Thursday, July 13, 2006

First formal class

It’s just bead embroidery. Backing, needles, thread, beads. Nothing to it. But before I leave to teach my first class for the Centre for Craft & Design, I have a packed a large flight back to the top.

Working in my studio with everything close at hand, I hadn’t realized how many more tools and materials I use. Paper to scribble design ideas on, marking pens to color the bead backing, scissors, rulers, pencils, glue, double-sided tape, measuring tape, white cotton cloth to spread the beads on and masking tape to keep the cloth from slipping, a measuring tape to take wrist measurements.

The day before the class, I oil every pair of scissors I own and cut tinfoil with them to sharpen the edges. I notice that my measuring tape, plastic and old enough to be almost vintage, is filthy. I wash it down with pine cleaner. These are the necessary items.

I proceed stuffing the bag with items I hope will be inspirational. Slides of various artists’ work, my slide viewer (in case something goes wrong with the projector), my own work, to use as examples, a Fire Mountain Gems catalogue, vials of beads in different sizes and finishes. These are Delicas, matte finish and these are color-lined Czech beads, size 11, these are size 8 and 6 and…

I have four students today, with a fifth joining us by the second class. Two women are in the ballpark of my age, two appear to be in their twenties and are already seated when I come back from smoking my last nervous cigarette before we start.

I begin to spew information like a gun firing buckshot. I hop from talking about the work I’ve set out on the table, to the items in the Jewelry supply catalogue, to showing slides, to God knows what…my late mother’s fondness for Zinnias, for all I know. My brain is cranking out information rapid-fire and in no particular order, while a part of myself stands aside waving aloft a placard that spells out,


I manage to read the sign, and reduce speed slightly. I ask everyone’s names and experience level. “If you can sew on a button, you can do this,” I tell them. One of the younger women grins shakily, “I could if my life depended on it, I think.” One student makes jewelry, another is an experienced quilter, and my fourth works in the craft world and is a curator, so I assume a relevant background.

The thing is, I think of bead embroidery as “easy.” I am reminded, during the class, that when you’ve done a thing for hundreds of hours, embroidered tens of thousands of beads, it’s bound to feel as natural as breathing. But when you are new to it, you don’t know certain things: That you put the needle point on the side of a bead and tip it onto the needle, rather than picking the bead up with your fingers.

One student is pressing newly threaded beads down with her fingers, vanquishing them, apparently, as they struggle to rest anywhere but where she wants them. Her shoulders are tensed and I’d bet she’s holding her breath as she leans in close. The beads are buckling and spacing.

Teaching teaches you. I tell her to pull the thread in the direction she wants the beads to go and use the needle tip to push them into place, then to push the needle down into the backing, right where they stop. Up until that moment, I wasn’t even aware that I do that when I work. The “obvious,” I realize, is not obvious the first time you do a thing. If you feel a knot, don’t pull. If you make a mistake, unthread the needle and pick it out, if your shape narrows or widens, think first about what stitch direction will fill it because your beads will not narrow or widen. A too-short length of thread pulls out of the needle and when you’re working with long thread, hold the work upside down so that it doesn’t catch on the backing as you pull the stitch through.

At two hours, it’s break time. At two hours and fifteen minutes, they are working like a group of nuns doing penance. I insist on break because their eyes and hands need a little rest. I suggest we go to the nearby brewery and have a beer break so everyone can relax and remember that it isn’t a life or death struggle we’re engaged in and that draws a little laughter.

At the end of class, they ask anxiously about homework. Exactly how much do I expect them to have done by next week? “About a third of the surface.” If they panic, they don’t let it show.

The Bead Babe warned me. “They’ll be much slower than you are” and she was right.

Next time, I’ll be slower too. And I’ll remember what it’s like to try something for the very first time. And that even though it eats an entire day of my time and makes me terminally nervous, it’s a genuine thrill to share what you love with people who are just starting to learn.


beadbabe49 said...

oh, I'm so excited about your first class in this new venue! And I remember how I tried too, to impart every thing I knew in the first hour of class at first! and good for you for taking a break! I make my students do that too, and some of them don't want to until they try to stand up and realize just how tense they've actually gotten! and the best part of teaching beading is that they all want to be there...they want to learn what you want to teach! awesome!

LJ said...

Thanks BB. And remind me, will you, to LISTEN next time you toss out a pearl of wisdom!

The Lone Beader said...

How exciting!!! I was recently offered the opportunity to teach a beginning bead embroidery class... I'm really thinking about it, but I need to get organized, like you. LOL

LJ said...

I was organized. I even had a calm, collected opening talk prepared...but, um....well, it's amazing what a shambles nervousness can make of your "plans."

You'd be perfect, LB. Just try to remember what it's like to never have threaded a bead needle, or done a single stitch. What's really cool is you start figuring out how many things you know that you never knew you knew!

beadbabe49 said...

that is so true, lb!

SuzyQ said...

Hi Linda,
I loved reading your post about teaching. I taught the first of a three week bead embroidery class on Saturday. I once talked to Carol Wilcox Wells about teaching and she told me to take what I can do in an hour and multiply it by 6 for the students to accomplish the same task. Don't worry about being too fast, your enthusiasm for what you do will be inspirational to them -you'll learn in time to slow down. I remember the very first bead class I ever taught - it was a 6 week class and the first 3 hour session I spent just talking about beads, needles, etc with slides & samples (Beading 101!!!) - the students loved it. Now when I look back at that, I wouldn't do it again because the class time is so precious, but somehow it worked well for that class and my students still tell me how much they enjoyed it.
I will bet you are a FINE teacher and your students will be talking about how much they enjoyed your class for a very long time!!!

LJ said...

Your first class and mine sound like clones! Slides, enthusiastic blasts of information on EVERYthing bead-related etc. Just finished the last of the three classes and several of the students made absolutely eye-popping cuffs! One student came in with her second cuff started by week 3. I was teaching free-form and encouraged them to let the work talk to them, rather than drawing it all out in advance - and they did it - just blew the stops out! It was a real thrill to see their work, and how pleased and surprised they were at their accomplishments.
They've now signed up for a shorter class in spiral stitch and want one on beaded and woven beads.
Unfortunately, I still work full-time, and can't take it on right now, but I'm hoping we stay in touch.
Sue - I can't access your blog, but if you're doing a bead blog, I'd love to have permission. My email is attached to the profile. Meanwhile, thanks so much for the visit!

herhimnbryn said...

Now I know how my mosaic teacher feels.