I have not posted to the Slice of Life in almost a year and a half and for that I feel really bad. I want to try and get back into that. Originally, I started this blog because of that challenge combined with a strong urge to write again. Since then, my blog has become less about school (teaching reading and writing) and more about historical sewing and living history events that I participate in. I watched the Ira Glass video this morning before starting my day. It lead me to two interesting conclusions.
1. Practicing a skill that I love and am passionate about does indeed take a lot of time and quitting when I’m only just beginning is not something I do. (Ira’s skill was storytelling btw). That skill is sewing historical clothing.
2. I’m amazed at how my own journey of creating historical garments has taught me to be a better teacher.
1. I taught myself to sew because I needed clothing to wear to reenactments. I started with nothing. I bought a few things, but then couldn’t afford to continue to buy ready-made or custom made items, so I busted out the sewing machine. Each time I wear a new garment to an event, the people I hang out with know about each other’s sewing projects and always ooh and aaah over the new piece of clothing. It’s really nice to have someone notice your accomplishment and say, “wow this looks fantastic.”
Then that transitions into a conversation of, you know your inner seams can be hidden this way. Or let’s take a workshop class on gown construction (which I did and it totally got me hooked on hand sewing). Or have you ever thought about cutting your skirts in this shape? Reenacting / living history (some people argue it’s two different things, but whatever you want to call it is up to you) is a fabulous hobby where you are constantly learning to perfect your impression of a certain historical persona. The people I’ve met and now consider my very good friends are extremely willing to help me and anyone else to improve their sewing skills. I can call them on the phone or email or message them on fb and they respond within a few days time with an answer based on their own experience as well as the resources they consulted.
I love how Ira Glass says even when you’re a beginner, you have killer tastes. I agree. I’m awesome at choosing fabrics that look good on me (or other people) and I’m not too bad at fitting myself during the sewing process. He follows it up with instead of quitting because the product does not turn out exactly the way you want it to, to keep pushing through and increase the volume. (I would love to do that Ira Glass, however, sewing historical clothing by hand while attempting to keep track of 160 some students and grade their work while coaching an after school activity is a bit stressful; sewing can wait. My students can not). I had a good experience with this last summer when I made a new gown for an event. I got really helpful advice from two more experienced sewers and I fixed the problem areas of my garment. And I’m extremely proud of the fact that it is a historically accurate gown made completely by hand. I love wearing something that I made for myself that fits me and that brings history alive for myself and others.
2. Literally, everything I wrote above (and more that I most likely didn’t say) can be applied to my teaching. When I decide to sew a new piece of clothing, the first thing I do is look for examples (usually an original garment if I know it’s dated correctly or a fashion plate) to guide me on fabric type and color, the angle of side seams, trimmings, etc . This process reminds me that modeling the end product for students is so important. Most of us need to have a visual – to refer back to often – while working on a project.
Clear directions are crucial. A sewing pattern with directions that don’t make sense is useless. The sewing blogs I follow have quite detailed step by step tutorials with pictures. Soooo helpful. I bookmark them and reread them all the time.
Having an expert you can rely on in a time of need is the best. I know many of us are getting pulled in two directions: be connected 24/7 vs. turn off technology for several hours each day. Balance is key. I get that. I think kids get it too. I truly cannot answer their question at 2 a.m. when they are finishing their research paper. But I can put resources in place if they need a reminder about MLA format. When I see them in class, I also try to acknowledge that I read their email and I thank them for reaching out to me for help. The other thing I always keep in mind is, if I asked someone the same question (even if it’s a really stupid one that I should know the answer to because I just learned this a few months ago), how would I want them to answer me? All my living history friends are the best teachers – they lead by example and re-explain something when ever I have a question. They are never short with me and always smile. I really appreciate this quality and try to emulate it with my students.
Just because I’ve achieved my goal of finishing one project does not mean that I should never try it again. Upon completing a sewing project, I usually say, well that was fun, but now I want to try it again, only with these adjustments! Retakes, redos, rewrites – whatever you want to call them are tricky in the classroom setting at the high school level. Traditionally the same skills are taught to everyone, we practice, we test, we move on to the next skill. I am pretty good at getting kids to reflect on their work and set goals and work to achieve them. I know I can do better and I want to do better. I will do better. When I look back at the first completely hand sewn gown I made, it’s pretty impressive. I had a lot of help. I love wearing the gown still. But I notice the little things I want to fix. Like some of those stitches are a little wonky, that seam could be a little neater, this edge is a hair off from that edge. But taking note of these “not so great aspects” has forced me to pay attention to them when I start a new project. (My mother always said, “If you don’t do it right the first time, you’ll have to do it over). The instructors at the gown workshop told us not to be caught up in making every stitch perfect. We even looked at an original gown as proof that women of the past were not perfect in their teeny tiny stitches. I think in the classroom, whether focusing on reading or writing, you can’t be perfect 100% of the time. You can strive toward excellence, and that’s what I aim for with my sewing. I want students to step back from their writing or annotations and say to themselves, “Yep, these kick butt. But I’m ready to do it again and even better the second time around!”