Sunday, February 12, 2017

Tips for Quilting Class Success for Students

I am a quilter and have been enjoying sewing and quilting since I was a very small child. I was lucky to have enjoyed two really important sewing mentors, my lovely and highly talented Mother, Marie, who sewed most of her clothes and mine in the the sixties and early seventies, and Priscilla Hill, my 4-H group leader. It is because of these two women that I still love to sew today and also enjoy teaching others to sew and quilt.

Yes, I am a long arm quilter, but I also teach quilting technique classes so others can learn how to expand their quilting technique skills. On occasion, I take classes from others and I always try to be a good student and respectful of their techniques, even when they differ from mine. However, last weekend, I was "the bad student" in a bag making class being taught by a really super nice and special friend. I apologized to her for both bad behaviors and she was very gracious. But I thought it might be fun to share my personal experience with you today and make you aware of how your own bad behavior might impact your own learning experience during a quilting class which you paid to attend.

1). Be on time! Plan ahead, pack the car the night before if necessary, but show up before the start time of the class and get set up. I'm embarrassed to admit, I did not do this last Saturday and I was running 15-20 minutes late. I did text msg the group to let them know I was running late so they didn't worry, but I certainly did not expect them to wait for me to arrive and get set up to start class. Yes, stuff happens that makes us late. In this case, my little dog didn't want to go out for her morning walk and when I finally got her dressed and outside, it was the slowest walk we've ever taken. I guess she knew I was going to be gone all day and maybe it was her way of rebelling. Or maybe she just wasn't feeling great that morning. Either way, it was an unanticipated delay that made me late. I should have gotten up earlier to ensure I was ahead of schedule, just in case. There is nothing more rude to your fellow students than showing up an hour late and then expecting the instructor to stop, back up start over and catch you up because you were late. I did not do this, but I have had students who did in the past.

2). Get the supply list as soon as you sign up for the class and read it. Plan ahead! Ask questions to the shop, program director or the instructor if you have any questions about what an item is or where it can be purchased if you don't own it already. Make sure you have all of the supplies packed and ready to take to class. If there is prep cutting, pressing or other work to be done, do it before class. Your instructor has timed each step of the process to ensure the length of the class is appropriate to perform the work. You can't comfortably fit 8 hours of work into a 4 hour class. Do the prep work ahead.

3). Make sure your sewing machine is in good working order and you know how to use it. Clean and oil it before you take it to class and insert a new needle so its sewing well. I do perform regular maintenance on all my sewing machines. Here is another place I failed miserably. I took my 35 year old 1090 to class and about 1 hour in, it stopped working. It was a mechanical problem, the needle bar stopped functioning properly, but this prevented me from being able to finish my bag during class. I was very fortunate that Amy, the teacher, also ad a Bernina and allowed me to use it during class so I could try and keep up. I was embarrassed to have to ask her if I could use it. While I could not have foreseen a machine failure, I have had this happen to several students over the years and it can be very difficult to complete class if your machine breaks down. This machine had been in for a tuneup a few months back. My other machine was in the shop for repair. Some folks show up with a borrowed machine they have no clue how to thread or use. It is not the instructor's job to help you figure it out if you don't know how to use the machine. She is there to teach everyone so make sure you are well prepared and know how to operate, thread and work your machine. Always bring the manual with you, just in case. While I don't mind helping folks out that have machine issues, I will only do it if time allows and everyone else in class is happily sewing away without needing "hands-on" help. I am sure that it made the teachers day more stressful having someone else use her machine so she wasn't able to use it to demo steps whenever she needed. She never let it show!

4). If you are working with a printed pattern, read the pattern and understand the construction process ahead of class. Doing this will help you understand what to expect and identify any questionable areas for the instructor. I am always amazed at how many people never read the instructions or patterns. That said, some patterns are very poorly written and hard to follow. This is where your instructor will be able to help everyone work through the technique. I often change things up from what the pattern calls for because I see an easier, faster or better way to do something. I will always show you the shortcuts if I find them.

5). Wind your bobbins ahead of class. I find it very distracting having to listen to the clunk, clunk, wizzing whirl of bobbins being wound while I am walking class through the steps or providing verbal instructions. Keep in mind that some people are hard of hearing and the noise from winding bobbins can prevent them from hearing something important. Did you know you can use a snipped off drinking straw on your spool pin and it will reduce the noise?

6). Bring paper and pen to take note during class. This is crucial because not everything is written down for you handouts and if you go home and don't pick up the project for a week or two or even months later, you won't remember. Even if you finish the project during class, the notes will be there should you decide to make it again down the road.

7). Always pack a power strip and extension cord with your machine. Electrical outlets may be hard to access and the surge protection the power strip provides may help you from frying the electronics in your sewing machine during class should there be a electrical current fluctuation.

8). Take pictures with your phone. This can help you after class particularly if there are repetitive tasks involved and you want to remember how you did something. Ask permission from the teacher and fellow students if you photograph their work to make sure it's okay to take pictures, especially if you intend to share them online. There are ladies who do not want their pictures taken or photos of their work shared on social media. Be respectful!

9). Try not to monopolize the instructor's attention. By all means, ask questions and ask for help, but recognize that if there are 20 students in a class, each one of them should get some individual time with the instructor. We all learn differently and in large classes, the skill levels will likely vary greatly. Sometimes its worthwhile to get up and walk around, see what others are doing, and listen to your instructor helping someone else. No question is a stupid question and everyone should have the opportunity to have them answered during class. If you have a question, it's possible there are others there that have that same question. speak up and ask!

10). Pay attention to what the instructor has to say. While it's fine to visit and chat and laugh with your fellow students during the class, try and be polite and stop talking and listen. Please pause sewing if your machine is loud when they are speaking. Sometimes the instructor will share a really important tip and if your jabbering with your neighbor's and not paying attention you'll both miss it. Sometimes the teacher might be losing their voice and can't project loudly, so it's as important to engage your ears.


No one is perfect, least of all me! I hope this post today will give you some ideas on how to get the most out of your sewing classroom experiences. I love teaching and getting to know my students. I also love it when they send me pictures of things they made using the techniques they learned in my classes.

Happy stitching!

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