It was just a few days ago that I had my last day of teaching art at Sacopee Valley High School. The school needed a long term art sub. Since I lived in the area and was an artist with an MFA I decided to take the position. Really this was my first full time teaching job. I taught a course prior to this at the Maine College of Art in their Pre-College program. In my mind, this gave me some experience working with this age group, but really it was just a drop in the bucket. Learning how to manage the classroom while doing it, was one of the biggest challenges for me. Making sure I kept all of the students in the classroom, keeping them focused on their projects and not fighting with each other was a constant battle. A teacher is always on guard and has to be ready for any situation.
They worked on the usual high school art projects (learning perspective, drawing with a grid, printmaking techniques, etc.) As someone who loves to sew, I wanted to introduce this to some of the students as well (Home Economics is no longer offered). I wanted to show them how their art can have a positive influence in their community. So, I planned two things that were not already planned out. One class sewed a quilt together and I also created an Art Show for them at a local theater (Part two blog post coming soon).
1. The Quilt:
Personally, I have been sewing for seven years. I first started with garment construction for myself and then creating bags that I could sell. I went to school for painting, but there has been something about constructing with fabric that has really won me over. That being said, quilting wasn’t necessarily my thing. The hours involved cutting the same shape and following a pattern really didn’t interest me.
One of my classes was for the “Advanced Art” students. It was open for them to choose their own projects. One student learned that I sewed garments and wanted to make a skirt. Of course I was thrilled. We started the process of adjusting a pattern to fit, creating a muslin and I tried to explain to her how to sew it. I really needed a machine in the classroom. I came across a new Brother Sewing machine at a yard sale and bought it for $12. I was so excited for just this! I was able to then directly show her how to sew the skirt together.
So, at this point I had a sewing machine in the classroom. I had one class where a group of girls would combine two tables together and complain about things. It reminded me of a “bitch and stitch.” The looked like quilters sitting around a quilt hand stitching something together (All individual projects at this point).
This gave me an idea. There was a bag of fabric in the classroom and I remember liking the look of the Gee’s Bend Quilts. Their quilts were creating using clothing and scraps and not necessarily using a pattern. So, right before the start of spring break, I presented these students with a plastic bag of fabric and a slide show about the quilts. They
didn’t seem interested, but I knew that it was something that could really mean something to them later in life.
This spring break started with attending an Estate Sale. My sister loves them and shared with me that there was one in my town. There was a photo of large thread stand and I knew there would be more sewing material along with this. I ended up getting an incredible amount of tools, fabric, sewing books, thread, and another sewing machine.(Some purchased and some donated by the company for the students) My friend Patty who owns the Quilt shop in town donated her amazing scrap fabric from her sewing projects and another local Paul donated one of his unused sewing machines and even more fabric. I got another machine from a local thrift store. By the end of spring break, I had two carloads of fabric, four sewing machines, a small library and a thrill of being able to share this with the students.
One class I had the students set up a corner of the room, choose fabrics for the quilt and it all began. Oh, yeah, with all of this I also had to learn how to quilt before I taught them…They say that you teach what you want to learn. So, my friend Patty gave me some tips, I looked over my books, watched videos and realized that maybe quilting is for me as well. I love painting, but sewing has had a watch over me for years. Being able to combine colors, draw with thread by “free motion quilting” made so much sense for me.
The students worked on this and their individual projects. We still sewed pieces together in the crazy quilt style and then I sewed it together with traditional borders. Most of them had never threaded a needle, worked with fabric or even ironed. These are things that I feel everyone should have some experience with. It also gives them a possible skill when looking for work. They all used a sewing machine and may not be as scared to try it out later in life.
The last day of working on the quilt I had them combine the tables together and everyone hand stitched the binding edge together. Of course many of them complained about it and I laughed and shared that they inspired it. The class gave this quilt to a teacher in the school that is always making things for other people. She was thrilled to get it and made sure to hug each of the students. This meant that they were able to see how coming together to create this for someone else can really be powerful. Since the sewing machines were set up, other students were interested in creating projects. Here, one student created an amazing quilt of flags. She looked at photos of flags and came up with each piece
without a pattern. Excellent job Michala! A bunch of students also created pillows! It was a quick way of sewing something together and having the satisfaction of a great finished project!
I really enjoyed teaching with these students! Some days were a challenge, but overall I am very happy that I took the position! It was because Zoe wanted to make this skirt that the students got to learn how to sew and that one table of sassy girls brought quilting into my own life.