we have hanging on the lighting bars! I feel when teaching, any subject, but especially practical disciplines you must be open minded and eager to learn yourself about different approaches to techniques that might be very familiar to you in a different set up. You can draw parallels such as when, as professionals, attending conferences and events as continual professional development to extend our knowledge- students can teach you a lot as well.

Recently I was talking to one of my first years about pattern development during our current costume project. Second nature to me is to reach for a pattern block and begin in 2D form. She said to me she makes her own clothes at home but does not use a pattern, but she takes measurements and marks this out onto the fabric as free cutting. She also said she has made many garments but has never made a pattern before in her life. My first thought was- how does she toile this? How does she recreate this? How does she check accuracy? A safety net for many when working with expensive fabrics. Although, if she measures accurately and is confident with this method of course I was fine with her using this process to develop her work. Because- in the end of the day, the studio and the learning environment is not about me and how I would work, it is about the students we teach and their progression.

Have you had experiences in your teaching where students suggest alternative methods to scenarios that you set them? How do you manage the learning environment for this? 


Pattern cutting garments. 

You frequently hear in teaching about the notion of ‘the student should be working harder than the teacher’, and prior acquisition of knowledge by using methods such as ‘flipped learning’. I think this can work well in fashion curricula very well, setting independent work for students to acquire knowledge, therefore during the lesson they are ready to push into deeper thinking and development of their ideas. Students could be set clear research tasks, for example- to identify new ways of developing patterns for garments. Then in the next lesson they can bring this body of knowledge and begin practically exploring.

This student lead learning and negotiating studies is a wonderful example of their self engagement with the tasks and projects they are working on. This is also a good way to highlight students focus and dedication to their studies seeing how prepared they attend classes. 

I challenged another student of mine to make a garment for the live production we were working on in the theatre, which was specifically to make an oversized dressing gown/ lounge wear piece for a musical number. What he did next was not even contemplate measuring, before I knew it he had sketched a series of ‘shapes’ being off rectangles and triangles, that he would sew together to construct the garment. Next he decided how big they would be, cut a paper pattern, pinned it to fabric and sewed it up! Before we knew this it was on a mannequin awaiting the actress’ arrival. This was done completely independently and self negotiated. I can consider similarities with this students practice of considering shapes with methods such as ‘subtraction cutting’, and the geometric approach in the ‘pattern magic’ series. I am fascinated to see how different individuals approach tasks and challenges in different methods.


Sewing room. 

I have learnt a lot from my students, specifically to consider alternative methods of approaches in pattern cutting, try new ideas that may not come as first instinct to me and to be confident to think on my feet and understand as long as we all get to the end result I fully expect all members of the group to think in probably completely different ways.

Have you had experiences of learning from students? I find it very interesting to consider how individuals thought processes differ in their approaches to creative challenges. Have you altered your teaching delivery methods following reflection on your own learning from students? 

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