Teaching is all about the preparation.

This is me teaching a school residency where I worked with 700+ students in 5 days.

I am prepping for a teaching trip this week. I am heading out to NC to teach some highschool teachers about how to use Spoonflower in their classrooms. It should be great. I like teaching teachers.

As I was getting ready to start polishing up my slides and handouts I was thinking about some of the more interesting teaching gigs I have had over the years. A few standout examples:

  • Taught a digital photography class in an unheated 4-H barn with no wifi access. Had to use my LCD projector by projecting on to a piece of foam core propped up onto a chair. It was supposed to be an adults class, but the venue registered just two 8th grade girls in the class instead. Talk about revising your class on the fly.
  • I taught at a national conference where instead of booking classrooms for some of the smaller classes, they put us in a regular hotel room with a bunch of extra chairs in it. I taught the class sitting on the bed and pointed my projector at the bedsheet which we took off the bed and taped to the wall to make a screen because the walls were dark and textured.
  • I showed up to teach a digital design class at a venue on a Saturday morning that had a policy of turning off their internet access completely on the weekends. No wifi at all. We ended up gathering everyone up and driving nearby to a student’s house. I taught the class using her pool table as my work space.
  • I taught a quilting workshop to non-English speakers, using a college student as a translator. None of my adult students had ever used scissors before.
  • I had a daughter who bought a class for her mom as a surprise gift. The mother walked in to the shop and when she found out what the class was about she said to her daughter “Who does that? I am not taking any damn tatting class. Why would you think I wanted to do that?” I (the instructor) was standing right there.

Let’s just say that I have learned to be very flexible and just a little over prepared. As Tim Gunn says, “Make it work!” I am basically ready for everything. So, I wanted to share a few thoughts about what goes in to that prep work; call this a teaching “behind the scenes” post.

Preparing to be flexible

For a while now I have been sending out pre-class surveys to students who are registered in my classes so that I can get a handle on who is in the class. This way I have a chance to adapt to the group I have and to make sure that everyone is really getting the class they thought they were getting and I can troubleshoot a few things in advance. I teach with technology; there is always troubleshooting to do.

For example, a venue I worked with recently really wanted me to teach an “advanced” Photoshop class. They assured me that all of their pool of potential students would already know how to use Photoshop well and they were sure that we could skip over the beginner stuff and go right into an intermediate/advanced class. So I put together a description and projects and so on, and after registrations were all in, I sent out my survey.

Yes, that is 0% of my “advanced” class that say they are experienced with Photoshop and about 4 students who have basically never used it at all. This isn’t the first time that has happened. Fortunately, I had a feeling that this was going to be the case and I was mostly prepared for that.

The importance of class descriptions

A lot of that preparation is spending a significant amount of time writing the class description. I know that I need it to be specific enough so students have a concrete idea of what they will be doing in class, but flexible enough that I can actually accomplish the projects with students who are at a different skill level. Nothing makes a class start to head for disaster more quickly than poorly matched expectations. Now that I know that my “advanced” class actually has very little experience with Photoshop, I can make sure I am introducing things at a level where everyone can have success, starting with the basics.

This was from a class that I took where the teacher actually labeled our stations with post it notes so she could keep track of our experience level. I was a beginner, so I was a “1”. I have my students rate themselves too.

I spent this morning writing new class proposals for something in 2018 and thinking a lot about the students I thought I would expect to see at that venue. I basically construct a “model student” in my head. For the proposals I was writing this morning and based on what I know about the venue, I was pretty confident that my students would be:

  • quilters and crafters (not making clothing)
  • retired or near retirement age, budget conscious
  • not very technical/computer focused
  • skilled and experienced sewists

I have taught at this venue before, so I feel like I have a pretty good model to go on. So when I wrote my class descriptions, I wrote them for that audience:

  • Classes focused on process not product. We will be designing fabric and learning design concepts, not making a bag or a tea towel. They know how to do that already so that project won’t get them excited.
  • Beginner level technical skills. Several of the techniques can be done in more sophisticated ways with Photoshop or Illustrator, but you can do the basic version in any graphics software. It’s about the concept not the tool you use to get there.
  • Using free/online design software. You can do them in Photoshop if you have it, but you can try it out without having to invest in a lot of software and equipment. Making it approachable so people are willing to try it.

As a teacher, the phrase “That was worth the whole price of the class right there.” is a huge high five for me. That means I exceeded expectations and that’s awesome. I took a silversmithing class once where the supply list was so full of technical jargon that I showed up for class with not quite the right supplies and ended up spending a lot of time (and $) making something I hated. The instructor assumed that I knew more than I did. Expectations can work both ways.

What do you think this class is about?

Another question I ask in my pre-class survey is “What would you like to get out of this class?” Sometimes people skip over this one, but when they answer, the answers are always super helpful. For the “teacher training” class I am teaching next week, most of the answers were about getting ideas and inspiration for high school students and projects to do in their classrooms, specifically for interior and apparel design. Which is exactly what you would expect from that audience and assures me that I am preparing the right things – less about personal designs and more about ways to incorporate this into lessons, projects and how to break it down into components you can teach to others. I can do that.

I have had overzealous copy editors edit my class descriptions in ways that unfortunately changed the student’s whole expectation of the class. I learned this the hard way in one of the first professional classes I taught at an art center venue. It was a purse making class that I thought was a beginner sewing class where you made your own simple paper pattern, but it suddenly evolved into a pattern drafting class for designing your own purse. Similar on the surface, but a few words can make all the difference. I ended up with a horribly mis-matched class of beginners who didn’t know how to use a sewing machine (which I was prepared for) and a few students who thought they were getting a pattern drafting class for custom purse making (which was far beyond the scope of what I was teaching). It was awkward for everyone. The beginners felt like they were dumb, the experienced students looked at the project samples and said “Is that all we are doing?” and I wanted to crawl under a table and die. The venue had written the description for me since I was a newbie. That was a valuable lesson. Most venues still don’t check back with me when something gets edited before it gets sent out, so this survey question is also a quick reality check for me to make sure we are all still on the same page.

So, I am curious, what’s the weirdest venue where you have taught or taken a class? How did you make it work? Can you beat my hotel room story?

Sunday & Seurat: Sailing the Seine

This is part of a series of “behind the scenes” posts about my Sunday & Seurat designs for the Guthrie Store. Click here to see all of the posts in this series or see a gallery of the collection.


Another detail I noticed in the Sunday on the Isle painting was the sailboats in the distance. Since Minnesota is nicknamed the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, I knew that a print with boats would probably be something people here would love.

I started this print by creating the water. I collected about 15 different patterned and colored papers, everything from newsprint to sheet music to scrapbooking paper. I laid them all out on my table and gave them all a wash of blue paint. I wanted to obscure some of the patterns a little bit, but I also wanted to give it a cohesive color palette. By giving everything a wash of the same blue, they suddenly all become variations on a theme, rather than 15 separate colors.

I tore the papers into long strips and started layering them together to look like waves. I deliberately tore them a little unevenly to get the “foam” of white paper showing on the tops of some. I glued this all together as a paper collage. My scanner can only scan a piece 9×12, so I needed to carefully adjust and mask the edges of that rectangle so that I could make a seamlessly repeating pattern that could fill any amount of fabric. There is no magic formula to making something like this appear seamless, just lots of time zoomed in and manipulating pixels one by one to disguise the edges of the tile. Totally tedious; totally worth it. Many hours later, I had made a seamless water pattern out of it, which I saved as is, because I reuse patterns like this all the time once I have the hard work done.

Next I created a cut paper illustration of the sailboats and scanned it. One of the things I loved about the sailboats in the painting was the reflection in the water. I thought that was such a lovely detail. So my illustration had a reflection as well.

I made several different sailboats and added those in a layer on top of the water. I was careful to place them on the waves so they looked like they were sailing along and not just plopped down. Finally, I added a flock of birds. I originally had made a set of water lilies as well (my favorite flower) to go in among the boats, but the scale just didn’t work out. If they were small enough to make sense with the sailboats, you couldn’t tell what they were. So those got scrapped.

You’ll notice that the color of my water and the color that it is on the finished fabric aren’t the same thing. When I looked at my finished design, I realized that it looked a little somber. Although the colors matched the painting pretty well, it didn’t have that summer sailing kind of feeling that I wanted. So I went back in and brightened up the water and shifted it to look a little more turquoise, a color that made me think more of sunshine on the water. I also tweaked the tiny flag at the top of the mast so there were pink and yellow flags just for a little sparkle of color.

The final layer, of course, was my Seurat-inspired pointillism texture added in layers. You can still see a tiny bit of the polkadots in some of the patterned papers, but I love the complexity that gives to the design. I love this one and I hope lots of you love it too.

Sunday & Seurat: Making Parasols

This is part of a series of “behind the scenes” posts about my Sunday & Seurat designs for the Guthrie Store. Click here to see all of the posts in this series or see a gallery of the collection.


Another iconic shape in the  Sunday on the Isle painting is parasols. There are many people sitting and standing in the scene holding a parasol. I liked this one where you could see the contrasting color on the inside, so I decided to make one like that. My original paper design for this one was very much larger than the finished design. Making it larger was just an easy way to make sure that it had all of the detail I wanted with shapes and shadows added with colored pencil. It’s much easier to cut something out with scissors than it is to have to make tiny things with an exacto knife. It was easy to re-scale it after I had scanned it. I was designing this specifically for bow ties, so I wanted something simple that would make sense when it was scaled down to bow tie size.

Parasols. Fabric detail.

I kept the bright turquoise blue of the original and recolored another one to be almost the same deeper blue as the one in the painting. Lots of people wear blue, black or grey and I thought this made a print that would look nice with any of those. I created a geometric pattern by alternating them, which I also thought for a bow tie would give a print that was super wearable, while still being a little fun and quirky when you looked at it closely. This design was also built up of layers of pointillist-style dots and transparent colors.

Sunday & Seurat: Gone to the dogs

This is part of a series of “behind the scenes” posts about my Sunday & Seurat designs for the Guthrie. Click here to see all of the posts in this series.


If you look closely at the Sunday on the Isle painting, you will find a black dog whuffling in the grass. Those of you that know me know that I have a fondness for black dogs.

This is Chester and Leo. They are my black lab mutts. Brothers from the same litter. 3 yrs old.

So, I had to use the black dog as the inspiration for a design. When we were talking about what kinds of pieces we wanted for this collection, I felt like there should be something that wasn’t necessarily a kids item, but something that would appeal to kids. And there are a lot of people who love dogs. So this one seemed like it would be pretty popular. (Turns out we were right, but more about that in a minute.)

I made two versions of the dog from cut paper and I added a little colored pencil shading to them. I scanned the cut paper designs and layered together with a painted background that was just a swirl of different colors. And I added the paintbrush from the Red Yellow Blue design as if the dog is holding up his paw to be painted.

That turned in to this, which I call Brush to Paw. I printed it on eco-canvas. The hidden “easter egg” in this print is that the dogs have a different colored collar on each side of the bag, which match my dogs (red for Chester and turquoise for Leo).

And when you sew it together, it makes a little bag that looks like this. I use these as travel bags and keep my phone charger, jewelry, bandaids and those kinds of odds & ends.

 

We quickly realized that this little guy was going to be a hit, so we added a piece to the collection and I gave him a place on a tea towel as well. I just got this fabric yesterday and I am going to spend the rest of the afternoon hemming and making some linen/cotton tea towels which should be in the Guthrie shop very soon.

It always catches me off-guard but one question I get asked all the time is “Who does your sewing? Or where do you get them made?” The answer is: Me at my dining room table.

That part is just as important to me as the design is. I have no interest in designing things to send off and have mass produced overseas.

The fabric for all of these is printed by my friends at Spoonflower in Durham NC. They are friends and I have been to Spoonflower HQ and have seen my fabric coming off of their printers. I can’t own the kinds of machines that they have (They cost more than my first house did.) so I am thrilled I am able to work with them to make my designs happen.

Part of the cost of making these is paying myself a fair wage for the time spent sewing them. I work hard to make that part as efficient as I can because I don’t want to spend 24 hours a day sewing, but I can be confident that they are the quality that I want and that the person sewing them isn’t working in a sweatshop. This week I have been drinking tea and watching the Great British Baking Show as I sew. I can’t complain about my job this week.

Sunday & Seurat: A Collaboration

I am so excited to finally be able to talk about my collaboration with the Guthrie Theater Store. In February, I was approached by the manager of the gift shop for the Guthrie Theater. Their summer musical was Sunday in the Park with George and she wondered if I would like to work with them to make some exclusive pieces for the shop that were inspired by the show.

Sunday in the Park with George is loosely based on the life of Georges Seurat and his painting Sunday on the Isle of la Grande Jatte. I first saw the show about 15 years ago and soon after that we visited the Art Institute in Chicago and were able to see the painting. It was the first time that I can remember seeing a painting and literally gasping. I came around a corner and there it was. Part of the beautiful visual story of the show is that the actors recreate the painting on stage and the characters move in and out of that scene.

Image courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago

The show is a love note to artists. Seurat struggles with getting the image that he sees in his head on to the page and the struggle filling up the blank canvas. He is famous for the pointillist style, where the image is made up of dots of colors that your eye blends together. When I thought about what to design, I thought of the song “Color and Light” from the show, where Georges repeats the names of colors in a rhythmic pattern like his dots on the page. So that was one of the first designs I created.

Red Yellow Blue

Making the design Red Yellow Blue

I started many of the designs in this collection from paper. The grid (representing a paint palette) and the paint brush are both illustrations made from cut paper; the paint splatters were watercolor. The paintbrush was shaded with colored pencils to add some texture. I scanned all of those pieces so that I could manipulate them digitally but preserve the texture and hand-cut or hand-painted quality of them.

There is a filter in Photoshop called “pointillism”, which seemed like a logical choice to make the design look Seurat-like, but it didn’t give me the effect I wanted at all. So I read a little more about Seurat’s painting and that gave me some ideas.

The artist worked on the painting in several campaigns, beginning in 1884 with a layer of small horizontal brushstrokes of complementary colors. He later added small dots, also in complementary colors, that appear as solid and luminous forms when seen from a distance.

I built up my design the same way with transparent and opaque layers, some with dots and some without and I digitally played with the luminosity in different ways. It took a lot of experimenting to get something that felt just right. It ended up being about four or five layers in total.

This design was intended to be a zipper bag, so I created the design to scale and not as a repeating pattern, which is more typical for fabric designs. It is printed on eco-canvas, which is made from 45% recycled polyester. The finished bag is about 5×8″, which is just the right size for your favorite pencils and art supplies.

Red Yellow Blue.


This is the first in a series of posts about the making of these Sunday & Seurat designs. I wanted to have the chance to talk a little more about the inspiration and process of making each one. They can be found for sale at the Guthrie Theater Store and you can see the whole collection in this virtual gallery.

Pop Up Class: Intro to Embroidery

Don’t wait to sign up! I have added a class for this summer and you are invited. I am partnering up with Knit & Bolt (formerly Crafty Planet) in NE Minneapolis to do a pop-up class. In three sessions, you will learn all you need to know about beginning hand embroidery. We will cover the basics of tools, threads, needles, and to hoop or not hoop. Each session we will focus on a group of related stitches, like variations on a theme. We will talk about how to stitch a pre-traced pattern as well as free-form embroidery, which is my favorite. I broke the class up so you will have time to practice between sessions and come back with questions. We will work in the awesome new classroom space at Knit & Bolt and you can get all of your materials there at the shop. (I will post the supply list here very soon and email it to you after you register.)

Intro to Embroidery
Tuesdays June 20, 27 and July 11 • 10:00 – 11:30 am
at Knit & Bolt

Open to ages 10 and up. No embroidery or hand sewing experience necessary.

THIS CLASS IS FULL. If you are interested in learning about future classes, please sign up for my email newsletter.


Supply list

All of these items are available at Knit & Bolt. You can pick them up ahead of time, or we can take a little time right at the beginning of class to get everyone set with supplies.

  • 1/4 – 1/2 yd of plain colored woven cotton fabric. I recommend RJR solids or Kona cotton. Choose any color.
  • 3-5 colors of six-stranded embroidery floss (thread). Choose any colors.
  • Embroidery needles. I recommend John James, assorted sizes 5/10.
  • One 9×12” rectangle of craft felt or wool felt. Choose any color.
  • One 5-7” embroidery hoop. Wooden or plastic is fine.

Bring a pair of scissors with you. You might want a pen and paper to take notes. You are welcome to take photos/video with your camera/phone as I demonstrate stitches.

A note about colors. If you don’t know what colors to choose, here are some suggestions.

  • Contrast is great. Choose white/charcoal/black as a fabric color and three bright colors like red, turquoise and green for your threads.
  • Think of a theme like “ice cream”. That doesn’t mean you are going to make a picture of ice cream, but it gives you a hint about colors.
    • Ice Cream: Vanilla background fabric, brown, pink and pale green threads.
    • Ocean: Pale blue background fabric, tan, turquoise, yellow threads.
    • Paris: Pale grey fabric, blue, red and pink threads.

Download this supply list.