While doing my Div III at Hampshire College, I taught two co-curricular sewing classes through the EPEC (Experimental Program in Education and Community) program, using the Lemelson Center classroom. During the 2011 January term I taught “Custom Corset-Making,” and during spring semester I taught “Historical Sewing Techniques for Practical Use.” These classes were set up so that any participant who wished could register the class as an independent study and receive full academic credit for work completed, under the supervision of Donna Cohn, a Lemelson professor and one of my committee members. Each of the independent study students have written about their projects, and those articles are linked below.
The original posted course description: If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Gee, what I really need is a corset – one that actually fits me properly,” then you are in luck. For this class I’ll be helping people look at how corsets are constructed, styled, and fitted, and assisting them in fitting customized corsets of their very own. By the end of Jan term, you’ll have made at least one – even if you come in with no prior sewing experience. Also, this class can be arranged as an independent study for credit.
Historical Sewing Techniques for Practical Use
Excerpted from the original posted course description: This class will focus on useful but under-used old-fashioned techniques and tricks for sewing (your great-great-grandmother probably knew all of them), but it will emphasize practical use, whether for historical reproduction clothing, costumes, DIY modern clothes, etc. We’ll also be looking at issues of sustainability and conscious consuming, exploring organic and eco-friendly materials, construction geared toward longevity, and using second-hand garments and materials. We’ll cover both machine- and hand-sewing, starting with the basics (a scrap sampler of stitches and a handy-dandy apron), expanding on those basics via a more complex but relatively un-fitted garment (such as a simple skirt, bag, or shirt), and concluding with a big individual projects (like a costume, dress, or coat). No sewing experience is needed, but the class can also accommodate more experienced sewists.
And How Did That Work Out?
Well, in the end, neither class made it quite as far as I had hoped, thanks to snow days, fabric-purchasing snafus, and things generally taking longer than anticipated. But thanks to my sewing student guinea pigs, I think I’ve come out of these classes with a better understanding of how to go about teaching sewing, and everyone I’ve talked to claims to have greatly enjoyed the class(es) they took, learned a lot, and made nifty things.
Really? How Nifty?
Very nifty! Among other things, there’s the sparkly black and silver skulls-and-owls corset, the very dapper suiting apron, the extra classy and entirely hand-stitched black-and-white print apron, and a growing collection of hand-stitched custom bow ties!
And now, you can read all about the exciting creations of the students who took Historical Sewing Techniques for Practical Use, in their own words and with pictures. In order to document their work for their independent studies, each student has written up a description of the work they’ve done, and the things they’ve learned, with photographs of their creations. In alphabetical order:
Many, many thanks go out to the Lemelson Center for letting us use their classroom and their sewing equipment, especially to Roxanne Finn who manages the classroom and was always a big help, and to the Lemelson-run Social Venture Fund which gave me a grant to help fund supplies for my Div III, in part because they were very much in favor of these classes happening. Lemelson is one of my favorite parts of Hampshire, and I’m looking forward to remaining involved, even thousands of miles away, through the Advisory Network side of the Social Venture Fund and Advisory Network.
(Also, random readers, if you want to support innovative design and people generally doing great things in creative new ways, you should seriously consider reading up on the Lemelson Center and the Social Venture Fund and Advisory Network – the best part is that you can contribute mentoring and advice even if you’re as poor as a churchmouse! Just sign up for the advisory network here.)