Reflections on teaching my first sewing class

Reflections on teaching my first sewing classThank you so much for all your good wishes on my last post.  I’m happy to report that my sewing class was a great success!  : )  I was pleasantly surprised at how many students showed up and their genuine enthusiasm about learning to sew.  I really couldn’t be happier with the outcome!

In this post I’ll share my thoughts about the class now that the whirlwind of preparation is over, but keep in mind that I’m by no means an expert in this area.  This was my very first attempt at teaching, after all!  In fact, I’d welcome any of your teaching tips and suggestions, so please chime in in the comments.  : )

Class overview

As I mentioned last time, the class was geared toward people who don’t know how to sew or who have very little sewing experience.  The focus was hand sewing techniques for mending garments, including sewing on buttons that have fallen off, fixing a hem that has come loose, hemming pants from scratch, mending a ripped seam, etc.  The class was completely voluntary and hosted by my university, so the students didn’t have to pay to take it, and I didn’t get paid for teaching it.  It was scheduled for 2 hours.

Class size and setup

At first I figured I’d accept everyone who signed up for the class, but I soon realized that the size of the room I had booked would limit the number of students.  I also originally thought that students could just show up (since the class was free), but after getting such a good response in sign-ups, I made an RSVP mandatory.  The class wound up having 15 students (!!) with a waiting list.  I can’t believe there was so much interest!  : )

The room was set up with four long tables arranged in a circle, which I think worked out very well and facilitated a friendly and informal atmosphere.  However, because there were so many people, detailed written instructions were a must.  Everyone could see me, but not necessarily the tiny stitches I was demonstrating.  I often referred to “page x, figure y” in the handout, which seemed to work well.  I also sewed examples of each technique ahead of time, and I passed them around the table as I was explaining the steps.

Supplies to bring

Each student received a detailed written instruction packet with step-by-step color photos illustrating each step of each technique.  This took FOREVER to prepare, but was really appreciated by the students.  Each student also received a gallon-size ziplock bag full of fabric samples that I had prepared for each technique, along with a smaller ziplock bag containing a needle, thread, pins, buttons, and other small items.  The students got to take all of this home with them.

For the more expensive supplies, I created 4 bins and placed them around the tables for students to share (and give back at the end of the class).  The biggest expense was buying enough scissors, and I bought enough for 2 students to share 1 scissor, which seemed to work out fine.  The bins also contained rulers, tape measures, seam rippers, extra thread, pens and pencils, etc.

Just in case, I brought a few extras of absolutely everything.  The most common item to be replaced was needles that the students dropped on the floor and couldn’t find.  Who knew??  Glad I had extra!

I set up an ironing station in one corner of the room, near an outlet, so that we could practice ironing on fusible interfacing to easily mend small tears.  There was so much to bring for this!  Iron and tabletop ironing board, extension cord, pitcher of water and small cup to refill the iron, glass bowl for wetting a press cloth, and ironing instructions in a clear plastic sheet protector.  I’m not sure if I would include the ironing component again, purely because I don’t have a car and had to haul everything over on foot!

Lastly, I brought 2 door signs – 1 for the actual door to the room, and one for the lobby of the building to point students in the right direction.  I also made little decorations for the door, just for fun.  : )

Planning the subject matter

I was WAY over-ambitious about how much material we would get through in a 2-hour class.  We got through less than half of what I had prepared, but thankfully the students had written instructions and supplies for all the techniques, so they could try them out on their own at home.  We sewed practice buttons and hems in a little under 2 hours… sewing that took me 15 minutes to do at home beforehand!  It blows my mind that 15 minutes of sewing took 2 hours, but there you go.

There were a lot of questions and some good conversation going on, so although we didn’t cover everything, I felt that the few things we did cover were very clearly explained, and everyone felt comfortable with them by the end of the class.  Better that the students aren’t confused than to try to rush though material, right?

At the beginning of the class, we went around the room introducing ourselves, and I asked the students to tell me why they wanted to take the class.  This proved to be extremely beneficial, as I could choose techniques that generated the most interest when I realized I was running out of time.  I would highly recommend doing this.  Plus you can learn everyone’s name.  : )

Additional information for the students

On the last page of the instruction packet, I had made a list of local sewing suppliers and what types of things (fabric, notions, etc.) were sold at each location.  This proved to be way more useful to the students than I had anticipated!  Many students came up to me at the end of class, list in hand, asking where to buy certain supplies.  I would highly recommend compiling a similar list for your students.  If nothing else, it encourages them to think about sewing beyond the class.

Also, come prepared to recommend beginner sewing machines.  Many students asked me about this at the end of class as well.  There were also questions about how to sew specific items (pillows, curtains, jeans (!!)), so be prepared for general how-to questions as well.  Students also had ideas/suggestions for future craft-related classes, so be open to more teaching opportunities!

Downsides

By far, the biggest downside of teaching this class was that it quickly turned my passion/hobby into work.  And you know how I feel about that.  Once you obligate yourself to teaching the class and start getting sign-ups, there’s really no backing out without disappointing both the students and the hosting institution (in this case, my university).  I certainly don’t regret hosting the class, but WOW was the prep unpleasant and stressful.  I’m an anxious person by nature, and the stress associated with this class, on top of my full-time job, was a little too much for me.

As I mentioned earlier, the most time-consuming part of the preparation was compiling the step-by-step instructions with photos.  This is totally why I hardly ever do tutorials on this blog!  I do think it was worth it because the class size was big and the students could take it home as a reference… but still.  It was a ton of work to prepare.

With all of that said, however, I’m very glad this wasn’t a paid gig.  I really have no interest in getting paid for any aspect of my hobby, as then it’s really work.  Because I was volunteering, at least I felt I had full control over how much time I put in and what material I chose to cover.  In addition, I enjoy making time for volunteering in various areas outside of my job, so this class contributed to my ongoing goal of giving back to my local community in whatever small ways I can.

Final thoughts

Teaching this class was extremely rewarding and enjoyable, despite the mountain of prep work that went into it.  While I was preparing, I never would have considered doing it again, as I was pretty exhausted and anxious.  However, after such a great turn out and a fun and productive class, I would absolutely consider teaching (volunteering) again.  By far, the best part about the class was the enthusiasm, interest, and questions from the students.  It feels wonderful to share something you’re passionate about with others who feel the same!  : )

Oh, and did I mention that a solid half of the class was male?  How cool is that??

Anyway, thanks for indulging me in this very looooong post.  Please share your teaching reflections and tips with us in the comments!

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8 thoughts on “Reflections on teaching my first sewing class

  1. I’m so glad this was such a positive experience for you and for your students!

    I can’t comment on any experiences teaching sewing, because I have none, but my main hobby is bellydancing, and I do teach bellydance classes (for pay) through my local Adult Learning Service. Even though I do work very hard to prepare and deliver good classes, and I treat it very professionally, and yes it is “work”, somehow, it’s never turned into a chore. I truly believe that’s because it is a passion of mine that I love to share, and because I learn more about my own dancing by teaching others- teaching forces me to analyse and experiment and develop my own skills. So don’t dismiss the idea of teaching because it’s “work”. Work can still be fun!

    • Thanks for your comment, Bea! This is very insightful, and I’m so glad that teaching your passion has worked out so well for you. : ) I definitely agree that work can still be fun, as I do find my full-time job fun most of the time. The idea of teaching more sewing/craft classes is something to ponder, and if I try it again, I’d hope my ideal balance will work itself out.

      BTW, I took a bellydancing class a few years ago and loved it! I was blown away by the instructor’s hip movements. : )

  2. That’s really awesome and I’m glad it went so well. Thanks for posting so much detail on what you did – it’ll be bookmarked if I ever do such a thing, that’s for sure! Cool that you had so many guys too! Teaching is very rewarding, but yes, hard work too! Congrats 🙂

    • Thanks Kat! Have you ever taught a class with sewing machines, and if so, how did that work? I was having trouble imagining how I would acquire a room full of machines. Do you host it at a shop or studio that already owns them?

  3. Carolyn it’s great to know that your class was so successful AND that there were so many male participants! As a former Home Ec teacher, I’ll tell you that all of your preparation was so well-done, and yes, a lot of work, but if you decide to do this in the future, you already have your visual aids and can build from there. The ” extremely rewarding” and “enjoyable” is magnet that will bring you back!

    • Thanks Ellen! Yes, you’re right, the rewarding aspect is the main thing that would lure me back into another class. : ) Doing this same class again would be so much easier the second time around, that’s for sure. I didn’t know you taught Home Ec! What kinds of sewing projects did your students make?

      • I taught from middle school through high school so the range of projects was very wide and with boys required to take sewing pj pants and baseball shirts were popular unisex patterns. At the high school level, students pretty much chose their projects with (with recommendations as to difficulty, etc), so there were prom dresses, quilts, tailored jackets and you name it going on! Just too much fun, and so rewarding to see how happy and accomplished kids felt when their projects were complete.

        • Wow, that’s awesome!! I would have loved to see all the projects that came out of your classes. 🙂 Congrats on inspiring and guiding so many ambitious students!

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