Friday, November 20, 2015

Final Learning Blog: Learning is a journey!

I remember first learning about this class when I taking the orientation in the summer of 2014.  I remember Debbie telling us about the learning blog, and that she did it right along with her students.  At that time, she had finished teaching herself how to crochet.  I remember being so impressed that she, the instructor, made herself learn right along with her students.  The learning blog was fascinating to me, and a big reason why I switched from the on-campus class to online.  The past eight weeks have been wonderful, and I love seeing how I've learned and developed!

I've loved learning basics of sewing, but more than that, I have loved the opportunity to apply the learning process to a skill I've been trying to learn.  It has been so real!  Being able to see my thinking change from week to week has been eye-opening.  And to recognize patterns that have followed me from one project to another during my life... and to understand why some learning was so much more successful than others.

I'm a people person.  The weeks in which I learned the most about sewing were weeks I worked hard to learn from others.  From my sister teaching me the basic parts of the sewing machine, to my mother-in-law fixing the perplexing tension and showing me which stitches had been used to make my favorite clothes,  the wonderful craft-store sales representatives who helped me find the tools I needed, and my mom happily letting me raid her fabric bin.  Moments in which I could connect with others and seek input from them energized and motivated me to keep working.  This is part of why learning about cognitive apprenticeship was thrilling to me.  I love learning from "old timers", their tips and tricks, and the thrill of in return, being asked for advice by others! (My mom read about my tension problems, and asked if I thought what had worked for me would work for her sewing machine.  I'm a long way from being an expert or old timer, but it was wonderful to feel like I'm getting there!)  I loved understanding that as I learn skills from others, my cognition is developing along with whatever skill I'm developing. And learning that sociocultural education focuses on the learning and development from participating in an activity, whether "in the middle" or from the periphery, reassured me that it's okay that I'm often reserved and on the outskirts of group activities, because I'm still learning through observation and reflection.

I tend to overestimate what I can learn and accomplish in a given amount of time.  I love this quote from week two, "I've excited-I feel like the children's [toy] set and the baby blankets will be easily accomplished this semester, and I'll even be able to start on the jean blanket." Haha!  I said what? With two messed up online orders for blanket supplies resulting in not even one finished blanket, and I learned that polyester stuffing tends to poke out of cotton fabric so I need to restuff my little critters with cotton stuffing...  This is a great example to me of a pattern I have demonstrated throughout my life:  underestimating how much time it takes me to get through a learning curve, tackling bigger-than-normal beginners projects, and not accounting for the time needed if things don't go according to plan.  However, this course has helped me evaluate this pattern.  I'm grateful that I learned that I can view this pattern as a learning habit that can never change, or, preferably, I can take responsibility for my learning and view myself as having the ability to change, and learn incrementally (even if small) more and more.  

Another learning behavior I've demonstrated is that I continually struggle between wanting to know all the detail before starting a project, and needing to feel like I have freedom to experiment.  Both in week one and five I talked about the liberation of discovering and rediscovering examples of sewing from people who made do with what they had, and didn't feel restricted to following patterns.  Knowing that I have guidelines to follow helps me feel secure, while knowing that I do have the freedom to make changes and experiment (accepting that there may be consequences I might not like) helps me have the gumption to keep learning something new.  This reminds me of cognitive education, where teachers do not shape students, nor do they give them correct answers.  I've been broadening my mental models about what sewing is and isn't, and through my own failures and successes, adapting, changing, and augmenting those models.  

Last week, I felt like I had been stuck in my rut.  I was looking at a pile of unfinished projects, with only a dim hope that I would actually be able to finish any of them before the deadline.  That's when I read this warming paragraph from page 117 of Michael E. Martinez's Learning and Cognition:

"In our lifetimes and in our work, we should adopt the perspective that the subject will not be neatly laid out and dissected, with all mysteries dissipated through scholarship and research.  Instead, let's reside in the middle space acknowledging that we know a lot already, but also appreciating that many questions still endure.  What we know can guide our practice as educators, and what we don't yet know can make us suitably humble about our assumptions and decisions.  This halfway state can also help us to anticipate future discoveries...(pg. 117)" 

Remember, Ivy? It's a journey!  Learning is a journey.  The mind is continually developing.  I am learning how to learn, and that skill will bless me for a lifetime.  In just eight weeks, I was able to learn the parts of a sewing machine.  I learned about thread needle sizes, fabrics, how stitches interact with different fabrics, and different kinds of batting.  I finally learned what "grain" is and how to find it, and learned about tension in formal and informal contexts.  I may not have any finished the "big" projects, but they've been started, and I finally have the tools I need to complete them.  And I did make my however-unconventional-it-is-"I-did-it!" garment to wear around the house.  :) Next week I'm going to my in-laws, and can have a sewing party with people I love learning from.  And this will be a fun activity to continue with my sister and mom!  I did learn basics, and I'm excited to keep learning more.  How grateful I am for this "middle space", where I can acknowledge where I am, and look forward to future discoveries!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Learning Blog 7: Ruts, Not-orders, and happy applications

That title pretty much sums up my mental state this week: not very well organized with ups and downs.  We've been warned all semester that we would hit mental barriers with our learning blogs, and I thought I'd avoided mine until this week.  Last Friday I [thought] I placed an online order for batting so that this week I could tie the baby blankets I've planned on finishing, and when I finally checked my account, I learned I apparently didn't place the order at all.  However, I did learn that my mother-in-law has an adjustable sewing mannequin she is willing to let me borrow for sewing projects.  That was a huge plus.  I've learned I'm more motivated to learn how to make clothing than baby items, especially when I don't have a clue when I'll actually need the latter.

I loved this week's reading.  It is so applicable right now, and has helped me feel like I'm climbing out of the sewing rut and gearing up for this final week.  Several quotes from How People Learn (HPL) on pages 60-61 really helped me.  "Humans are motivated to develop competence and to solve problems...learners of all ages are more motivated when they can see the usefulness of what they are learning and when they can use that information to do something that has an impact on others--especially their local community." This week I've been fairly distracted by working on a project to acquire funding for a water-efficient landscaping initiative.  This project is something I'm passionate about, and can see how it would benefit our drought-prone state.  Right now it is much easier to focus on a community benefit rather than sitting down to tie yarn knots in a baby blanket which I don't know when I'll use.  So I've been trying to broaden my perspective by remembering that while I may not have a baby now, or even soon, learning to be patient and to finish through a simple sewing project will help me when I tackle bigger sewing projects, and will give me a heads start when we do begin that phase of life.

That ties in with the principle of needing time to learn skills.  I loved how HPL states that world-class chess masters require 50,000-100,000 hours of practice to reach that level of expertise (pg 56).  I'd heard that to be really good at a skill (not world-class, just really good) requires about 10,000 hours, or two years.  I'd rather start taking the time to learn basics and fundamentals of sewing right now, rather than trying to start the 10,000 hours even later.  It seems similar to the principle of earning compound interest-it's better to start sooner with little chunks of time invested, so that there will be enough time for processing the skills and information, rather than trying to cram it all in later.

Making myself think about why I'm feeling in a rut has helped me "educate myself" out of it.  I think it's similar to the stress the reading placed on "making students' thinking visible" so that educators can identify misconceptions and correct them to avoid wasting time and effort.  I've been able to apply the reading to identify why I felt like I was in a rut (not feeling motivated because the project isn't as interesting or potentially beneficial as other immediate projects), and placing myself into a perspective that making the effort now will result in long-term benefits that I maybe can't comprehend right now.  I'm very grateful to be in a course that actually helps me evaluate my thinking, and gives me tools to use to make myself think better than I have.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Learning Blog 6: Stuffing, Lofts, and Chopsticks

I loved our reading for this week, and how it applied to what I've learned in sewing.  We've read about cognitive apprenticeships.  Unlike normal apprenticeships where just a skill or trade is learned, a cognitive apprenticeship implies that in new-comer and old-timer relationship, the new-comer actually develops cognitively and integrates new knowledge into their being while they are in the process of becoming an old-timer.  And any of those apprenticeships occur within communities of people who are working within similar trades.  I loved remembering two room-mates I had in the same apartment, both of whom were excellent sewers.  One is a very detailed, precise, and orderly seamstress who would wear dresses we thought she had bought at the store.  The other was just as talented, would whip up her own patterns or not follow one at all, and made sewing seem much more whimsical.  It makes sense to me that even within communities of practice, old-timers will differ in their views and micro-culture, and that those will rub off on the new-timer.  

I've seen examples of this while researching online.  In forums or on product reviews, there are people who talk about making up sewing crafts as they go, or those (like me), who spend a ton of time reviewing product after product, or blog after blog, trying to find the exact match for the question they have.  In my case, learning about batting.  Did you know that stuff between your blanket has a vocabulary all of its own?  Like loft.  I thought a loft was in the top of a building.  But apparently it also means how thick batting is, and this affects the look of a finished product.  Batting also varies in density, grain, stiffness or softness, and material.  Apparently cotton breathes so that it is cool in summer and warm in winter, polyester doesn't breathe, and wool can have inconsistent loft.  I didn't realize I would have so many options choosing innards for a baby's blanket.  But I'm finally settling on polyester, which wont shrink like cotton would after washing.  I figure if babies puke as often as Facebook moms say they do, those blankets need to be the most resilient they can be.  

I've also started stuffing my soul-less critters that I put together last week.  I'd heard it was better to leave as small an opening as possible for turning the fabric in and out to minimize the needed hand-stitching.  I did not factor in that stuffing a cow is a lot easier when more than just her foot is open.  The batting I bought came with a "free stuffer", which is nothing more than a non-food grade chopstick.  And it seemed somewhat useless... my fingers worked better.  But maybe it would work better on a "higher loft dense batting" than the lightweight cloud I'm using.

On a stuffing note... does stuffing shrink over time?  I like having my little sheep be only partially stuffed.  It looks a lot more home-y.  But I dont know if it's better to stuff-until-it-nearly-pops in case stuffing compresses over time.  The mouse certainly looks better stuffed to a brim...  Any personal opinions on your end, "Old Timers"?    ;)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Learning Blog 5: I made animals!

Okay, so maybe I didn't make them...  my mom had already precut all the pieces, so she did all the hard work.  But I sewed the pieces together!!!  All by myself!  :)

Soulless sewed animals...they still need their stuffing.  
This was great practice.  Three weeks ago when my sister was showing me how to use the basics of my machine, she knew me well enough to tell me not to rush it.  If I make a bad stitch, go back and undo it, redo it, and then move on instead of saying "good enough' and regretting later.  While still not an expert, she knew me enough to address one of my biggest weaknesses,  a lack of patience, before I got myself in a tangle.  I kept hearing her voice while I worked on these, and several times I found bad stitches I needed to pull out and redo.  I'm grateful: I only needed two minutes to take out and redo bad stitches, and hopefully these little critters will last for quite a few years!

I was also glad for the practice to just sew.  I'm getting more used to how much pressure the foot pedal requires, and how fast it will respond.  And I found myself getting into the flow!  After feeling tense the past couple weeks, it was wonderful to settle into the "mode" of following the seam lines and hearing the machine hum.  A wonderful change from the snagged messes and tension problems I was dealing with before!

However, I've still felt very novice in our I feed the fabric into the machine.  I've seen others sew, and they seem to be able to just guide the fabric in circles to get the needle where they want it to go.  For the critters, I was stopping to pull up the foot every time I needed to change the direction of the needle.  Any tips?

I'm also practicing testing the stretch of fabric, and even printed off a couple patterns to start trying to make sense of them.  While I liked math in school, I have always struggled making sense of drawn diagrams showing how to construct things (unless it's a landscape-those I understand).  With patterns, it's still a struggle to understand how to lay them out on a bias.  I'm also finding what kinds of patterns are easiest to read: ones with a drawing of what the finished piece looks like, a list of needed items, a brief summary of how to put it together, and then the pieces.  Some patterns seem to be written by experts with little teaching experience: they draw the pieces on paper without any sort of description and expect that one can figure out how to put them together.  I'm sure other experts could, but for now I'm grateful for very detailed instructions.  And for DIY bloggers who document nearly every step with photos and written descriptions.  :)

I realized another mental barrier I have with sewing is that I feel like I need to know EVERY detail before starting a project, and I want it to be perfect.  Looking at blogs of professional seamstresses, I was starting to feel very tense.  But once I found a carefree blogger who had stitched a top piece out of scraps of fabric, I felt liberated.  I need to keep reminding myself that I can learn and grow bit by bit, and I will have small successes which build on each other as I keep pushing myself to do more.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

Learning Blog 4: Expert help and increased confidence

This week my mother in law Shannon was able to help me.  I'm so grateful for her expertise!  She has years of sewing experience, and was able to teach me what I hadn't understood from reading.  She also reminded me of a quote in our book that talked about how just because someone is expert in an area doesnt mean that they know how to teach well.  Shannon was able to connect with me on my level, and could remember what tricks I needed to know to overcome common beginners/novice mistakes.

First, we worked through the tension problems I experienced last week.  Flipping the bobbin around opposite to normal bobbin positioning solved the bunching thread problem!  The tension worked perfectly, and we were able to experiment with different thread patterns.  She taught me about the different stitch lengths (4 for basting, between 3-3.5 for regular stitches, and 3.75 for top/decorative stitching).  We figured out the different stitch types, and she showed me how to use the button hole stitches (alternating between a "bar tack"/side-to-side stick and two other steps).  I also showed her three of my favorite skirts/dresses, and she showed me which stitching options on my machine sewed the different seams/hems on my clothes.

I'd also been confused about reading about the grain of fabric.  All woven fabric have orientation of the threads which affect how they hang on the body when sewn into garments.  The selvedge (edge of the garment that was last on the loom) is parallel to the straight grain which has the least amount of stretch in a fabric.  The cross grain runs perpendicular to the straight grain and has a little bit more stretch.  And two bias grains run at 45 degree angles from the straight and cross grains.  I've heard about the bias before, with ladies explaining the importance of them in making skirts when I was younger, but I never knew how to tell how to find it.  Shannon explained that the bias grains are the stretchiest parts of the fabric, and showed me how to pull a fabric in different directions to help me determine which grain I was following.  If a flimsy fabric is cut along the bias, it can look shapeless when worn on the body.  But if a stiff fabric is cut along a bias when making a garment such as a round skirt, the bias helps create the openness of the piece.

This time with Shannon was invaluable.   Besides showing me how to determine the grains of fabrics, she taught me in which situations they could be used.  Associating the application of the information has helped me to remember it with less effort.  She also helped me identify some of the miscellaneous parts that came with my machine (I have a button holer and zipper foot!), and taught me that I can use regular sidewalk chalk to mark fabric for cutting.

She also showed me the different needles my machine came with.  Thicker needles are good for quilts and jeans, size 12 needles work for almost anything, and size 10 works for stretchy fabric and delicates because the needles are thin.  Long narrow spools of thread tend to be higher quality than the short squat spools, and almost anything can be sewn using just white, black, or grey thread.  Finally, if thread is bunching underneath the fabric and the bobbin's orientation is not the problem, I probably have a dull needle and need to change it.

I feel a lot more confident this week.  I'm learning more of basic facts of what tools work best in different situations and needs.  Our book said that we feel more motivated and learn more by success rather than failures--I feel excited to start sewing more, and to use our own machine.  I look forward to what the next week will bring!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Learning Blog 3: setbacks and progress

I’m super excited: I was able to turn the skirt I ripped apart last week and remake it into a blouse-thing.  It’s the first “clothing” I’ve ever sewn without a teacher!  What was really exciting was that because I didn’t have a pattern, I had to put it on and pin it how I needed it to fit.  The blouse is super simple, nothing fancy.  But what I’m most proud of is that I had to pin and sew a set of darts: folding the fabric into mini triangles so that it fit better rather than just hanging on me.  I’ll never wear it in public, but I’m excited to wear it around the house and feel proud that “I did it!”. 

The frustrating part of learning to sew this week was learning how to use the tension on my sewing machine.  The model I have is old enough that the tension needs to be manually adjusted, rather than the new models which automatically adjust.  I found a great website which has three different graphics demonstrating how to understand tension functions, rather than say “if your thread looks like this, do this to solve the problem.”  This reminded me of our reading this week.  Experts first seek to develop an understanding of problems, while novices search for correct formulas (pg 49).  Most sewing materials create cheat sheets for problems, but the website I read actually explained what causes tension and why loosening or tightening the thread helps solve the problem. 

However, I really felt the pressure of doing everything on my own this week.  While I was able to adjust the tension, and I could see how gradually loosening the tension slowly made the bottom thread go back to where it needed to be, I couldn’t solve the problem completely.  I took the tension as low as it could go, but I still had bottom thread popping up.  The thread also consistently bunched up and strangled underneath the fabric—and I’m not sure if that is a matter of tension or something else.  I did start developing a system to check if the needle was threaded completely.  I’m hoping my mother-in-law can look at the machine this weekend and help me understand if it needs oiling.  I finally just switched to a basic sewing machine a neighbor let me borrow, and finished the project in 15 minutes.  That was a relief!

When I first started this project I had goals to learn about different kinds of stitches, fabric, and the parts of the machine and what they were used for.  This was a very novice-based approach.  As I learn more about “real life” sewing, I’m learning it’s more useful to focus on not just function, but HOW parts achieve their function.  I think with my pfaff I’m going to need to be more aware of how parts work so that I can trouble shoot problems and fix them on the spot.  This is definitely more time consuming that being able to just sit and sew (like on my neighbor’s machine), but I think it will pay off in the long run.  And probably save on service repair costs too. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Learning Blog 2: Getting more and more excited :)

This week has been fun.  I went through my mom's material scraps and found the types and colors of fabric that I love to wear!  She also showed me the pre-cut-and-ready-to-sew fabric for TWO baby blankets!!!  Both share an adorable baby bear pattern, but one has a light blue backing and the other a light pink.  They share the one-piece "tied" style that mimics the baby blanket I loved to shreds.  This changed my plans in a good way.  Instead of making a piece baby blanket, I'm going to stuff and tie both the blankets, and begin making a big jean pieced blanket.  Mom also gave me a mini Noah's Arc sewing kit, with the ship and animals already cut out, just needing to be sewn and stuffed.  I've excited-I feel like the children's blankets set and the baby blankets will be easily accomplished this semester, and I'll even be able to start on the jean blanket.  

Along with these projects, this week I used my seam ripper to take apart a skirt I never use to repurpose the material for a new skirt.  I'm excited to be learning the names of different widgets.  One of the most helpful moments I had was just spending time in the sewing isle of the craft store looking at the names of the packaged materials.  I was able to sew the new plastic versions of antique tools in one of my sewing books (such as a pattern tracer).  And I was grateful I could get advice from one of the sales associates.  I found a "self healing" mat and rolling cutter, which she told me would help make cutting all the jean squares much faster than fabric scissors.  I was happy that my husband also affirmed that when he got home (admittedly, it took me aback that my husband knew more about that particular element of sewing than me.  I've viewed sewing as female oriented, and my husband prides himself on being a very manly man.  At least he proved he has paid attention to all the projects done by his mom and sisters).

Along with learning about the different types of blanket patterns (tied versus pieced), I also listened to several sewing podcasts.  I'd heard about podcasts, but these are the first I've actually tried, and it was nice being able to hear a person describing the tips and tricks they've learned over the years.  In one of them, she talked about how important a good iron is, and how effective different types are.  

I loved this week's readings on motivation. One of the biggest ah-has was learning that people view themselves as having either a stable capacity for skill or learning that doesnt really change, or the progressive view as seeing themselves as able to learn incrementally more and more.  Sometimes, I understate my self-efficacy at projects when I compare myself to others who I perceive as more skilled.  I think at times I've compared myself to others in a "I cant learn more about this subject.  They are just more naturally skilled then I am" mindset.  But in reality, I have the ability to learn bit by bit, and improve, until I am skilled.  But this depends on my personal effort instead of accrediting failures to lack of skill.  I loved the mention of the Bronte siblings, who started out as lackluster authors, but who over the years with consistent practice and refinement and open critiques, became highly regarded and skillfull.  My father has pointed out that I do have a tendency for starting so many projects that I leave a lot unfinished.  And I definitely have some subjects that I do want to master and become an authority in.  This reading helped me recognize that I can become skilled, but that I must be willing to focus, exert intelligent effort, and seek constructive feedback.  I look forward to what the next few weeks, and lifetime afterwards, brings!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Learning Blog 1: SEWING MACHINE!!!!

Kindergarten and First Day Back to School 20 Years Later!!! :D 
I've wiped the dust off my keyboard and have returned to blogging!  A lot has happened since February: I started a new full time job, and after a year of just working, now I've been able to start taking two graduate courses again!  WOOT!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Thankful Thursday: Inigo Montoya and a hoop house from heaven

I walked in the front door yesterday into what was supposed to be an empty apartment and was alarmed by a bellowing “HELLO!” I yelled and stepped back.  “MY NAME IS INIGO MONTOYA” the man proclaimed, brandishing a cardboard tube at me.  "YOU KILLED MY FATHER." I fell against the wall, gasping.  “PREPARE TO DIE”.  I collapsed into his arms, laughing. 

That is the man I married.  My best friend, and part of the reason I haven’t written on this blog for nine months.  Our story started with a search for wildflowers, picked up after an episode of rotten fish in a dumpster, and was made official over the altar.  But that is another awesome story for another day.  J