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letter from an endangered species!

JanF | Posted in General Discussion on

This is a copy of a letter I’ve sent to Amber but I thought it might interest others too and I would welcome comments about the validity of teaching textiles in today’s world – where consumerism has gone mad and clothing is so cheap to buy in some places – its not worth the hassle for a lot of youngsters!
“To Amber – A thought really – I have seen various posts in Gatherings – about recent articles in the mag. and also about submitting stuff. After various chats etc. with people via “Gatherings” over types of work being done now – and what was done in schools in the past – I wonder if there would be any mileage in asking those of us who are teachers of textiles by profession,to submit information/files/pics of the types of work being done in schools today. I suppose this is because I have some concerns that a lot of the message posters can a) recall their most appalling teachers only! and b)do not appear to fully appreciate/understand what is being taught in schools now.
However – I live in the UK and of course our standard curriculum might not be what is taught over the pond. Indeed I would welcome articles that gave people some insight into the world of teaching textiles in schools today – across the World for that matter. I’m sure you would get some input to the mag. and it might dispel fears that textiles skills are not being taught at all!
I would willingly pass on to you details of our curriculum with some pics that would show the standard of work achieved. I only teach textiles up to the age of 16 (our Key stage 4) but across the UK there is some great stuff being done. At some schools 16+ work standard is brilliant, although we still have to battle to prove to the powers that be (that is management!!! and males – usually!!!)that there is a place for Textiles work in both Technology and Art( somehow we teachers of a creative subject are still thought of by some, as just doing stuff “for the non-academic kids!).
It is a costly subject in terms of resources and not a lot of return in terms of numbers when it comes to exams. However it is interesting to note that when studies are done every year within Technology results – it is Textiles that achieves the highest marks consistently!
I believe that there is still a lot of mileage in studying textiles in schools. I believe that it is a life skill – even if only for young men to do their own sewing on of buttons and repairing zips etc. for when they leave Mum’s apron strings! However, I’m nearing the end of my teaching career now and replacement teachers are increasingly in short supply. Perhaps showing what is being done – or what is capable of being done in the field of Textile work – would encourage more youngsters to keep trying – possibly helping in the recruitment of a new age of textiles teachers.
Anyway – your mag. could be a way of highlighting both the dilemma and the possible stars of the future?
Thanks Janet Fletcher


  1. lilah | | #1


    I liked your letter very much, but apparently the US and UK differ greatly in the subject matter being taught in schools.  In my area of the US, sewing and textiles dropped out of the curriculum at least 20 years ago.  Only one two week sewing class in  home-ec was given in 12 years of school.  Needless to say, even though the teacher was an excellent seamstress, no one can learn how to use a sewing machine and all of the sewing basics in two weeks. I loved the teacher and I could tell she sewed her own clothes and I was very impressed with that.  We chose a simple garment pattern and muddled through.  I believe that even the teacher had the idea that no one wanted to learn to sew.  I know I didn't get any help at all from her and I really wanted to learn sewing. Most girls I was in school with  (late '70's) did not sew at all and neither did their mothers, so they weren't exposed to sewing as a creative outlet.  I think the only way to bring sewing back into the schools is to make it a part of the arts program, which is really where it belongs. 

    My daughters have both graduated from high school within the last five years.  The older DD had one sewing lesson where the class made pillows out of felt, appliqueing designs and stitching them together by hand (there are no sewing machines in their school).  Hers pillow was shaped like a chocolate chip cookie, so it was a brown blob with dark brown blobs stuck on it. The younger daughter had no sewing whatsoever.   

    My mother sews beautifully, which she did learn in school.  Unfortunately, she worked and did not teach me how to sew.  I've learned how to sew from books (and Threads magazine).  My work schedule prevents me from taking classes.  The dearth of information that I have encountered on sewing has led me to collect vintage sewing books to find the information I need.  

    I hope the current resurgence of interest in sewing continues and creates a huge new industry like quilting and, to a lesser degree, knitting has done.  I hope that another sewing machine company will start giving classes like Singer used to do.  Singer really had the market sewn up (no pun intended) with selling machines, fabrics, notions and classes all in one place.  Hancock's and some other places do offer sewing classes, but they are generally taught by untrained individuals and are usually only beginner classes, very limited in scope, not on the level of the Singer classes. 

    1. JanF | | #2

      Thank you for your response - I'm amazed that over there you dont have textiles as part of the curriculum, when it is obvious that so many people seem to enjoy the work - patchwork and quilting in particular, it seems to me. Of course this is only the impression I get from what I come across (our local quilting group sources their stuff from an American lady who has her own business here stocking everything for quilters!)
      Totally brainwashed as I am, I imagine lots of people learn at home from Mum/Grandma and sit having sewing bees like the scene in The Witness - although I do realise that is an extreme case!!
      I suppose the next film star to say she makes her own clothes will start a new trend, like the knitting recently promoted!
      Do many inner city dwellers spend their time knitting as some newspaper reports over here have been telling us recently about?
      I'm full of admiration that you have acquired your knowledge the way you have - lots of people wouldnt take the time these days. However I do think TV like Project Catwalk will have inspired lots of students with flair to acquire the knowledge somehow, for what they want to do. In a way that is what my subject in school is supposed to do.
      Its called Design Technology but the main thrust is learning how to make something - once you've designed it - and in a way - if u have keen students it works well - acquiring the necessary skills along the way for you to make what you design. Its just a bugger faced with the one pupil( or 2?) that has 2 left hands and is not keen to do anything - never mind the one pupil that is a walking demolition expert - believe me - they exist!- just to go from 1 machine to another and #### it up for everyone!
      Anyway - mustn't moan - cos we broke up for the hols today and after a last assembly singing a few carols and Rudolf the Red nosed u know what - I can have 2 weeks to relax and forget the whole thing altogether....mind u still got to finish my own corset for New Year!
      Good wishes for Christmas

      1. Ralphetta | | #3

        In my school district, here in the midwest, sewing is taught in the middle school for one semester, (emphasis is on cooking during the other semester,) and in the high school. Middle school boys seem to enjoy the classes.  I'm sure that many enrolled to be around girls, but since most of them want a decent grade they pay attention and learn something. I was pleased to see that the boys appear very comfortable learning how to sew.  That's  a significant improvement, even if nothing else is accomplished.  They have decent equipment, but  since there are 29-30 in some classes, some teachers don't control things as well as others. Things aren't ideal, but it's treated with respect and not ignored.

      2. lilah | | #5

        Knitting has become a fashionable thing to do, but most people don't go beyond making scarves or hats. I know a few people here (South Carolina) that watch Project Runway, but the schools here do not offer much in the way of sewing or fashion, not even on a college level. I checked into colleges that offer courses in Fashion Design, but the closest I can find is North Carolina and Atlanta, Ga. I guess that's because the area that I live in is mostly just working class people who wouldn't consider Fashion Design or anything related to sewing as a career choice. It's no fashion Mecca, that's for sure. There used to be a lot of textile mills in and around this area, so the jobs were at the low end of the pay scale. All of those jobs have gone overseas and the result is cheap clothes. I don't mind that, but now it seems that the quality of clothes is so poor. Maybe this will help bring sewing back into the mainstream, too. Quilting is still gaining in popularity. I had some young ladies (early 20's) approach me to ask me to teach quilting classes because they wanted to "save a dying art." I couldn't do it because of my work schedule, but I did point them to some quilt teachers in the area. The girls were really astounded to find out that there are several quilting guilds in our city! I once gave a weeklong quilting class for a vacation Bible school class. All of the women who participated were quite a bit older than I am and at least half had never used a sewing machine. None of them had a sewing machine that was in working order, so I took enough Featherweights for everyone to use. My husband and my mother both assisted with the class and one elderly lady couldn't sew a straight line to save her life. My husband ripped out her sewing and then ended up sewing her quilt top for her. At the end of each day she would anxiously ask him if he would be there the following day. One day he had to work late and couldn't be there, she reluctantly allowed Mom to help her. We spent part of the first class just learning how to put fabric on the machine, stitch a line and remove the fabric from the machine. I pre-cut the fabric and made kits, so they could just learn to piece and press. Everyone got a small quilt top finished and layered for quilting and most of them hand-quilted their quilts. They turned out beautifully and the women had so much fun. Funny you mention the "walking demolition expert" - on Project Runway, some of the designers have had a lot of trouble using the sewing machines. I guess they tend to do more design work and less actual sewing! Anyway, I hope that sewing will really start to become more popular here. I'm glad (and a little envious) that sewing and fiber arts are still part of the school curriculum in other places.

        1. thehat | | #6

          I so agree that the workmanship is so poor and the colors comeon it looks like some one threw up  and if we would have kept our clothes from the 50 60 70 we would be right in style and the workman ship was better and not so cheep looking  or we could sell them now . When does style meet fashion  and why does  everybody have to look the same isn`t that the primary reason why we sew and doesn`t  that make you feelgood when some one ask where you got that outfit and you say I MADE IT  .,and that is what puts a feather in my hat and this last weekend was well worth it.

        2. JanF | | #7

          Thanks for your reply. I found it interesting to note that you obviously live in a similar type of area to me and that your schools don't pass on any textile knowledge. Obviously it could have been topical for the students to keep a practical link to the area's past via the skills, but the education establishments have made a decision not to include it in their curriculum! We have a National Curriculum over here and every student in Wales has to study Technology until aged 14/15 - after which it can be optional - is it the same over all North America, or is it decided by each state?
          Our mills are now practically obsolete too. If you go to Scotland/Ireland you will still find small weaving/spinning concerns - but nothing on the scale that was in the past(and b...y expensive to buy from!) - after all that we were supposed to be the "founders of the Industrial Revolution" but now just mostly museums to the Industrial Heritage. Such is Economics I suppose!
          Good job some people over there are still keen enough to find out for themselves and it sounds to me that its a good thing that in your country you have people with textiles skills prepared to share their experience.
          Such is the lure of the "instant" fix of cheap, almost throw away clothing now that even I can see a case for buy, wear, throw when fed up - or out of fashion!
          Anyway - Ill keep sewing - 'cos nothing gives me such pleasure as creating any kind of stuff really - unless the eyesight gives way, that is. One of the draw backs of age!
          We do have a healthy young fashion training set up though throughout the College system here though. Loads of students into fashion and fancy being designers - I suppose nothing is more alluring than thinking of working with clothing - closely linked to media personality I suspect!- and if they get into college - they do acquire lots of manufacturing skills. However - still the age-old problem! Loads can design but not make - and vice versa - and it was like that when I was in college!
          Still - onwards - as they say!
          Speak again sometime - no doubt!

  2. Bettefan | | #4

    I live on Long Island, in the New york suburbs, and in our middle school, "Home and Careers" is taken by all students for at least two years. They spend half the time cooking and the other half sewing. Kids get a choice of project, and start with easies like felt appliqued embroidered pillows. Later on they make sweatshirts and PJ pants. I'm pretty sure everybody enjoys it.

         A fshion design course is also offered in the high school, but I don't know anything about it, since neither of my two DDs took it.

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