I have a handwork confession to make. Of all people,
I’m probably the last person you’d ever expect to not want to talk about handwork or fibre or making things – but for years, I tried to cover up my creative tendencies.
I excelled in school & studied fiendishly to get the best grades I could in the hardest courses. I wanted to make my parents & teachers proud. I never let anyone see that I felt like crying when my school teachers would cancel the Friday art lesson in favour of a
pep-rally in the gym.
I lived for those few creative minutes all week –they were my one chance to have fun during school hours & feel relaxed.
Things got a bit better when I was a teenager as I was fortunate enough to attend a very art-oriented high school. The nuns taught us REAL art techniques & took our abilities seriously. For the first time during my education, art was considered an important subject – dare I say even a “core” one?
Oddly enough, I didn’t sew or work with fibre at all during highschool as the “home-ec” department was still the domain of those who
“weren’t cut out to make it in the real world”…
the future “stay-at-home moms”.
Surely, I didn’t fit that description !?! (If only my 17 year-old self could have known!)
I said I wanted to be a stockbroker –
but it wasn’t really true !
My family knew that I was creative & so did my friends but when I met someone for the first time & they asked the dreaded question
– “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
I usually said, “Oh, I’m going to be a Stockbroker.”
There would be the knowing nods, (surprised) eyebrow raises & the
exclamations of appreciation.
There was a time, when I really believed that I was headed for the financial world.
Then, just before I turned 18, I decided to step up & commit to my deep interests in design, art, fashion & avant-garde problem solving.
Winning Against Steep Odds – 1:20
I informed my parents that I wanted to attend F-A-S-H-I-O-N school.
In anticipation of how my father would react, I had come to them prepared with all the important stats from my intended educational institution (graduation rates, projected salaries, job placements, etc).
The ace in my back pocket was that they had just been upgraded from a Polytechnic (aka tech school) to University status & I could earn a “REAL” degree there.
After the dust settled (the possibility of a B.A.A. degree went a long way to smoothing my path), my parents agreed to let me apply.
So, I put together a pretty cool portfolio & won a coveted spot in the Foundation year program.
I was really proud of myself considering only 1 out of every 20 applicants managed to pry open the doors & get their foot into the prestigious place.
Like any truly fashionable thing – exclusivity was key.
Meeting Kindred (& not so ) Souls
The first day of class, I felt like I had entered paradise.
Everyone liked to draw, sew & make things – and we were going to do it during school hours!
Fast forward a few months & that old feeling started creeping back.
I’d hear people sniggering in the halls when they passed our “fashion” workrooms.
Guys in the pub would say smart things:
“Hey, do you take, like, field trips to the mall?”
“If your sewing machine breaks, do you get the day off?”
HAR, HAR …back slap, beer swig. (It WAS university after all!)
Nobody made disparaging remarks about the hospitality or architecture students
& everyone seemed to be in awe of the business students.
My fashion friends & I were blown away by the dismissive attitude of the other students.
There we were spending twice as long in class & then facing many more hours of homework than any other discipline.
It was a cut-throat place…
It seemed our professors were trying to prove that our programme was “serious”
by piling on the work. They said it was to prepare us for the “real” world.
We did sew at school, but we also had fine art & commercial design studio sessions , business & marketing classes & even public speaking & art history courses.
It was very exciting & also draining – that constant need to prove our worth .
How wildly-creative could I be with a piece of “surprise” fabric?
How cut-throat could I be? (- ever see those next-big-designer shows? They’re more
truth than fiction!)
How many hours could I go without sleep before I fell over?
(That would be about 65, in case you’re wondering…)
It was all way too much & not enough.
So much information yet they forgot to
give us the sort
we so desperately needed.
Why was it so overwhelming?
Because despite designing a quality fashion programme, the school didn’t recognize the true value of the education they were offering us.
Nobody had bothered to research the effect working with fabric & paint would have on us in the long term.
(hint: better integration of both sides of the brain = superior brainstorming skills among other things)
They spoke about the history of art & fashion but rarely linked the clothes & techniques with the changes which were taking place in the world when they were made.
Ideas were thrown at us from all sides but never “sewn” together.
Not once did anyone tell us that making things could help us in our academic courses.
(another hint: we experienced enhanced memory, faster pattern recognition, increased ability to stay in flow while studying &/or creating)
Why did they feed the competitive atmosphere when we all would have been so much happier (& productive) if we’d worked together?
(It would have been so easy to foster a sense of community between us, our teachers & past designers who were meant to inspire us.)
They thought I had narcolepsy
– but it was just plain old exhaustion!
One day, we gathered around our professor as she demonstrated a sewing technique.
Some people stood while others sat where they could. I sat perched on the edge of
a large cutting table.
Everything was going well enough until… I feel asleep…and woke up as I slipped off the edge of the table & hit the floor.
I wasn’t hurt but it wasn’t the first time I’d passed out in class.
My parents were shocked & sent me to a neurologist. She concluded nothing was wrong except that my “very creative essence was being sucked out of me day by day” (well – not exactly but that’s what I heard!).
What she did tell my parents was that I would be risking my health if I returned to the school the following year.
Sleep deprivation can do a lot of things to a person &
one unexpected side-affect can be clearer vision.
That was my wake-up-call.
OK, so I learned lots of things while I was there along with the regular fashion-y stuff, not the least of which were how to schedule many projects at once & how to find inspiration in the most unlikely places.
The neurologist didn’t realize the magnitude of the gift she gave me that day.
Her professional opinion made me realize that my body & mind could be affected by what my hands were doing.
All those years the answer had been right in front of me neatly hidden in the giant hole in the middle of my education.
Finally, all the pieces fit together & I knew that making with my hands means far more than just producing something.
Picking up the
First Threads of my NEW School
What had been lacking was the HEAD & HEART & HANDS triad that has come to be the foundation of everything I do & teach to my children & here at
Finally, it all made sense why one of the oldest human activities is working with fibre.
It’s essential because it forms the foundation for all other learning!
Since I created my virtual school , I’ve given countless hours to thinking about & researching the amazing intersection of head, heart & hands that lies within
every fibre art project.
Stay tuned, next I’ll be sharing the top books that started me on this fascinating path & how they helped me build my rather unconventional framework for designing a custom curriculum that equips children for the 21st century.
(Did I mention that I’m a life-long trend-forecaster? Yes, I enjoy looking forward into the future as much as I like peering back into the mists of time!)
Until then – Happy Making !
P.S. Interested in trying out some handwork activities with your kids?
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