Digital Learning for Quilters and Sewists

Note:  I am an experienced online learner, having earned both of my advanced library degrees via distance learning.  I have also designed and delivered professional learning via online platforms.  As much as digital formats have opened up new opportunities for everyone, it is my experience that there are just some things that are better learned F2F to gain a working knowledge of the subject before delving into online learning.  This allows the student to have success in expanding that knowledge via digital learning. Sewing is one of those skills. 

The internet has been a real game changer when it comes to how we learn new things.  Not that long ago, you took an in-person class at a fabric shop or learned from mom/grandma.  These face-to-face lessons were often supplemented by a sewing book borrowed from the public library.

Those options still exist today; however, the quilter and sewist have many more choices. You can take a class at a guild meeting, weekend sewing retreat or on a cruise. You can learn on your own schedule via Craftsy or a DVD that you borrowed from the library. You can buy any number of digital books/magazines (some of these are even available through your local public library).  The quilting and sewing communities are known for their resource sharing and willingness to help one another out of any stitchy quandary.

Thanks to the sewist in Australia who took the time to make and upload the YouTube video demonstrating  how she alters men’s dress shirts.  Garment sewing is not my strong suit and I had to alter four (4) men’s dress shirts this week.  All done and they look professional!

That said, when I took a weekend quilting class at the Campbell Folk School, I was amazed by the number of younger sewists who were there to learn the basics because Craftsy, YouTube and videos from the library weren’t helping them learn how to sew. This confirmed what I had experienced with the kids I teach. (They’ll watch a video, but want someone right there when it gets to the hands-on part.) Sewing is like reading. You need someone to show you the basics and then you practice, practice and practice independently (sometimes with your teacher) to improve your skills.  You search out a “coach” when you need additional help.

I love having the convenience of on-demand learning in my home and I rarely take a F2F class anymore strictly to learn a technique. I will take an in-person class for socializing (or to experience something like the Campbell Folk School) or to learn from a particular instructor. But then again, I was already familiar with sewing basics thanks to my mom and middle school home economics.

Here are my suggestions for newbie sewists, both big and little:

  1. Take any and all machine classes that come with the purchase of your sewing machine. Most dealers offer a one-on-one introductory class. Sign up for it.
  2. Invest in a series of lessons that teach the basics – how to read a pattern and instruction sheet;  seam allowances and seam finishes; zipper installation; how to make buttonholes; how to do a basic hem; make a casing; basic quilting by machine.
  3. Try a simple project in each of these 4 categories – garment (simple skirt/t-shirt), quilting (charm square quilt), home dec (pillow cover) and accessories (zipper pouch/tote bag).
  4. Once you have a handle on the basics, you’ll find YouTube and sewing blogs to be great resources to advance your sewing skills – especially if you can’t afford in-person and online classes.  Your public library card is the best value in your wallet when it comes to access to sewing and maker learning resources. Some libraries even loan sewing machines or have them in the “maker space” that is so popular in libraries right now.
  5. If you gravitate toward a particular type of sewing – say garment sewing – try to find a group in your area to meet-up with on a regular basis.  The American Sewing Guild and Modern Quilt Guild are two national organizations with local chapters scattered across the United States.  Local fabric stores, quilt shops, yarn shops and even the big box fabric and craft stores sometimes serve as meeting spots for local creative fiber groups. Ask around.

Each person has a unique learning style.  Some will be able to learn what they need from YouTube without ever setting foot in a sewing class. However, most will fare much better with a basic understanding of sewing techniques learned from someone in person before they sign up for that Craftsy class.