Be a Better Craft Teacher: Final Thoughts on Teaching

on October 27 | in Be a Better Craft Teacher, Sewing Classes, Small Business Ideas | by | with 2 Comments

Deborah is brilliant, right?! She’s able to take really complex information– the nitty-gritty of teaching and learning– and make it accessible, understandable and attainable. It’s clear Deborah Moebes of Whipstitch is a talented educator, both in her online and in-person classes and here in her fabulous Be a Better Craft Teacher series. (She even throws macramé into the mix for fun!)

Today Deborah wraps up the series with some final, powerful thoughts about teaching and creating. Enjoy!

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Be a Better Craft Teacher: Conclusion

Teaching is an enormously powerful tool. When you lead a class, you have the influence to guide them to love something or to hate it, to feel confident or discouraged, to connect with others or to suffer isolation. It is not hyperbole to emphasize the tremendous responsibility that goes along with that power. We’re all so very fortunate to be living and creating in a time when craft is exploding in growth, and when people from all ages and backgrounds and parts of the world are discovering how awesome it is to create with their own two hands. As a craft teacher, you are an integral part of that and I encourage you here at the end of this series to be deliberate and thoughtful about what that means.

At the outset, teaching can seem like a natural extension of the love so many of us have for what we do. I love sewing; it was my escape when I was working my way through school, and it gave me a chance to engage wholly in an activity to the exclusion of all my other worries and anxieties. Sewing has represented a staple activity in my family, and each stitch is an active connection to my mother and my grandmother. I love the idea that I am leaving a legacy behind for my own children and grandchildren, a legacy of actions and creations and memories and investment. When we teach, it can be easy to forget what drew us to the craft in the first place because there are so many other plates in the air: planning and analyzing and evaluating and maybe even some tap dancing here and there.

Don’t forget. Don’t forget why you love it. Because that reason– the reason you came to love it at the very beginning, the reasons you stay with it day after day and sometimes failed attempt after tragic outcome– that reason is the SAME reason that someone new is discovering it today. They want to feel that connectedness to others, to their own past and to folks today who see the world the same way they do. They want to find that craft that will occupy their whole mind, satisfy them on deep levels and reward them for the time they invest. Their love and desire for all those things is fresh and new; it’s a tiny rivulet of water just whetting their fingertips. As a teacher, you have the power to turn that rivulet into a mighty flood and who knows where that will lead?

If you have memories of a mother or grandmother or aunt or great-grandmother sewing things for your family, she learned from someone. The quilts or christening gowns or other treasured family heirlooms she created exist because someone taught her, patiently and carefully, how to sew them. We are creating the same bond, and our actions as teachers go so far beyond the students we see in front of us. It’s this very fine, very fragile and very far-reaching web of interconnectedness that sits just beyond the range of light that our eyes can perceive, but it is something we each feel deeply. How else can we explain the satisfaction we receive from making a gift and giving it away? Or the desire so many of us feel to craft in community? Or the incredible power of discovering a handmade article passed down through the generations? Each student you touch– each life you inspire– carries that momentum along and plants that seed in another life, by creating more memories.

I’m not usually a sticky-gooey, touchy-feely kind of girl, but I believe all of this to the core of my being. I think the power of teaching lies in the connection between one person and another. Each of us seeks to be inspired and challenged, and craft does that. Each of us seeks to find our place in community with others whose view of the world around us is similar to our own, and craft does that. Teaching craft is an invitation to someone, to join that community and to be inspired and to meet a challenge with creativity and passion.

I am constantly reminded that crafting can change lives, and I don’t mean that metaphorically: I mean, quite literally, that I have taught individuals to sew for whom the act of sewing was revolutionary. I always say that you can’t hide what you’re feeling at the machine, because if you’re angry or frustrated or anxious or frightened it all comes out, whether you want it to or not. That’s true for so many of the creative arts, and so the act of creating is a chance to address those feelings and free them, in a way that many of us don’t get the chance to do in our every day lives. It can be a quiet and rejuvenating place in a fast and careless world. Teaching craft is offering all those things to someone who might not even know that was part of the package; few students have come to me saying they wanted to learn to sew because they have issues they need to work out. They wanted something far more practical, and that’s totally legit. What they got was the whole package, and as they learned more and created more they unpacked those bits a little at a time, as they were ready. Craft meets you where you are, which is why I encourage craft teachers to meet their students where they are. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Having said all that, I don’t tend to take myself too seriously. I don’t burn candles or lead chants or have dried flowers from spiritual hikes tacked to the walls. I don’t preach to my students about the mystical properties of the sewing machine. I do share with them that I think it’s a great place to work out what’s inside you, but for the most part I simply feel honored and delighted to be part of someone’s journey. I want to remember what it is that makes me excited to sit at the sewing machine each morning, after sewing for over 20 years, and to begin again. There is always something new to make, something new to learn, another idea to discover.

If you take anything away from this series, I hope it’s that. Teaching craft is a journey, and learning to craft is a journey. You and your students are both working your way toward your own goals, and for a while, you’re going to do it on the same boat. While you’re on that boat together, make the most of it: be kind, take your time, do good work and make good friends. Plan well for the best outcome, and prepare for the disappointments that help us all to remember what we learned. Consider the needs of others, and be mindful that they’re new to this whole thing, and appreciate your respect and gentle touch.

I think you’ll all be amazed at just how satisfying a class built on those ideas can be, and how you can feel so contented and so inspired at the same time– that you can make absolutely anything, and that whatever you make will be OK. The power of good instruction is that it reminds us we’re all people, and that there is a lot of good in this world, if only we’ll turn our hands to building things instead of tearing them down.

Thanks for being part of this series, all of you, even if you were just reading along. I have seriously enjoyed working through these installments with you, and it has given me so many great chances to have amazing conversations and to evaluate my own classes and ideas. Thanks to Beth and Kristin at Sew Mama Sew for inviting and hosting me, and many, many happy wishes to all the teachers and students out there— go forth, y’all, and make amazing classes together!

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2 Responses to Be a Better Craft Teacher: Final Thoughts on Teaching

  1. Myrto says:

    Thank you so much for all your articles on teaching, I am teaching quilting since the early 90’s and I have learned that the more you give to your students the more you get from them–my best friends in life are among them! I feel so blesses that I had the opportunity to meet all these people.
    Love, Myrto

  2. I have thoroughly loved this series! I’m a primary (elementary) teacher by trade, so it was good to learn that all those skills are totally transferable to teaching quilting! Thank you so much for sharing with us.

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