A long rambling post on the joys of teaching garment sewing

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As I alluded in my last post some four months ago, I’ve started teaching sewing classes at a new fabric and sewing studio in Baltimore, Domesticity. I’d been interested in teaching group classes since July 2016. So, when Domesticity opened up and a mutual friend of the shop owner  connected us, it was serendipity. Also, when I sew or put on makeup, I like to pretend I’m on my YouTube channel or my own TV show anyway 😃. Now, it would be the same but with a live audience 🤷🏾‍♀️.

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What I didn’t expect was how hard teaching can be, that there were things I would learn about myself and how much I would LOVE it. Want to read about it? Get a cup because there’s a short novel below.

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Plaid matching her pajama pants!

Hard? Wutt? Yeah. It’s hard. Teaching takes preparation. Any technique I told people to do I wanted to have an example of it, be able to explain the benefits of it, talk about why it works how it does and a clear way on how to do it. That’s not all just in my head. I had to research and make sure I was using the correct terms and perhaps correct any bad habits I had picked up.

I didn’t want people to pay me to watch them read directions and follow along. I wanted people to feel freed from basic instructions, learn techniques and order of construction. Often I’ve thought of in person sewing classes as unnecessary. I’ve said for years if you can read you can sew or cook. Just follow the directions! I had to learn that not everyone learns the same way. Duh. I changed my mindset. But, if someone were coming to to a class and paying money to be there, I wanted to be able to show them things that weren’t in the instructions.

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These are made from a double cloth and are luxurious

The indie designers to give A LOT of detail in their patterns. For how I sew it’s just too too much. But, for a beginner sewer though, they are learning from these. Yet, the lesson here is that even with 30 pages of instructions there are still things to teach. Sewing is vast and there is more than one way to skin a cat. There are alternate finishes of necklines, seams, hems. Ways to topstitch. What your sewing feet are for. What is the difference between needles. How do you pick which needle size, etc. etc. I had more than one student tell me that our classes taught them to love their sewing machine. Or, they’d never used any of the other feet their machine came with.

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Pajama pants are such a good first garment. Lots of techniques to learn and something wearable.

I love seeing how excited people get when they complete a garment! Yes, I goad people into smiling when I take a photo. But, for real… they are happy and it makes me all kinds of warm inside.

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The tee shirt class might be my favorite because you learn to conquer your fear of knits

I’ve had to put aside personal biases about some indie patterns.  Beginner sewers see a lot of independent designers on social media and that’s what they want to sew. But, imho *just* sewing indie designers is limiting. So, I make sure to include patterns from the Big 4 so that students are comfortable going between the two and don’t feel limited to just sewing indie. There are some designs I don’t teach because they are too basic for the money or aren’t something I would ever personally wear. I felt it only right to teach designs I could personally vouch for and work in to my wardrobe. After all, I was going to be sewing samples for myself and the shop. Why work on something I think is trash or dumb?

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Two of my three pajama samples went to Jordan

I’ve had to make my samples show worthy and not just good enough. I mean, I love to sew. But, I’ve definitely learned what I am willing to let go of. But, when everyone is going to be staring intently at my work, I want to make sure it holds up. Those pajama pants? Plaids match every which way. Seams are beautifully finished. They came out so nice I can’t get them off of Jordan to actually use in class. He wears them ALL the time. And, I teach finishes for when you don’t have a serger. Guess what I rediscovered? Many of those finishes are WAY nicer. I am back in love with French seams, flat fell seams and a blind hem finish.

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Our classes are small and intimate

I use a lot of different tools and notions. Ok, for real. The start up costs for sewing are not small. It’s not like knitting where you need a set of needles and a ball of yarn. I brought in rulers, marking pens, hams, seam rolls, rotary cutters, nips, zipper templates, twill tape… you name it, I have it and I brought it. Yes, it can be overwhelming to a student. But, it also lets them see how I get the results I do. Near the end I had a bit of a personal mutiny and stopped bringing so many tools. My living room looked like a mudroom and I couldn’t find items in my sewing room. And, you know what? A few students said “This is a job for a ham” when they were opening up seams or pressing in darts. They understand what the tools are for and that’s fantastic.

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This is the best looking muslin I’ve ever seen. It’s the Farrow Dress from Grainline.

I’m way more obsessed with fit than I realized. Prior to teaching I’d have told you people spend too much time obsessing about fit. But, as I developed the coursework, I realized I worked fit into every class. I didn’t want people to walk away from sewing because they didn’t like how clothes looked on them.

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I suggested people sew muslins. I taught FBAs, swayback adjustments, broad back fixes and ways to make an armhole more comfortable. Yet, my constant refrain was, “I’m not a fit expert. But,….” It helps to have an arsenal of fit books to refer to.

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I mean just look at her face 😊

Assign homework. There wasn’t a class I taught that didn’t require you to sew some at home. And, I think that’s really necessary so that people realize they can sew on their own. It also reinforces whatever you taught the week before.

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Teaching doesn’t feel like work! Yes, I mean, I still have deadlines of prep work I need to do and late nights/ early mornings getting it done. But, when I’m with students in the classroom time just flies. It doesn’t feel like work to talk about sewing and teaching sewing. I do have a part time day job in my field. And, I don’t know that I could or would want to teach sewing full time. But, when I’m there it feels like hanging out with friends. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to teach. But, I’m enjoying every bit of it right now. It’s fun to help create a community of sewists in Baltimore. I feel like I’m really *doing* something.

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  1. great post! I started teaching in the spring at a studio in Berkeley (Hello Stitch Studio) and I am really enjoying it as well. You are so right that the time allotted flies by – and I really want people to get things finished to have that feeling of accomplishment. Two points you made I will comment on. Re: the indie patterns – on the whole, I am not impressed, the fit and sizing are all over the map, a lot of the sleeves and armholes are ridiculously bad and I just don’t think the majority of them are worth the time. The instructions are also very wordy – I have had students say that they can’t decipher the paragraphs and wished their were a better illustration. I wonder why there is so much descriptive type instruction in a lot of these patterns. Makes me realize that most Vogue patterns are darn good. Although as an experienced sewer I realize that things that seem obvious to me are not to a new sewer. 2nd topic – while I think the outside of a garment should look perfect, the inside I don’t get too bothered about. is that shocking? I always say it is only clothes and nobody should be inspecting the inside of your garments 🙂 But I think I’m in the minority on this point, other stitchers love making the inside look as good as the outside.
    Anyway – so glad to see what you are up to and I think it will get easier as you go, not needed to re-do the prep for every class…

    • YES. Sizing is all over the place. The *good* thing about that is I’ve gotten people to rely on finished garment measurements and how it relates to their body vs what the pattern tells you. This idea that Big 4 have more ease than other patterns is just not true. I had a MASSIVE sleeve fitting session last week with a pattern. We were raising armcsyces, widening shoulders and increasing bicep width for half the patterns. I’m not teaching the Farrow again as it takes too much time to make in a class and universally, most people thought it was too much ease.

      Wordy instructions bore me. It’s also hard to find out what you’re supposed to do next. The conversational instructions also leave room for error.

      Not shocking about the inside at all! I am a big advocate of serging. For me the finishing is more about them not being disappointed after the first wash, understanding why some clothes cost more than others, and that you don’t need a serger for it to look profesh.

      And, yes. Now that I’ve sewn everything and have samples of garments and class instruction notes, it feels like easy street from here on on. So much so that I was able to write a blog post and start finishing up some personal sewing 😀

      Finally, we just booked our trip to LA and the Bay Area for mid January. I’ll have to come by your shop!

      On Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 12:23 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


    • Thank you! I’m having a lot of fun. Fingers crossed I can keep drumming up new students!

      On Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 12:37 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  2. So I’m not the only person who has an internal monologue explaining what I’m doing while sewing!
    I’m glad you love teaching sewing. Over the years I’ve showed a few people how to this or that sewing technique. I’ve been surprised at what others don’t know. Like keep the bottom blade of scissors touching the table when you cut. I don’t remember learning how to sew so I also don’t remember what Mom must have taught me when I was 4 or 5.

  3. I am so envious of your students! Truly. I am still a beginner because I have great difficulty finding time to teach myself more advanced techniques. I could learn much more quickly if there was a sewing class where I live. I have looked and looked, but no go. I am also somewhat of a visual learner when it comes to crafts. I feel confident saying that you are a great teacher based on your post and the thought you have put into your teaching plans.
    I took knitting classes about 25 years ago after limping along with my knitting, and after a class with a great teacher (like you!), my knitting took off. My knitting teacher had us create the sample in the Knitting Workshop workbook that was knitting one technique after another. I don’t use all the techniques, but I *can* if it pertains to my garment. I still have that sample garment to refer to, and it has come in very handy. That sort of planning by a teacher like you creates so much learning and confidence in a short period of time. Congratulations on doing something you are obviously great at doing while enjoying it as well. It’s a rare combination.

    • Thank you, Becky!

      Teaching made me realize that while I like to read about techniques, some people are visual and need to see it done. Teaching also made me really think hard about why I do what I do (and even figure out where I got it from). I know with machine knitting I wouldn’t have gotten started if I didn’t have someone to help me out at first.

      Again, thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment. It really made my day.

      On Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 2:10 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  4. Great to hear about your teaching experiences. And lucky students to have you as their teacher! I can really imagine how much fun it is.

  5. It is wonderful to hear that you are enjoying teaching!! There is nothing quite like teaching, that’s for certain. I have to admit teaching sewing is one of the things that I would love to do. For sure it would be so different than what teaching I have done in public schools, over the past sixteen years. After reading your posts on PR and your blossoming blog on sewing and knitting, of course you would be a magnificent teacher!! Mazltov!!

    • I can’t believe I joined PR well over ten years ago! The internet definitely helped me step up my sewing game. I swear if it were an option nearby I’d get a masters in home ec and try teaching in schools. I know I wouldn’t be great with younger kids though! I admire teachers and their patience so much.

      On Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 2:49 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  6. Excellent post! The best way to learn is by teaching and it sounds like you’re doing it right! I taught for years and yes, it’s a HUGE investment in time, resources and energy but seeing that light come on in their eyes and seeing finished pieces they’re happy wearing is well worth it.

  7. I would love to take one of your classes, if I were in your area! I bet your students enjoy learning from you as much as you enjoy teaching them.

    • Ha! Maybe I phrased that incorrectly. But, I have them press straight seams on a seam roll and curved seams on a ham. I’ve found that it gets seams flatter. I also have them use a tailor board for seams that aren’t too curved. So, this week when I didn’t bring in all these tools (seriously, my IKEA bag was running over) they were pressing on the ironing board alone and said the seams were getting as open/ flat as there were with the hams.

      On Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 8:28 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  8. Your enthusiasm and skill come shining through this post. I’m sure you’re a great teacher! It’s such a service to show and guide people through the learning process. The students’ smiles say it all–to say nothing of the well-fitting pj bottoms. Well done!

  9. Gee, you are quite an inspiration! My grandmother, great aunt and especially my mother taught me on a straight stitch machine … they stopped me when I started to develop bad habits like wanting to skip the fabric prep of pre-washing and crisp ironing before I even touched the scissors or not ironing the seams open at each step or failing to appreciate the need to rip out a stray seam … but I mostly learned to love sewing which I still love to this day! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and great spirit with your lucky, lucky students and your lucky, lucky Bloglovin’ audience! Wish I lived closer to Baltimore! If you are ever planning to visit the NYC fashion district … it’s worth the trip!

  10. Congratulations on teaching your classes. Once upon a time I taught art and loved teaching. Now Just a little too old. Looks like you do a wonderful job. I taught art for thirteen years at an extension of college(Rangely)in Craig, CO. I never taught a class that I did not learn something very valuable to me….so it worked both ways and I am very thankful. Miss the class and the comradery.

  11. I recently sewed up a Vogue Basics shirt in pricey silk twill. It worked beautifully, the drafting was excellent and the instructions were spot on. It underscored how good these patterns are and made me question why I experiment with indie patterns. I got the Vogue pattern on sale, didn’t need to print it and got more than one style in the one envelope. Just so good!

  12. What a great read! I’ve recently been teaching some one-off sewing classes at a local quilt shop, and they are fun but enrollment has been minimal, and you can’t go into too much detail. The thing I’m most scared about is teaching fit!

  13. This was a really fun and timely post for me to read! I’m going to get all long and rambly right back at you…

    I am 2 classes into a 3-part sewing class I am teaching, my first. We’re doing the Linden, which isn’t my favorite, but seems to be a pretty good pattern to teach for beginners (most in my class have sewn something before, but not necessarily a garment, and none had sewn knit). I wasn’t sure I would like teaching because I consider myself to be pretty introverted, but damn, I couldn’t stop talking once I got there and we got to sewing!! I am really enjoying it, and love the look on the students’ faces as they begin to see the fabric morph into a garment. I hope my enthusiasm for sewing is coming off as such and I’m not looking like a total weirdo.

    The shop where I am teaching is closing, though, which is a bummer, because I’d like to keep teaching, but need to find somewhere else that has the supplies I need. I know a couple of places that have sewing machines, but I’d have to figure out how to handle patterns/fabric/notions/tools and anticipate what people might want to sew.

    I agree that there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work to be done to prep for a class! I wrote up several pages of notes prior to my class, and then kept adding more and more as we worked! So many tips and tricks to share.

    I had the students read the instructions as homework, but I lead them through the pattern in a completely different order than the instructions suggest, sewing things the way I would do it at home (batch sewing and pressing cuffs, hem bands and neckbands), because it saves time and is more logical, I think. I think they appreciated the different methodology. I also tried to say, when applicable, “Well, this is how I do it, but you could also do it this other way… here are the pros and cons of each. It’s really personal preference, though.”

    Glad to hear you’re liking teaching! I was just looking at your class listing – did all same students take all of the classes or did some just sign up for one? What garments are you going to sew for your next classes? You said you wouldn’t do the Farrow again; what are you thinking instead?

    • First, I’m totally borrowing some of your ideas like reading the instructions for homework!

      I did originally think about having lessons on my own in a rented space. But, the logistics and rent turned me off. Just having to get everything back and forth is a huge drag. And, I didn’t want to pay full time rent for part time classes.

      I’m not doing the Farrow again because it takes too much damn time with the pockets. I’m going to switch to the Hadley top. But, am a little sad I won’t get to use the blind hem stitch on this one (a benefit of the Farrow). I have my PDF for it printed and need to try it out first. But, will hopefully teach that in the spring.

      I’m going to continue doing the same garments for another beginner’s series. I don’t think I’ll start a more intermediate course load for a few months. That said, I’d like to start having specific classes like Closures: Zippers, buttons and snaps.

      So, the way the classes were first set up were just two of each in a say, two month period. They were packaged as individual and bundle. The bundles sold out really fast. But, that left us scrambling to add classes and I think lose some potential students. In the new year what I hope (and have submitted) is three sessions of each class making sure there’s a weekend session between January and May. That way if you have time to take classes and have some flexibility in when you take them. And, hopefully saves me from adding a new class here and there every other week. It hasn’t gone live yet (or even been ‘approved’) But, that’s my goal towards sanity and order 😀

      I also hope next near to teach more sew along type classes. Like, not as guided. But, bring this same pattern and work on it in class and ask me questions along the way. i.e. a shirt or skirt with pockets.

      I saw the shop was closing! I hope you find someplace to teach soon. Your enthusiasm is contagious.

      On Mon, Oct 2, 2017 at 5:53 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  14. I used to teach 13 students in my home for years and it was a joy to see them finish garments and learn new techniques. The one thing you will learn as a teacher is the different styles that students need to have to learn. If they learn by visual, auditory or tactile, you will also learn many ways to reach them to reach the same goal. Bless you in your new adventure!

    • I hope our next house (whenever that happens 🙄) is big enough that I can teach in house. That would be great!

      On Wed, Oct 4, 2017 at 3:10 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


      • Maybe I should clarify…I taught them one-to-one, not all in a group…ha ha! They ranged in age from 7 to 70. Best wishes!

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