wondering about workshops

My local library asked me if I would organize a hands-on quilting workshop that would be open to the public.  I accepted the invitation immediately because I love the idea of getting more people excited about sewing .  I did a good amount of public speaking when I worked abroad, so I’m not nervous about getting up in front of a group of people I don’t know.  But it did occur to me just now that there is one big gap in my credentials.  I have never led a quilting workshop before, nor  have I ever participated in one. Hrmmm.  To loosely quote a new knitting friend: I believe in the endless powers of google and coffee to figure most things out.  Beyond the basic foundations of sewing that my mom provided when I was young, I am largely self-taught.  {Or shall I say internet-taught?}

I wondered if anyone who has either led or participated in such an event would be willing to offer any advice?  Format, length, logistics etc? Things you like/dislike about workshops? The event will take place on a weekday evening.  We will have a good number of sewing machines available for use.  I don’t want to do a ton of talking because I’d rather dive right into the making.   I imagine I would do a brief introduction with visuals {Pecha Kucha style?} then get people started on sewing a few very basic blocks, like rail fence or maybe log cabin.  I thought it might be both fun and convenient to skip the rotary cutting.  We could simply use scissors or tear fabric.  {The added bonus would be that I wouldn’t have to worry about finding the time and space to use rotary mats and cutters.} By the end of the class, everyone will have had the chance to create a little bit of patchwork.  If the workshop goes well and there is demand for a follow-up session, I could potentially organize another one to cover other important aspects of the craft.

Any advice? I’m all ears!  Thanks in advance.

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13 thoughts on “wondering about workshops

  1. What about having a bunch of precut pieces for rail fence? That way you really wouldn’t have to worry about any of that – just have a bunch of pieces all the same size, and with just a few seams, you could have four little blocks to make a doll quilt. i think that’s much easier than messing with cutting, etc.

    however, i’m also of the “google and coffee” mentality, so i’ve never taught anyone outside my own craft room. therefore, a grain of salt is needed when reading this comment!!

  2. I think at a log cabin potholder would work well. Quick and easy and small, but you could still cover all the steps of quilting.

  3. I think the precutting idea Laurel gave is great, as long as you don’t mind doing so much prework. And anything based on log cabin is great. It’s eay, but immediatly gives the impression they have done something out of the ordinary sewing. If there would be a follow up session, then you could go into the different ways of cutting.

  4. Before I read the other comments, it occurred to me that precut strips were the answer! You could then concentrate on how to create some basic traditional blocks…or even modern ones. Maybe a couple of precut squares would be nice, too, for making a few star blocks with HST’s. Good luck! {I think people would rather learn layout than cutting at first.}

  5. You could check out an online quilting class through Craftsy – they seem to choose excellent instructors, and you can get a sense for what’s a reasonable outcome.

  6. I had a similar workshop experience a few years ago at the Flint Museum of Art when they had an exhibit of Gee’s Bend quilts. Several of the ladies from Gee’s Bend conducted a workshop on hand sewing Housetop blocks. It was one of the pivotal experiences in my 20 years of quilting.

    We were shown a couple tables mounded with Goodwill rejects and told to pick out two contrasting fabrics. I chose a pair of corduroy pants and a flannel shirt. We then snipped and tore strips of the fabric into roughly equal widths. Some students cut the strips with their scissors. We cut out a square of material, roughly 4×4, and starting hand sewing the contrasting strips of fabric all the way around it. Each round was a different fabric. Obviously, scrappiness is encouraged.

    The workshop was only a couple hours long. It took about 15 minutes to explain what was going to happen and about another 15 minutes for people to pick their fabric and settle down to cutting and sewing. Everyone was smiling in no time and chatting with each other while they sewed. By the end, people were reluctant to go and seemed pretty geeked about what they had accomplished.

    It was liberating for me and I think it was important to have used Goodwill clothes because it all looked great together. Quilting fabric is so expensive these days that beginners are terrified to cut into yardage for fear of making a mistake. For the price of one yard of quilting fabric, you can buy 2-3 men’s shirts and get 3+ yards of usable fabric. If I had it to do over again, I would have chosen two shirting materials because it would have been easier to sew. As it was, I ended up piecing the rest by machine just because I was so excited to get it done. It’s still one of my favorite quilts.

    I’ve taught a few quilting and knitting classes over the years and am always amazed at how much distraction a couple of students can cause for the entire class. There are always a couple people who are either work too fast so they have to hog the teacher’s time to fix their mistakes or who are really insecure and won’t move ahead unless you hold their hand. People who’ve never operated a sewing machine will be stressed about breaking it somehow and it’s unusual for a newbie to sew a straight line, so I’d definitely offer hand sewing as an option. The Gee’s Bend workshop made me realize how isolated students are when they are sewing by machine. They have to concentrate so much on what they are doing, that they don’t engage with each other as much. The noise level is much different, too.

    Give them plenty of examples to look at in class that are photos, but ones they can touch, too. I love handouts with bibliographies, Internet resources, local sewing/quilting supply shops, etc. Encourage them to help each other out and to see what everyone else is doing. Be sure to stop by each person and compliment them on their choice of colors, technique, etc. and remind them they can have their own style and don’t have to copy exactly what you did to be a success. Take a class picture with everyone holding their block (regardless of completion) and offer to email it to them. They will be able to see other students work as future inspiration.

  7. Oh my gosh I love your photo, it’s like a delicious, colorful abstract painting! If only I could attend!! I think you’ve gotten great advice. My only suggestion is to be clear about what you are offering – will it be something for novice quilters (sort of a beginner class) or will it be more about improvisational quilting where experienced (and novice) quilters can try their hand at something new? I’m just thinking experienced quilters wouldn’t necessarily need or want basic information like how to iron their seams, what kind of thread to use, etc. But if they were beginners or had never done any sewing/quilting they would need more of that basic info.

  8. Sounds like you are getting some great advice already. As a teacher myself i would add the following: what you may consider to be ‘basic knowledge’ may not be so for your audience. Especially since you are self-taught, things that come naturally to you may not for others. Keep it simple and jovial. It’s a sewing lesson, they are there to have fun. Share your passion!

  9. Lots of good advice, ladies! Let us know how it goes. You can put everyone in the class at ease and take the pressure off yourself by letting them know that while you’ve made a zillion quilts, it’s your first time teaching. I am sure you will be well received and appreciated.

  10. I haven’t been here in awhile, so first I’ll mention that I’m digging the new blog format! And I totally congratulate you on the upcoming workshop — I hope it leads to many exciting opportunities. (I think you said the school is also starting a textile room or something like that, right? Sounds amazing.) I haven’t attended any workshops before, but you sound like a very logical, organized and professional-sounding lady, so I think it’s bound to be a smash! My dad teaches a continuing ed course and finds it much easier with each passing semester, and he says that you yourself learn a lot in teaching the things that you would normally take for granted. Hope to hear about what a great experience it is!

  11. Your workshop may have already happened, but I do think giving the audience some sort of precut pieces is heIlpful. Only to help with time and frustration on accurate cutting. I think its awesome that you were asked, and I know you’ll teach great things!

    I really love the new look over here, by the way! It’s so clean!

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