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Perspective: Presenting a Workshop or Afternoon Class

Today we present thoughts from Manda Lewis, who—among other roles—creates most of the art for Sirens, on why presenting an afternoon class worked for her.

In 2012, my friend Erynn and I wanted to run an afternoon class on a topic we both loved. As we both enjoy costuming and creating clothing, we thought teaching a sewing basic class would be a lot of fun. It also seems like a topic that comes up in fantasy literature in many ways, either through thread or textile magic, showcasing talent, or even basic survival. We thought running through basic hand stitching and embroidery techniques would work well, teach participants something they didn’t know, and facilitate discussion about sewing in the books we love, so we proposed an afternoon class titled “Thread Magic: Hand Sewing for Beginners.”

We laid out a basic lesson plan that included an attention step (talking about stories and characters we’ve seen use sewing as a plot point), a materials overview, a few basic pointers, construction stitches, and decorative stitches. Erynn and I created a PowerPoint presentation since we thought it would be good to have some close–ups of the items we wanted to show. We had to do a little research, but it was easy to pull information from a lot of the materials we had at home. Both of us have a lot of craft and sewing books!

When the time came for the class, we ran through the beginning of our lesson quickly so we’d have a lot of time for folks to do the hands on activity. Participants picked fabric, thread, and needles and then tried out all of the stitches we had talked through. With two of us running the class, it was easy for us to move around to everyone and provide instruction and help where needed.

Teaching an afternoon class was a lot of fun and I felt like we engaged in Sirens in a different way than we had in other years. I hope we were able to give the audience some skills to take home and try so they could make their own thread magic!

Here’s our summary for “Thread Magic: Hand Sewing for Beginners”:

Alanna tells us that a woman with a bit of string in her hands can bring down a troupe of armed knights if her will is strong enough. Thread magic weaves its way throughout fantasy literature and we’ve even seen some of our favorite characters dabble in textile arts for fun or necessity. This class will teach participants the basics of construction and decorative stitching. By the end, participants will create a final project for charity and be a little more armed when they find a bit of string in their hands. $2 donation for materials is requested.

For our abstract, we submitted a lesson plan:

Lesson Plan:
The objective of this afternoon class is to teach attendees the principles of hand sewing for construction and decoration.

Attention Step: (5 minutes)
The lesson will begin with various quotes from fantasy novels that show characters sewing, weaving, or engaging in some form of textile art. Students will also be asked what examples they can think of from books or media that they’ve read or watched.

  • Marian in Outlaws of Sherwood sews clothing and makes tapestries
  • Alanna and her protégé in Woman Who Rides like a Man use thread magic
  • Sandry in the Circle of Magic books uses sewing and spinning to control magic
  • Herald Talia in The Heralds of Valdemar series helps to sew uniforms at the collegium
  • Hanna in Bleeding Violet sews clothing for herself and her mother

Tools and Materials Overview: (10 minutes)
The first topic that will be covered will be the basic tools used in hand sewing. Examples of each will be brought to be passed around so the students can become familiar with them and see the differences.

  • Thread (different types and what they’re best suited for)
  • Needles (different types and what they’re used for)
  • Thimbles
  • Pins
  • Fabric (different types and what they’re best suited for)
  • Shears (different types and what they’re used for)
  • Other: marking pencils, threaders, irons, etc.

Threading the Needle and Knotting Thread: (3 minutes)
Threading a needle will be demonstrated and then students will have the opportunity to try it out with their own materials.

Using a Thimble: (5 minutes)
The technique for sewing using a thimble to aid in pushing the needle through fabric will be demonstrated and time will be given for students to practice.

Construction Stitches: (20 minutes)
Stitches will be demonstrated followed by a few minutes for students to practice the stitch with their materials.

  • Straight stitch/Running stitch
  • Backstitch
  • Overhand stitch
  • Whipstitch

Decorative Stitches: (20 minutes)
Stitches will be demonstrated followed by a few minutes for students to practice the stitch with their materials.

  • Blanket Stitch
  • Chainstitch
  • French Knot
  • Lazy Daisy

Project: (30 minutes)
The students will have 30 minutes to work on a small sewing project using the skills they have learned in the class so far. The project will be a small pillow. Once completed, the pillows will be donated to breast cancer patients who use them for comfort post–mastectomy. Instructions will be given and each student will have a print out to refer to. The teachers will move around the room helping students as they complete the project.

Closure: (2 minutes)
The lesson will end with a discussion about using textile arts to create magic in our own lives that parallels what we’ve read or seen in our favorite stories. Students will also be given a hand out with diagrams for the stitching they’ve learned in the class.

Materials:

  • 15 Spools of thread
  • 30 Fat Squares of quilting fabric
  • Stuffing
  • Several sets of scissors to share
  • 30–40 needles
  • Example needles of various types
  • Pins
  • Projector and screen

If you love to get hands–on with fantasy, we recommend a workshop or afternoon class!

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