A Partnered Learning Experience: How to Make a Rag Quilt and Perform a Sun Salutation
In the world of quilting, it is often joked that “I turn fabrics and thread into quilts – what is your superpower?” It may not be an actual superpower but sometimes the sense of accomplishment makes it feel like it is. All joking aside, there is talent involved in taking a beautifully patterned bolt of fabric off the shelf and matching it up with six or seven complimentary fabrics. Once you have chosen your fabrics and had the exact amount of yardage needed cut from each bolt, the real fun begins. For the beginning quilter, there are a few items necessary to make your journey more manageable. Fabric and thread are obviously necessary, but in addition you will need a good pair of fabric scissors, a rotary cutter, a cutting mat, a quilters’ square ruler and a sewing machine. After that, the options are unlimited!
In the world of yoga, all I know for sure is that I will need a mat and an open mind. I knew very little about yoga in the beginning of this learning experience, but I do know that Shannon participates for the health benefit to her body, coming home from class relaxed, peaceful and sleeping better on the days she attends a class. For those reasons alone, I am interested in learning! In both of our professions, we sit a lot during the day; she is working on a computer and me sitting chairside working on dental patients. As a result, we both often head home with stiff necks and shoulders after a day of work. She has eliminated a lot of her daily stiffness after starting yoga by having better muscle strength and tone compared to before she began the practice of yoga.
Preparing the Lesson
When I first read the syllabus and discovered we would be tasked with teaching someone a skill and also learning a skill from that person, I didn’t hesitate to pick my friend Shannon as my partner for this project. She and I are the best of friends and spend much of our time together working on various projects. While there are many skills Shannon has in her work world, as a technology specialist in a large school district, that would be interesting and valuable to learn, we decided that her practice of yoga would be the most practical for me to learn at this time in my life. Conversely, Shannon has wanted to learn how to quilt for several years but the timing has never been right. This is the perfect opportunity for her.
While my friend Shannon is extremely accomplished in many facets of her life, she is the first to admit sewing is NOT easy for her. She’s had a sewing machine for years and knows basic stitches but the thought of putting together a quilt is quite intimidating to her. She has said on numerous occasions that her sewing machine does not like her, but I faithfully remind her that each and every time I have said the same thing about my computer, she reminds me that it is likely a user error and not the computer causing the problem. After much discussion about the types of quilts I know about, to include pieced quilts, appliqu© quilts, and paper pieced quilts, the decision was made to make a flannel rag quilt. Meanwhile, she plans to teach me a “sun salutation” in yoga. I’ve never done any yoga but have always wanted to try it, so it seems like the perfect time to learn! A sun salutation is a series of postures that warm, strengthen, and align the entire body. Shannon has been attending a class where she lives, and her instructor has said that the sun salutation can be performed quickly, which warms your body up faster, or slow and methodical in order to be more relaxing.
Shannon and I both consider ourselves to be self-directed learners, as can be seen from our questionnaire answers at the beginning of this project. As described by Malcolm Knowles, self-directed learning outlines a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in discovering their learning needs, developing learning goals, finding resources for learning, choosing and implementing learning behaviors, and evaluating learning outcomes. When “we define learning as the process of gaining knowledge and/or expertise”, as Knowles (Knowles, 2005, p. 17) describes in our readings, there is a certain level of commitment and learning necessary to be able to complete a quilting project.
The first part of the project was assigned early in the semester to create the Learning Assessment Plan to accompany each of our learning goals, which can be found in Appendix A. Part of this Assessment Plan was to determine the level of our skills, confidence, and prior knowledge regarding the chosen subjects by utilizing questionnaires and a knowledge survey that included all six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Through the knowledge ascertained by these pre-lesson assessments, we were able to then create goals and objectives for each teaching experience.
The Element of Creativity
In order to make a quilt, it really is necessary to tap into one’s creative side. There are components of quilting that are very structured, for instance, when sewing a scant quarter inch seam between blocks or when cutting very small blocks that are only two inches or less in size. By carelessly cutting a block smaller than needed or larger than needed, you can easily end up with rows of blocks that do not match up at the seams. It can be rather frustrating for a quilter to spend hours cutting and sewing to only find out that none of the seams match up! I have, at times, just walked away from a project I have spent hours on when I realized it was not going to work out as planned. Some cold rainy day when I have time, I will sit down with my seam ripper and start all over. But the aspect of creativity that surrounds color choices in quilting requires an open mind. I have learned to find one particular fabric that I love and call that my “jumping off point”. From there, it is easier to find complementary colors to that one main focus fabric. For example, in this project, there are seven fabrics required. Once the main fabric was chosen, then the other six fabrics coordinated with the main fabric, but not necessarily with each other. When I first started quilting, I struggled to wrap my head around this logic. It just did not make sense to me. Now that I have made over 30 quilts, I understand the concept of coordinating fabrics far better than in the beginning. Shannon had an idea in her head of what she wanted to make but when we had no success in finding a floral flannel fabric, she decided to go with Christmas themed fabrics and colors.
Quilting requires some motor skills in the aspect of hand-eye coordination when cutting and sewing, in order to keep all your fingers intact. But yoga seriously requires motor skills. As we began to work our way through the poses in the sun salutation, it became quickly apparent which poses are for strengthening and which are for balancing. I realized that I am lacking in upper body strength, in flexibility, and in coordination.
Assessing the Lessons
It was necessary to create ways to measure what each of us learned during our instructional sessions and this was done by creating a verbal assessment test. To address the assessments for the subordinate skills – such as identifying the basics of a sewing machine, how to fill a bobbin and thread the machine, we both used identification and description. We also discussed identifying quilt styles, and yoga poses, respectively, in order to assess what was being learned. For example, Shannon was shown images of quilts and asked to verbally identify the quilting style and how it was done. On the other hand, some objectives required a more hands-on approach to measure the effectiveness of instruction. For example, you can explain, demonstrate and instruct how to accurately cut a square of fabric, but until you are actually using an Omnigrip square ruler on your own, with a rotary cutter, your mastery of this skill cannot be measured. The assessments and results can be found in Appendix B.
As we both answered in our preassessment questionnaires, we are quick to use the internet to research any learning and teaching materials. There are many videos tutorials or written tutorials available for nearly aspect of quilting or yoga known to mankind, but not all are created equal. There is some level of discretion needed when evaluating the sources in order to find relevant, easy to follow, and valuable instructions.
Digital media sources such as YouTube videos, Google images, and written blogs with step by step tutorials are readily available. As my friend Shannon is a Technology Specialist for a large school district, she is the queen of accessing digital media. Much of her job is spent teaching teachers how to access a wide variety of resources online. Knowing that we would only have one weekend “in person” to work finalize our projects together, and that the rest would be completed while chatting via FaceTime, we needed the ease and quickness of online resources at our fingertips while not together. Over the nearly fifteen years of our friendship, we have become accustomed to online chatting, FaceTime projects, and shopping together from completely different states so this was completely normal for us.
Printed books on quilting are widely available, and seemingly never out of style. I have numerous monthly journals called “Block”, which are published by the Missouri Star Quilting Company, headquartered in Hamilton, Missouri. Most of the written quilt patterns found in “Block” are also available as video tutorials on YouTube as well. We also referenced the books titled “The Easy Yoga Workbook” (Fraser, 2003) and “Stretching” (Martin, 2005).
The most important resource proved to be each other through this learning experience. Although we both clearly enjoy learning on our own, we basked in the opportunity to share our knowledge with each other. While I had the option to learn various yoga poses from online tutorials, which I did many times over the course of the semester, I found the face to face instruction extremely beneficial. Shannon was able to guide and direct me when I was performing my yoga poses badly, with a rounded back or hunched shoulders. In addition, I was able to coach Shannon as she sewed on a machine that she felt was out to get her! I found the teaching experience to be rewarding, because it validated my skills as a quilter. But on a more personal level, it offered a bonding experience between my best friend and myself that we might not have experienced without this teaching/learning assignment.
The Influence of a Learning Assessment
When I began considering all the details to teach someone a skill, as in the beginning of this assignment, I realized there are many items that came to mind during the preparation that were not initially considered. In our readings, we learned that while “the principles of andragogy do not define the uniqueness of adult learning it does provide a set of guidelines for designing instruction with learners who are more self-directed than teacher-directed” (Merriam, 2007, p.9). As someone who usually jumps in with both feet, it has been a different experience to diligently plan out all the steps involved in teaching this skill. I have made numerous rag quilts at this point and I am able to give very little thought to the process now; I just work on auto-pilot. As I began writing down the steps, I found myself backtracking often to add steps that I skipped over the first time around. As with anything we do repetitively, many of the steps are done without even actually noticing I am doing them! The Learning Assessment that was created through that process was an important tool for the completion of this project.
Knowledge Survey Post-Lesson Tests
After we had completed the learning and teaching portion of the experience, Shannon and I both filled out the Knowledge Survey again. The results of these post-lesson tests can be found in Appendix C. We both saw the numeric value of our responses had improved toward “more confident” since the day we took the initial surveys. Looking back, it is easy to see that having had the pre-lesson survey fresh in our minds as we worked our way through the project, we were forearmed with what we should be learning and therefore, able to take note of those specific aspects of each lesson.
Changes to Make Environment
If Shannon and I were to start this teaching and learning experience over, we would most assuredly consider the timing of her trip here to work on the quilt together. We did not take into consideration that once she got here, we would have other family members wanting to spend time with her as well. We were forced to cram a lot of sewing into a short period of time, which was fun, without a doubt, but tiring. We already have discussed our next quilting trip will be a little longer so that we can enjoy a few other things as well.
Time We went into this project knowing that time would be a problem for us. We jokingly discussed making a baby blanket instead of a full-size throw and learning one single yoga pose instead of multiple poses. It did not help that I am currently working two jobs and taking this class while Shannon is stretched so thin with all of her commitments, there were moments when I considered I might have taken on too much. We both also acknowledge that by having chosen a partner that lives in another state may have not been the wisest idea on my part, just because of logistics, but we are still quite proud of our success.
Experiential Learning If you were to add up all the hours of visiting antique stores and searching every dusty nook and cranny for old quilts that still have much life left in them, we were successful at incorporating experiential learning opportunities into our learning plans. Knowles addressed the importance of experiential learning as a crucial distinction in andragogy, stating that the adult learners themselves are often ripe with past experiences that can be exposed through experiential learning (Knowles, 1990, pg. 66).
Learner Motivation It is easy to say, “Yes, I would like to learn how to do that,” but far more difficult to find the time, energy, money, etc. to pursue actually learning to do it. Some models of adult development emphasize the importance of motivation in adult learning, but also address that there are many barriers that prevent enthusiasm and motivation, such as negative self-concept, time constraints, and lack of resources (Knowles, 1990, pg. 68). During this project, I did not experience a lack of motivation to complete the project, but I did have times when I felt completely bogged down with a lack of confidence in my ability to write the learning plan, goal and objectives, and assessments accurately.
In the Future Environment
The lessons in this learning experience have given me an insight into common issues many adult learners might encounter. After Shannon and I felt so rushed during the limited time we had, and therefore pressured to work nonstop, I believe it is important to ensure that your learners are relaxed, and that there is more time allowed for each step of a project. This may mean that lessons are broken down into parts, or sessions, on different days. This would ensure that enough time is available for each step of the project.
Organization By the time we began our sewing weekend, I had gathered all the supplies we would need. A failure of mine though was not prepping the fabric by ironing it prior to our sewing weekend, thinking it would not take very long to iron yards and yards of fabric, which of course was inaccurate. In the future, I would consider ironing prior to the lesson activities and devoting all that extra time to instruction and implementation of the cutting and sewing steps.
As much as I love sewing and sharing my love for quilting, I found aspects of this project to be tedious and redundant. I enjoyed both the teaching and the learning aspect of this experience, and Shannon did as well. That being said, I found writing the detailed learner assessment plan at the beginning to be difficult. Now that the learning experience is complete, it makes far more sense to me now. Additionally, I have already begun to learn more strengthening poses in yoga. Shannon’s future as a quilter is uncertain as of right now. She has mentioned other quilt patterns she would like to try, at some point in the future, but feels as if she needs to wait until we can spend a longer bit of time together to start another.
Fraser, T. (2003). The Easy Yoga Workbook. London, England: Duncan Baird Publishers.
Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. New York, NY: Association Press.
Knowles, M. S. (1990). The adult learner: A neglected species. Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.
Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2005). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (6th ed.) Butterworth-Heineman
Martin, S. (2005). Stretching. New York, NY: DK Publishing.
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.