Monday, February 8, 2016

55: Styles and Methods of Teaching Sewing

for 4-H, Industry, Traditional College, 
Continuing Professional Education College Courses, 
and various other situations 

(For information about private lessons, see the previous post, below.)

Ask me my profession and I will tell you that I am a production patternmaker. But what I really do is teach others the skills I learned in the design rooms and factories where I worked in the industry. I have taught these skills to children in 4-H, to adults through the Extension Service, to fashion degree students and professional education adults at Philadelphia University. I have used, and continue to use a variety of teaching methods and styles, depending on the situation. In this educational issue I will share with you those teaching styles and methods I have used successfully, and that I have found to be consistently reliable. I am including where I found them to be most effective.

Sunday School- The “Keep the Hands Busy” Method: Excellent method when working with
My 4-H Clover Club worked very hard. Quite a difference
from my first teaching experience.
hyperactive children. My first teaching experience was at 13 when my pastor reluctantly allowed me to teach a Sunday school class of four 8-year-old, hyperactive boys that included my spoiled-brat cousin. No one else would volunteer, so I was it. We would whiz through the Bible story and get right into coloring, cutting out, gluing and pasting, folding and framing. This method could be adapted for 4-H with folding fabrics and organizing them by color, sorting buttons and stringing them, etc., marking, cutting, and sewing long strips of 2-inch wide muslin on gauge – also used in the factories to teach new workers gauge sewing. Be aware that this type of student gets finished very fast and once done is intentionally or unintentionally apt to turn to annoying his neighbor. So, when confronted with this situation, be totally organized and take at least twice, maybe three times the amount of projects you think you will need. You may still run out of work for the class, but at least it will take longer before you do.

Cub Scouts- The “Field Trip” Method: Field trips work. One trip can yield education the equal of an entire series of classroom lessons. My slightly out of it, artistic, creative little cubs needed field trips, not arts and crafts. So for two years I arranged weekly field trips to awaken them to the world around them. The field trips included visiting Villanova University to see the stars through their telescope, traveling to the University of Pennsylvania’s Archaeology Museum to learn about Indian artifacts, visiting the Pottery Barn in Oreland to learn how a small factory processes items for shipping, and attending a St. Thomas’ carillon concert on the lawn with a visit up into the bell tower later where, with a little help, the cubs played Three Blind Mice on the carillon bells.

Adult Continuing Education- The “KISS Field Trip” Method: When organizing field trips, Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. If possible avoid the rent a bus method. On the morning of a field trip to New York City, my Adult Continuing Ed. students board the 6:37 a.m. R7 train out of Chestnut Hill at the station most convenient for them, walk to the last car on the train, and join our group. Once in the Trenton station we buy round trip tickets for New York. It’s cheap, it’s lots of fun, it requires almost no planning, and if for some reason someone can’t go that morning, she just doesn’t get on the train. With no chartered bus, all are also free to go home earlier, or to complete some errand independent of the group. And no one has to collect money, or worry about who won’t show up.

The “Boy Scout” Method – Be Prepared:  Den 6 had many adventures. But that was because nothing was unprepared or left to chance. Keeping a schedule of weekly field trips that of necessity were on various days of the week required putting all directives in writing so all knew what was needed, what they were expected to do, and when they were expected to do it. Today I continue to make sure I have lesson plans written and in place, right on my desk or workstation. Communication is vital. I put directives in writing. I e-mail my students, often through the week, to keep all on track. I always answer the phone when it rings to avoid wasting time playing phone tag. I haul into class whatever is needed in a 30-gallon plastic box strapped onto luggage wheels to make my classroom supplies easier to move. I park as close to the classroom door as possible and use my car as a closet the entire time a course is running, so I can’t forget anything on class day. And I data base all students and keep it current.

The 4-H rosette,
awarded for outstanding work.
4-H Methods: 4-H is the children’s division of the Extension Service, implemented to each county through land grant state colleges under the Department of Agriculture. The Extension Service was originally set up to provide our country’s farmers with educational support to improve agriculture. Programs were added later: home economics for the farmer’s wife, 4-H for the children. 4-H is the world’s largest youth organization and the model for many other youth organizations throughout the world.
My 4-H Clover Club in three years, at ages 11 and 12, while still in the junior division, completed all ten levels in the Pennsylvania 4-H Clothing and Textiles Program, earning Clovers ( huge green rosettes) and perfect scores for their work. The reason they were so successful is because they worked very hard, and because I taught them industrial methods. 

The “Sit On Them” Method: (4-H jargon) This involves guiding the learner/worker step-by-step through the procedure(s). It can be used in almost any situation where a student or trainee needs considerable instruction and support. Often combined with a prior demonstration, the teacher sits or stands next to the student, instructing and overseeing each procedure, step-by-step. This one-on-one, step-by-step method is extremely effective for two reasons: One- the new learner has maximum support and Two- success is guaranteed. It is used with 4-H members ages 8 to about 12, to supplement classroom instruction, to train one-on-one in the factories, and is the format for industrial training videos that teach the use of, or repair of, complicated machinery. 4-H leaders often combine this method with child swapping. For example: I get nowhere when I try to teach my daughter. How does it go with you and your daughter? Want to swap?

The “4-H Critique” method:  The Extension Service teaches its 4-H leaders to critique the children with four compliments for each criticism.  Because criticisms, no matter how softly or carefully spoken, sound like screams to the person being criticized; and compliments sound like whispers; the criticism is slipped in between two compliments on either end. I can’t over emphasize the value of this method; it works well in every situation.

The “Teaching Through Self-Criticism” Method: This is another highly effective 4-H method. The leader asks the child: Tell me about what you are making/have made. What is good, and what could be better? Note the lack of any negative. The child then discusses her work and how she can make it better. Usually the child knows what is wrong and may know what should be done. The leader then shows the child how to correct her work.

In conclusion, always tell the truth, especially when critiquing. Even children know what isn’t quite right about their projects, so saying it is right when it isn’t undermines one’s credibility. Praise only when it is deserved, but praise and encourage as much as possible. Sometimes it is hard to find anything that can be praised, but there is always something. I have found that sensitive critiquing methods are the best choice for both children and adults. When critiquing adults, I keep in mind that they, deep inside, are really children at heart.

Transition to Teaching in Traditional College: A few days before Christmas 1989 the phone rang. Philadelphia University was on the line, and I was asked to teach a new, introductory sewing course in Philadelphia University’s fashion program. The University had learned about my 4-H Clover Club’s success, I had critiqued a couple of Philadelphia University’s fashion classes, and they needed a professor who could teach high-end design room sewing. So there I was in January of 1990 standing in front of two classes of college students who knew no more about sewing than I knew about getting them through the course. I was well prepared with an extended syllabus and a new sample book I had developed at lightening speed over the holidays. But I was teaching in college, and I had never finished my degree. I was a nervous wreck.

Before I tell you my methods for teaching in a traditional college program, which may come across as pretty rough, you need to know that the students signed up for my classes droves, and loved me to death. My classes were always full, and my students recommended my courses to other students. It was quite common for students to wait a semester or so to get into my classes. I taught two courses in the traditional program. The first I developed, the second I wrote and developed. The most important aspect of any college course is the syllabus – Latin for lesson plans. All courses I have written since are based on the syllabus I developed for that course.

Teaching in college is tricky, it doesn’t pay much, and it is a lot of work. Developing a syllabus that not only works well with the students, but will also catch any student’s trick(s) to get around the course, can take 5 years, which was the case with this course. A syllabus is often five or six single-spaced pages long; as it must explain the purpose of the course, the grading system, the penalties for work not done, a day-by-day listing of the class work, a supply list, and anything else the professor feels important to the course and wants the students to be aware of. I kept notes throughout each session’s run that, after each semester, I used to upgrade the syllabus. In that first course, each student made a lined skirt with a zipper, a long sleeve blouse with convertible collar, and a sample book of zippers, hems, etc.

Teaching college students convinced me that children, even 19-year-old coeds, need discipline, and are glad when it is put in place and enforced. I believe the discipline I put in place was the underlying reason my courses were so popular and so successful. As a parent of college age children myself, I felt I had an unwritten agreement with my students’ parents – they sent their children to me to be educated and it was my responsibility to fulfill that obligation.

I still believe, however, that the more effective way to teach college students is to tell them that they don’t even need to come to class, that attendance won’t be taken, and that all that matters is that the final exams be passed and/or the material required to pass the course be turned in at the end of the semester. That policy puts the responsibility on the student, requiring her to shape up or out she goes. Since college is about training leaders, that policy also quickly determines who the leaders are. Anyway, that is what I was told at Syracuse University where I grew up fast, quickly realizing that if I didn’t do the work or attend class I wasn’t going to stay on campus for very long. That policy with the undergraduates was frowned on at Philadelphia University, so I never used it until I began teaching adult education.

First of all, forget the Socratic method. Socrates, considered by many to be the greatest teacher who ever lived, said that the teacher should wait for the student to ask the question. That is a very good idea because the only students one can teach are those who want to learn. But that method doesn’t always work, and can be suicidal for one’s career, if teaching college sophomores. Just in case you are wondering, I never tried it.

The “Cut Down the Material in the Course So They can do It” Method: Thinking sewing would be easy for the students to learn, I had added supplemental material to that first course. Two weeks into the course, still a nervous wreck. I had the students hand in their sample books. Their work was so awful I immediately dropped all supplemental materials from the course and promptly forgot all about being nervous. It was time to get those kids to work, and work is just what they did.
When the University critiqued my students’ and my work by examining their sample books, the books were considered to be outstanding.

The “Fear, Love, and Bribe” Method: This method is phenomenal when used with traditional sophomore college classes. It is especially effective when combined with a schedule that requires students to submit all work to date, four to five times
throughout the semester.

Fear: On the classroom wall I had taped up a cartoon of a mean black cat. Under the picture was the comment: I have PMS, and a handgun. Any questions? I would start each semester by telling the class: This is a VERY DIFFICULT course (This has to be true, of course), with way too much work. Take a good look at your schedule. Make sure you have the extra time this course will require. It’s going to be tough, but I  will get you through it. I don’t know any of you yet, so I am going to say this to all of  you now: Be aware that if any of you hand in work that isn’t your own, I will take you to student court. I’ve done it in the past, and I will do it again! And if you are sitting there really frightened, I’m not talking to you. But if you are thinking, ‘Oh, that is a big bluff. She would never do that –’ then you are the one who had better listen, because it
is YOU I am talking to. Then I would tell them: I do NOT grade on the curve. If everyone of you produces A work, then every one of you will get an A. On the other hand, if every one of you does dreadful work, then every one of you will fail. I told them that to prevent the class collectively doing nothing, forcing me to pass most of them anyway.

Love: Then I continued: It hasn’t happened yet, but I would love THIS class to be the first class where every single student in it aced the class. Gentle Reader – Believe me, this kind of talk REALLY works with college students! I also called them pet names, such as sweetheart, darling, honey – it took time for me to become comfortable with this, but they responded so well when I did it, that I continued the practice. They missed their mothers and their mothers’ endearments. Any student who came into class sick was immediately sent home – not the usual practice in college. If they had to be late because their prior class was on the other campus, they were excused from being registered as tardy. I had the class do lab work for twenty or more minutes before starting the demos. The day’s work was written on the blackboard so I didn’t have to repeat it for students who arrived late.

The first day of class I took everyone’s picture, each holding a paper with her name printed in big letters. This has proven to be so invaluable I have continued it with every class since. Years later, if a former student calls, I can find her picture in
minutes and remember who she is. It also enabled me to learn their names quickly, giving me almost immediate control of the classroom. One student, when asking me to recommend her for a scholarship a second time, told me she hated to ask me
again, but I was the only professor she had who knew her name. [She received both scholarships based on my recommendations, and I was happy to recommend her again.] I laced the course with encouragement. I praised all achievement. I was honest, but careful to protect feelings when giving criticisms.

Bribe: I implemented a grading system so intimidating and complex that I was probably the only person on the planet who could understand it. As written in the syllabus the grading system made complete sense. It was only in actual practice
that one became confused as to how the thing worked. I knew the students were lost in it because the syllabus said that 2 points would be deducted from the final grade for each sample not in the sample book at the last evaluation. The students
never seemed to realize that if a really tough sample – such as one of the industrial zipper sets – was not done only 2 points would come off the final grade. Often little samples that were no effort would be missing, while all of the zipper sets would be done.

The “Work-in-Progress Evaluation” Method: It is necessary to be positive with all students, and that is especially true when teaching college students. So, with the exception of the sample book that almost all of my students would not have done without strong motivation, I never took grades away. Instead, I started my students out at the beginning of the semester with 0 points out of 100. They earned 2 points toward their final grade for each review with all work, no matter how awful, done to date. With that exception, all grades were temporary. Each time they handed in their work, they were given a temporary grade so they had some idea of how they were doing in the course. The grade was always lower than it would be when the course was finished because new work, added since the last critique, needed to be fixed. I allowed all students to do any of their work over, as many times as they wished, to get their grade higher. Many of my students probably made every single sample in their sample books three or more times.

The “Tutoring” Method:  Because most of the students were learning new concepts -industrial fashion design is a low level engineering discipline laced with math- tutoring was essential for many if they were to pass the course, and because my courses were so popular, I always had way too many students to give much individual time. Here were some of the problems: Some had never seen anyone sew at a sewing machine before entering my class. Most knew nothing about sewing. Those who did had to be moved over from home sewing to industrial sewing – and because they had to unlearn so much, and because they may have won lots of awards with their home sewing prior to coming to college, they were the most difficult to teach and the most easily upset. It was quite common for students not to own sewing machines. Some also had psychological problems that needed attention. Fortunately the University had a good counseling service that worked well with whatever private service might already be in place for the student. Each semester I would watch to see who the best students were. At the end of the course I would ask the best of them if she/they would want to tutor the next semester. It was quite common for my outstanding former students to tutor some of their closest friends, which they would have done anyway, but now they got paid for doing it.

The “Fashion Industry’s Critique” Method: Used throughout the industry to determine a product’s sales feasibility, the fastest and most effective way to teach any student how to evaluate her work is to ask her: Would you buy it?

The “Grading System” Method:  The first semester I taught I asked an experienced professor who had befriended me, how to determine my students’ grades. This is how I carried out the method she recommended: In the beginning I would take all
work home. Then I went through it and put the very best in one pile, and the very worse in another. I then put the worse of what was left next to the really worse; and the best of what was left next to the really best. The remaining work I put in the
middle.  So now I had an A pile, a B, a C, a D, and possibly an F pile. Then I went through each student’s work, writing notes about what was good and what needed improving on a sheet of paper with that student’s name on it. Some work, under closer inspection, moved up or down a grade or part of a grade. In the beginning I think I removed names to be sure I was fair.

Once I had done this several semesters, it got a lot easier. Now I could grade on the spot. From then on I never took any student work home. When a student brought her work to me for critique and grading, she and I went through it together, I wrote what needed to be done on a sheet of paper, copied it in the office, put a grade on it, wrote the grade in my book, and the student took her copy and work with her. When I tallied up the grades, I converted all projects’ grade letters to numbers and gave each project’s number the percentage listed on the syllabus; did the math, and then the numerical answer was converted back to a letter grade. If at all possible I passed the students. I found that having a hard working student repeat the course yielded no greater success the second time through, than had been achieved the first time. I rarely flunked a student, and worked very hard with a student at risk to try to prevent it. If the student worked really hard, but the work was absolutely awful anyway, I gave a D.

The “Finish Early” Method: The first day in class students were told that as soon as they had finished the work in the course and I had graded it, they didn’t need to come to class. I finished all demos in the course several weeks before the end of the course. The bright students finished early, of course, freeing me to work with the remaining students who needed more help.

The Professor’s Critique of Course Success: Professors need to be able to evaluate their own work as well as that of their students. I learned from the other professors that: On the first day in a traditional college classroom it is assumed that the professor knows all and the students know nothing. Mid-way in the course the professor and students should be exchanging information. By the end of the course the students should be telling the professor. A few months or longer after the course if my A and some of my B students were now showing me various design and technical solutions they had discovered or designed, I knew I had taught them well.

Postscript: My students never seemed to realize that the professor who promised to get them through it had intentionally developed the course to work them to death, and that was why it was so difficult. The industry is tough; my students needed to get used to it. The course difficulty also enabled the students to do well in subsequent courses. And if they transferred, or went into industry, they were well trained, disciplined, and prepared.

Non-traditional education- Continuing Professional Education: I was already involved with writing fashion instructions prior to teaching traditional college classes. I had taken the teaching position to classroom test what I had been writing and to research the college market. Once in the college classroom, it became glaringly apparent to me that better fashion textbooks were desperately needed. Although the other professors and I searched the market, little was in place that was usable. But the work with the degree students was so intense, I was unable to both teach and write books.

Teaching in Continuing Professional Education gave me
more time to write and more freedom with course content.
Then a golden opportunity fell into my lap. The University asked if I might want to teach some Continuing Professional Education fashion courses. This would give me more time to write and more freedom with course content. Since no one was teaching fashion courses in Continuing Education, I could set up the content and write the courses any way I chose. Because these courses wouldn’t be for a traditional program, there would be no concern on the part of the University about whether or not the courses I wrote would transfer. I would have the time to write my textbooks, I would be able to test my writing in the classroom with adults, and although I would teach fewer classes and make less money, I would still make enough to buy the computers, etc. I needed for my writing. I would also retain the college perks: the credibility, the access to the copy machines and library, etc. that are a part of being on a college faculty. Hopefully adult students would give more feedback than I got from the degree students. That turned out to be the case. The job was PERFECT! Again I was sailing into uncharted waters. I knew little of continuing professional education certificate programs until my students asked that my courses be turned into such a program. I certainly never expected that the course material I would write for that program would become books the industry would recommend and sell on the global market.

Program Focus: Written and designed for home-based entrepreneurs, requiring so little equipment that it could be taught and utilized in third-world situations where electricity might not be available – the program has from the beginning attracted professionals, including design room personnel who want to extend their professional knowledge, and laypersons with considerable sewing experience who want to upgrade their work to professional level. The program presents the three design room methods of obtaining patterns: One- drafting patterns to fit from measurements. Two- taking patterns off ready-made garments with no stitches removed. Three- working with a sizing system, e.g. the Standard Sizing home sewing patterns’ system, to quickly grade that system’s patterns to custom fit and then to modify the styling to personal preference. The students also learn the drafting skills needed to modify their patterns for efficient home or factory production and the sample making- the fabric preparation, spreading, cutting, and sewing skills – needed to produce high-end, hand made garments. Throughout the program the students are learning how, from design concept to finished garment, all of this comes together to produce high-end garments within a reasonable, affordable time frame, whether making one garment at home, or producing samples in the industry. They are also learning how to reproduce their garments in small runs and/or mass-production, if they should desire to do so.

Sample makers sewing wedding gowns that sold for over
$10,000 in the late 1960s.
Many people are unaware that industry not only makes the mass-produced clothing we are all
accustomed to seeing in the stores, but also produces very expensive, beautifully made garments for the wealthy. The same design room skills are used to design and produce garments at all price levels. A company will often use the patterns developed for their high-end lines to also make their inexpensive lines, but the finished garments will be quite different. The differences in the final low-end and high-end products are the results of different fabric qualities, different production methods, and different seamstresses’ skill levels, all determined by bottom line profit projections. Upscale New York stores buy the exclusive rights to these high-end garments at the manufacturer’s fashion show. The garments are then usually cut and sewn in the manufacturer’s designing department as they are ordered by the store’s wealthy preferred customers.

The textbooks are written and are now being copy-edited.
The finished books are for sale on my website.
Students can buy any of the books.
Writing textbooks that answer the right questions: The program started out with a little skirt course in late spring that no one, except me, expected to run. I had done research and knew that although many people had stopped sewing, they would sew if a method were available that produced better results. From the beginning, the courses were very popular. Students often drove two hours to class, coming from as far as Harrisburg, PA and Glassboro, NJ. The students asked for another course, I asked them what they wanted, then I wrote that course. That is how all of the courses in the program came to be. To keep the program going, writing course material was essential. Many weeks I raced down to the campus on Friday afternoon to copy the material I had written during the week, that the students absolutely had to have the next day in class. Eventually the course material, which in the beginning was handed out free, became so extensive, I now had textbooks for sale. I was learning a lot about drafting to individual fit and putting that into the course material. People with difficult fitting problems, many were asymmetrical, found out about the program and took the courses. Fitting my students’ skirts and shirts in the degree program had taught me that approximately one out of about every seventeen people in the general population is asymmetrical enough to require asymmetrical patterns. In my adult courses often one out of every four students is asymmetrical.

Custom fitting a muslin to an individual's fit
makes it possible to grade home sewing patterns to a custom fit.
Only some tracing paper and a transparent ruler are needed.
I continue to determine how to solve my students’ fit problems and in the process am developing a whole series of industrial fitting techniques that can be used in industry and with minimal equipment in the home. There is talk, and some effort, in the industry to produce customized mass-production. But for now, the industry does almost no custom fitting. Each company has its sizing system(s) and all patterns are drafted from slopers – patterns used to make patterns – that are drafted for those measurements.  Without these classroom experiences, I would have written books that probably would have been of little use, for I would have had no way of knowing what the market truly needs, and no way to determine if my books really work in a classroom setting or home-based entrepreneurial business.

Teaching Adults:  To teach adults, one has to know one’s material cold and be able to quickly determine answers to completely unexpected questions. Adults come to the classroom with experiences and expectations that can often be added to that course session’s content. Sometimes a visitor to the room may find it hard to tell who is the teacher and who is the student. Because many do not hesitate to speak their minds, teaching adults requires the ability to take criticism. Adults are not impressed with brownie points – e.g. grades and certificates. They are there to learn, and if they don’t they will not be back.

Handing out new, written material. Adult students are the perfect 
subjects for testing. They ask questions and critique once
they realize I  welcome their feedback. 
In the beginning, even though I had asked my students to please tell me the problems they find in the course materials so I hear them from you rather than from the mass-market when the books are published, it was tough to hear what was wrong with the courses and with the material I was writing. But I reminded myself that that was why I was teaching – I was there for the feedback. And I knew that if I didn’t show that I was upset, I would get that information. With that resolve in place, I listened, changed course content, changed writing, changed anything that the criticism convinced me to change. Because I took that tact, criticism no longer bothers me, various problems have been eliminated from the program, and I am a much better teacher for having listened to the advice. Now when a student tells me what is wrong, I automatically thank her, pick up a pencil and write down the problem or solution, do whatever is needed to correct the problem, and, with the exception of being glad the problem no longer exists, think no more about it. In turn, they are very supportive. It is because of my students’ support that I have continued writing and teaching through the times when I might otherwise have quit.

To my mind, imposing heavy-handed discipline coupled with deadlines on students already on overload with family and job responsibilities is inappropriate in adult education. I believe that my concern should be about my adult students enjoying their educational experiences in my classes, and that I should help them achieve whatever goals they set for themselves when signing up for the program. Whether or not that includes getting the certificate is their decision. The program’s course portfolios are difficult, but if the certificate is important to a student, then it is her responsibility to do the work, course portfolio by course portfolio, that is required to get it. I give her unlimited time to do this.

Students do no sewing in my classes. [Now that I am teaching private lessons they often sew in class.] I have never allowed it because once on the machines the class turns into classes and time is wasted with machinery problems, etc. Instead I have the students watch my demos, following the instructions in their textbooks. The demos are assigned for homework. This gives each student time to work through each demo and the opportunity to determine what she doesn’t understand about it. The next week the students discuss their problems with the assignments and the demos are repeated. All demos in the course are repeated as many times as the students’ request.

Teaching adults is very pleasant. Adult students often become close friends. I still take pictures of students, and as quickly as possible I turn the pictures into a composite sheet with addresses, which I give to all of the students in the class so they can contact each other. I ask first if this is OK. No one has said no yet. Adults in the course sometimes get together during the week to prepare their homework for their upcoming [Saturday] class. In class, after a fit demonstration, it works well to team the class into groups of three students each and have them do the assigned work together. Because, with the exception of one course, students can start the program with any course, new students are put into classes with students experienced with the program. All students are encouraged to informally tutor new students during class labs. The experienced students are usually happy to help the new students, remembering when they were new and helped by their more experienced classmates.

I encourage students to make as many mistakes as possible during the run of the course. I tell them, If you already knew the work in this course you wouldn’t be here. The reason I know and can teach this is because I have made lots of mistakes. That’s how I learned it. There isn’t anything you will do wrong that I haven’t done wrong at some point in the past. The more mistakes you make, the more you will learn. Please help your classmates by sharing your mistakes with them so they can also learn from them. When a student does make a mistake I always first ask her if she will share her mistake with the class. Then she is praised for doing so, and told how much she has helped her classmates. It’s also easier for the students to deal with my critiquing their mistakes because they are encouraged to point out my mistakes in their textbooks-in-progress that I am writing for their courses.

Debie celebrates her successful grading.
Much of my program is about developing a grading/tracing procedure that enables my students to custom grade to fit while tracing home sewing patterns. (Grading is a mathematical drafting procedure that enlarges or reduces a pattern specific, predetermined amount(s).) This allows the clothing to be cut and sewn together without the bother of the traditional fitting process. Custom grading also produces a finished garment that is truer to the original styling than the traditional fitting method. However, since this is a new procedure that is being tested, completely unexpected fit, drafting, and grading problems surface in class all the time.

Many times I can figure out the solution on the spot. But sometimes it’s not that easy and I have to promise the student I will get back to her. When faced with a problem so difficult I feel I will never solve it, I first examine the problem until I thoroughly understand it. Then I stop thinking about it. Within a few days my muse wakes me suddenly in the middle of the night and I tiptoe down the stairs to my studio and write down the inspiration. The next morning, fully awake, I look at the previous night’s gleanings and find that the solution is often so totally different than one would expect, I would never have been able to solve the problem while awake.

One also has to keep one’s back covered – meaning that sometimes a student, convinced she is right, or if she feels threatened by new information, will introduce material into the classroom that is misleading. Then the professor must explain why it doesn’t work or shouldn’t be used. This must be done without, if possible, undermining the student’s self-esteem. Most of the time that is no problem, but sometimes it gets very complicated. This also can happen when giving seminars. If I am being paid, I hold control at all costs, but if I am not, then I consider that person to be speaking for the group, and myself to be a guest, so I shut down. The group doesn’t learn what I came to teach, but that is their problem.

Learning and teaching are messy procedures; often so intertwined that one can at times debate which is which. I have always loved school, and am pretty much convinced that I learn more than any of my students in most of the classes I teach.

Michele shows the certificate she earned when she completed the program.
Summary: For me the unexpected, and the research and development that goes with my type of teaching, is why I love what I do. Determining the problems, figuring out the procedures the students need to be able to solve them, putting it down on paper, and then testing to see if my students can understand the writing and drafting that results, is very exciting for me. I love doing this and my students seem to catch my excitement and enjoy being a part of it. I find research and development is the most exciting when the problem is complex, turns up when least expected, and requires a solution completely different than anything I would ever have imagined. It’s then that I feel I have touched the stars, and, in so doing, learned a little more about our universe. But back to earth – So how does one decide which teaching method, mine or any other, to use? As we say in the industry: If it works, use it; if it works, you’ve got it right.

PS. One more thing: If you are teaching, consider allowing any prospective student to audit one class, if she wishes, before putting down her money.

© Laurel Hoffmann, 2004
All rights reserved. Printed in the Greater Philadelphia PACC newsletter in 2004 for a the one time use.
Laurel worked as a production patternmaker in the industry, drafting and 
setting up the work for women's clothing factories. 
She learned sample making (sewing as done in industry) while there.


Phone: 215 884 7065
© Laurel Hoffmann, 2015. All rights reserved.
All material on this blog is copyrighted by and is the exclusive right of Laurel Hoffmann.

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