{case study} from making curtains to crafting clothing

summary

Allison started with only very basic sewing skills
and after a week in my studio, left wearing a hand-crafted skirt
that she had made herself, under my direction.

backstory

I live in a school.

See, there’s this wonderful private school
that is housed in two big 100-year-old houses.
The third floor of one of them
isn’t usable for classroom space,
but it makes for a nice little studio and apartment.
My studio and apartment.

I’m sort of an artist-in-residence,
so when one of the students
decided to do her senior project on fashion and sewing,
I became a part of her education.

Every afternoon for about a week,
Allison climbed the stairs to my studio
and worked on a project that was, quite frankly,
too big for her.

At least, it would have been too big for her
if I had handed it to her all at once.

I’ve taught people before
and I am not usually content
to hand them a project they can handle.
If I did that, why would they need me?

I want to push the limits of my students’ ability
and I want to show them that they can do more than they think.

I present my students with one step at a time,
sometimes even breaking down a single step into micro-steps.
As they focus on making each step firm and confident,
they find at the end that they’ve climbed a mountain.

This was my goal for Allison:
that she would accomplish something too big for her
and that she would learn to do it well.

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problem

I had a basic working knowledge of hand stitching and how to use a sewing machine, but I had never made anything that required more than stitching one straight line.
— Allison

I had a limited amount of time with Allison;
by the time we were able to get together,
her graduation was fast-approaching.

She had been working on her senior project all year,
learning the basics of sewing,
and had accomplished a simple project:
curtains for her bedroom.

Allison was planning to go to college to study fashion design
in the coming year,
so although the skills she learned while making curtains
would be helpful,
what she really needed to learn was how to make clothes.

She thought this was out of her reach,
but I knew it wasn’t.

solution

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I had been developing the {classic wrap skirt}
in the time leading up to my meetings with Allison,
and I was confident that this was the sort of project
that would allow me to teach her
the skills she would need.

I didn’t allow her to be overwhelmed
by describing the entire process of making the skirt
or all the skills she would need to learn.

Instead, I simply explained the first step,
and then the next,
and then the next.

Each one taken alone was simple,
even if it was something she’d never done before.

Beyond teaching Allison to sew,
I wanted to share some of my knowledge of design with her
and help her to develop her own design process.

After all, she was planning to study fashion design,
and this senior project was supposed to be preparation for that.

This is another reason the {classic wrap skirt}
was a perfect choice for this project.

She would have to make design decisions,
like what length of skirt she wanted,
and which techniques to use.
She would also be making this skirt
from her measurements,
not using a pattern created by someone else,
but drawing the shape of her skirt directly onto the fabric,
so she got a taste of what it’s like to create her own pattern.
(This is the method I teach in the {classic wrap skirt} book.)

outcome

Jordan’s teaching style was clear and enthusiastic. It is evident that she has a passion for what she does and for teaching. When I made a mistake she didn’t just tell me how to fix it, she explained why it would cause problems in the finished project.
— Allison

In working with Allison,
my focus was not so much on the finished product -
the skirt she would be able to wear at the end of it.
My focus was on using the skirt as a tool
to make Allison into a skilled artisan.

At the end of our meetings,
Allison had a skirt,
but more than that,
she is now someone who can hand-craft beautiful clothing.

This skirt that she created is evidence of this!

Her skirt doesn’t so much look “homemade,” as "hand-crafted,"
partially because of the care that Allison took in creating it,
and partially because of the materials and techniques that she used.

Instead of looking for a cheap fabric,
I guided Allison in selecting something she would love to wear.
Instead of taking the quickest, easiest route to making a skirt,
I guided her through a professional process.

Because of our attention to detail,
Allison now has a beautiful, hand-crafted garment
that reflects her new identity as an artisan-in-the-making.

reflection

Allison was a joy to work with.
She was diligent, and worked hard to accomplish her goals
both while she was in my studio,
and as she did “homework” between visits.

It was wonderful to dive back into the world of teaching sewing.
I’m looking forward to teaching more students,
whether in person, through blog articles,
or through my book!

I would not change a thing about my experience. The steps were easy to follow and I always knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing. ...If you have any desire to learn to sew at all, just do it. You will learn so much in a short amount of time and reaching the end goal is so rewarding.
— Allison