These last few weeks we’ve been focused on embroidery. We started with samplers to learn a variety of stitches and now we are start on our artwork.
To start, I asked everyone to write out a recent dream. It was hard for most people, myself included, to remember a dream, but it did help many of them think of some imagery and get started on their piece. Next, they picked out fabric to use as the backdrop to their piece. They picked out colors and started translating their image onto their fabric.
They also used sequins and beads to embellish their work.
I can’t wait to see the final projects!
These past few weeks we’ve been using our knowledge of macramé knots to create a plant hanger. This piece will be something the students can take home and I think is a good introduction to macramé as craft. Later, I hope to help the students use macramé as art, but while are are creating these it makes me wonder what the difference is. Is craft just decoration? Can craft be art when done in a particular way, with a particular intention?
I pre-cut all the cords for each student according to the pattern I usually use for macramé plant hangers, which I teach to adults quite often and as an airbnb experience via Distill Creative. During our class, I set up a photo backdrop pole hanger which functions as our stand where we hang our projects. This works fairly well, however, over the past few weeks we’ve gotten more and more students and so I’ve had bring out these macramé stands, which we put on the backs of chairs!
We took about three weeks to work on this project. I’ll admit, I thought we would finish it in two sessions, but because we had many students added on each week, which is awesome, and everyone moved at a different speed, we needed more time. My class started as mostly Spanish-speaking, but we’ve attracted many ladies from the Chinese Macramé class (which I also sat in on a few weeks ago) and now I’d say the class is about 40% Spanish-speaking, 40% Chinese-speaking, and 10% English-speaking. I am really happy that our class is integrated as I know that was one of the desires of our participants, and me!
Another really awesome development in our class is that students have started helping each other. I’ll turn around and see one student showing another student the next knot and it just melts my heart. This happens even between students who do not speak the same language! It’s really cool to see and helps me out a lot as I am only one person and sometimes many students need attention at the same time. My class has been about twelve people consistently and usually grows over the course of the two and a half hours.
This past week I had my sister substitute because I had some travel planned (more on this soon!). All my students wanted to make another plant hanger, so we’ll do another couple weeks where they can create their own design!
Last week was my second class for the “Fiber Arts: Woven Memories” class I am teaching at the at the Grand Coalition of Seniors. We started macramé in this class in anticipation of creating plant hangers, and, probably, wall hangings.
It was so hard that I was completely engrossed in helping the students and did not even think about taking a photo. So I have no photos, which is sad because everyone looked amazing working hard on their notes.
I told everyone at the beginning of class that they were going to need patience and someone said “Did you bring any?" which made me laugh because usually when I teach macramé there is wine, which is basically liquid patience.
Some of them knew the first knot, but most were doing this for the first time and I learned a lot of things that are different about teaching seniors vs. teaching young adults. While eventually everyone in my class did get the knots, there was a period where they were frustrated (and they will let you know) and I immediately felt terrible and apologized but then realized that most people get frustrated when learning macramé, so then I felt a little less terrible. Obviously I want my students to have a good experience, and I want to make sure things push them a little bit but aren’t actually too hard. This is difficult to determine with a mixed-skills group of seniors who have very different physical and mental abilities and it is hard to anticipate what someone may (or may not) need more help with. I did my best, and I learned a lot.
Some things I learned:
Seniors can’t get up and move around as quickly or easily as young adults and we shouldn’t expect them too. At one point in class I said “Come around and I’ll demo” and then I realized, shoot, this class is set up in a way that would make it very hard for them to move around and also it may be hard for them to move around and it also may take some time. So, instead I opted to go to each section of the room and demo at their stations. This worked, but left some of them waiting for me for a while. I think a projection may have also helped. The Ipad definitely helped, but I could only show it to one section at a time. I will also try a new setup next week.
Never underestimate the power of handouts. I usually give handouts at the end of class, if at all, because I want my students to learn by doing and not reading a handout. However, when working with seniors I found it was hard to give everyone the attention they needed and if I had the handouts ready and gave them to them ahead of time they could review my diagrams while waiting for me to come over. It also may lessen anxiety and impatience.
Setup matters. I don’t know why I lapsed on this, but for some reason I thought I could cut the cords as I was introducing macramé and that was a big mistake because it took too much time to get them all the materials and that increased in their wait time for me to come demo at their station. I am usually pretty meticulous at this, so I’m surprised at myself. I’ll do better next week.
Embrace the eager ones. There’s one student in my class who wants to do everything immediately and she was cutting cord and going a step ahead and I really needed her to wait for instructions, but then I realized, hey, maybe I can use her help! I asked her to do things that basically assisted me, which kept her busy and also helped me get set up for each new knot faster. I think I’ll ask if she wants to be an assistant every class because it helps me and I think it keeps her from getting bored! She clearly is faster than some of the other students at some things and I don’t want her to feel dragged down.
Ok, now I have to prep for tomorrow’s class!
This week I started my SU-CASA residency at the Grand Coalition of Seniors in the Lower East Side. I am teaching a course called “Woven Memories: A Fiber Arts Class” over the next five months in which we will learn and discuss fiber art techniques, cultural histories related to fiber, and create our own art projects.
I’m basing this course on my own experience learning about fiber arts and my current work in weaving, macramé, and paper. I’ve taught art classes before and I regularly teach craft classes to adults, but I have not worked with a group of seniors in this manner and I am very excited and honored to have this opportunity to share my art practice, spend time with seniors in my community, and learn!
WHY FIBER ART?
My main art form used to be printmaking, but about four years ago I started weaving at Artspace DC. I was initially interested in weaving because I wanted to figure out how to make my own fabric. I was designing clothes at the time and I was frustrated that I couldn’t get medium-sized quantities of fabric, but instead either a few yards or a few thousand yards of fabric. I looked up ‘weaving classes’ on Google and magically there was a fiber arts class near my house at the time, which was in the Shaw neighborhood in Washington DC. I started going every week and feel in love with weaving and my fellow classmates. I quickly realized I probably would not be making my own fabric any time soon, but it didn’t matter.
Weaving became a kind of therapy for me — the class and our teacher created a nurturing and supportive community for me and the practice got me back into thinking about, and eventually making, art. Every week I would go face the loom. Sometimes it would be frustrating and sometimes it would be exhilarating; usually it was both. Little by little I learned the basics of weaving and it became a necessary part of my life. I worked on a floor loom, a frame loom, an inkle loom, and a table loom.
I started learning about weaving in different cultures, including Zapotec weaving and took a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. Later, I dreamt up a self-guided residency made up of different natural dye workshops, weaving workshops, and embroidery workshops in Oaxaca. I saved up money and did it. This also coincided with me quitting my job and starting my own company, Distill Creative, but that’s another story.
I think the fiber arts class I took on a whim started a whole chain of events that eventually led to my current life: running my own company and pursuing art. And now I have this amazing art residency to share my love of fiber arts!
I miss my fiber arts group in DC a lot, but I am very happy that I can create with a new group of students, the seniors at Grand Coalition of Seniors.
SU-CASA RESIDENCY: WEEK 1 — PERSONAL COLLAGES
For this first week, I introduced the class to fiber art by sharing samples of my own work, including weavings, embroideries, macramé, and a shibori indigo dyed piece. I also gave a quick slideshow presentation that shared some fiber artwork by other artists whose work I admire. I asked if anyone had any experience with the techniques we will be learning. Some of them crochet or do needle work, so I’m hoping to incorporate that into the curriculum and learn from them, too.
Our first project was a paper collage. I wanted to do something relatively easy and have them share a little bit about themselves. I asked a series of questions and had them write down the answers, then we all made collages to manifest the answers and share things about ourselves. Many students in my class speak Spanish, so I tried to translate but I am much better at comprehension than speaking these days. Luckily, the regular Art and Craft teacher was there to help translate and I think we got the message across.
At first, the class, which was about 15 people and kept growing throughout the session as more people came to join in, was tepid about the project. I don’t know if they weren’t into it or just didn’t understand, but slowly they all came around and before I knew it there were magazines being passed around and images being layered and a quiet room focused on making.
The results were pretty amazing and super varied. Once they finished their collages, I had them stand up and present their collage to the group and share the meaning behind the images. This was my favorite part because I got to learn a little bit about each of the seniors and they got to share something they created in a public setting. Some were shy about sharing at first, but then they got into it and were eager to share.
At the end of class we displayed the collages on one of the walls in the Art and Craft room. It looked like a little gallery and seeing all their work up on the wall together was amazing.