Curriculum for a 10 week sewing circle

I work at an organization that combats human trafficking, and one of the ways we do that is by serving the survivors of that horror. There are amazing social workers who help our clients find ESL classes, vocational training, housing, jobs, benefits, healthcare, legal help, pretty much everything a person needs to rebuild her (and sometimes his) life.

And sometimes they let regular staff like me teach classes. Last semester I taught a self-defense class, that I might write about if folks are interested. And this semester, on special request of some clients who are interested in making fashion their profession and building up their craft skills, I’m running a sewing circle.

For anyone who’s reached this point and is wondering how sewing could possibly be the most important skill someone who’s struggling to survive could use, and/or, why a bunch of ladies, many of whom grew up in more traditional cultures than I, need sewing lessons, the answer is two-fold.

First: if someone finds sewing as to a refuge, or needs to make her current clothes last, or wants to broaden her skill set, then I’m not going to tell her to do something else with her time. People in trafficking situations often have some of their most important choices taken away, and choosing learning groups to take or not is just one of a hundred ways to reflect survivors’ inherent agency.

Second: for clients who are in the middle of legal proceedings or who cannot work for another reason, picking up a few skills or practicing an existing skill can fill the empty hours. I hope several of the clients who come to my group will know a lot more than I do, and if they’re interested, I’ll ask them to teach sections on their favorite topics.

It’s all about empowerment model, which is a fancy way of saying, not being as awful as most industrialized teaching environments are. Folks in my circle can get as much, and give as much, as they want to.

This Thursday will be the first group meeting, and in a few minutes a friend and I will be going to buy sewing kits for them. I don’t yet know the different skills levels, so everything in the class-plan that follows will change as soon as we start the circle, but I wanted to share a first draft for comment.

I’ve selected each of the in-group projects so that someone with few skills can complete it, and someone with lots of skills can also have fun completing it. That’s my mini-differentiated teaching model at work. Here’s what I’m thinking of covering:

Week Skills Learned Project
Week 1
  • Running stitch
  • Turning bags inside-out to hide the hems
  • Basics of embroidery
Sachets with name embroidered on them
Week 2
  • Reverse-engineering an existing design
  • Color theory
  • Modifying designs for body shapes
Dress 1:

  • Research
  • Initial design
Week 3
  • Analyzing blueprints for dresses
  • Iterative design
  • Sewing machine basic maintenance and repair
Dress 1:

  • Revising design
  • Using patterns
  • Sewing machines
  • How to price your wares
  • How to design a fantastic store
  • Pitfalls to avoid in customer-relations
Guest lecture: selling your designs on Etsy
Week 4
  • More work on sewing machine
  • Affixers–zippers, buttons, clasps
  • Hiding errors through clever hemlines
Dress 1:

  • More sewing machine stitches
  • Zippers/buttons/clasps
  • Hemming
Week 5
  • Darning socks
  • Repairing sweaters
  • Hemming dress pants/skirts
Breath week* topic: Mending:

  • Lessons-learned from Dress 1
  • Bring in clothes from home that need care
Week 6
  • Iterative design
  • More sophisticated research
  • Learning from past project mistakes
Dress 2:

  • Research
  • Initial design
  • How to get a job in fashion
  • What kinds of jobs are there in fashion
  • What does a career in fashion look like?
Guest lecture: working in fashion
Week 7
  • More stitches and ways the use the sewing machine’s settings
  • How to match stitch to cloth-type
  • Matching stripes
Dress 2:

  • Sewing machine stitches
  • Harder fabrics
Week 8
  • More advanced material selection
  • Troubleshooting more difficult materials
  • Basic electronically engineering (how circuits work, how to power LEDs)
Dress 2:

  • Advanced notions/trims
  • Using non-fabrics (leather, metalwork, beading)
  • Basic wearable electronics
Week 9
  • Project completion
  • Final error correction
  • Trouble-shooting
Dress 1 and 2:

  • Final fittings
  • Any repairs
  • Arduino/Lily Pad boards
  • Basic circuit-design
  • Predicting fashion’s future
Wearable electronics:

  • Sewing LEDs into an existing piece
Week 10
  • Public-speaking
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Marketing
Fashion show!

*I like “Breath weeks” because they give a moment for great projects to stand on their own and be admired before jumping into another task.

Inspirational Quote:

I will be married soon. Lady Thiel says a woman with needlework in her hands is generally assumed to have no other thoughts in her head and can safely harbor any number of improprieties. That will come in handy, especially when I’m married to a wizard.” ― Patricia A. McKillip, Od Magic

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