Creating a Teaching Piece: All that goes on behind the scenes. Part 1 – Planning

by Lois Kershner, NAN Director of Teachers’ Certification

This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in summer 2021.

Sometimes I have an idea that I think would be lovely to stitch, but as a teacher, I have to think whether it would make a good teaching piece. While many of the planning and teaching steps apply to designing any piece of embroidery, this article focuses on creating a piece for teaching — the planning and preparation of materials which should appear seamless and result in a successful learning experience for the student. Interrelated activities include an understanding of the various ways students learn, skill in presenting information completely and clearly, and of course expertise in an embroidery technique.

What goes on behind the scenes in the planning and stitching of a piece is introduced in Part 1 of this two-part series. Part 2 describes the preparation of class materials. Altogether it can take several months and, in the case of a piece for a national seminar, up to two years from starting a design to the time a piece is taught.

Teaching Objectives Drive the Design

It starts with the beginning of an idea for a design, answering to a few questions:

  • What are the teaching objectives? To put it another way, what lessons do you want the students to have learned by the end of the class.
  • Will the proficiency level be basic for the student learning a new technique, or for the student who has some previous background in the technique?
  • Will the class be structured for a specific number of days, offered in a specific series of lessons, or without a time limit?

Answers to these questions affect the simplicity or complexity of the design.

Sketch & Render

Teaching objectives and the components of a design are typically worked together. Once sketched, the design is evaluated as a composition, taking into consideration design elements and principles. Does the design have movement, carrying the eye around the piece? Is the design balanced with regard to value and placement? Does it provide elements that meet the teaching objectives? The purpose of evaluating all aspects of the design is not only to make it to make it pleasing and interesting but also a good composition.

The next step is a color rendering, adding color to the sketch and once again evaluating the design to help see the piece as it will look when stitched. Is there contrast of lights and darks so that there might be the illusion of depth? Where is the light source so that there might be shadows? Making a photocopy or taking a black and white photo of the color rendering helps to answer these questions.

Selecting Ground Fabric, Stitches and Threads

Determining stitches and threads could be called a ‘stitch guide’. These are the ‘what’ of a teaching project. Stitches and materials should match the proficiency level of the design, not so basic that the student will be frustrated, and not too complex either. Stitches should be appropriate not only to aspects of and patterns seen in the design but also proficiency level.

Threads are most likely chosen for their color based on the color rendering. However, threads can also be chosen by type — cottons for opaque areas, silks for sheen, metallics for luminescence, or perhaps to just experience using new or specialty threads. Those with texture can be used to add dimension. Attachments can help make a piece more interesting; for example, adding beads for sparkle.

Begin Stitching

Now is the time to stitch the piece. The amount of thread used is noted so that adequate amounts can be calculated for making kits. Stitching notes are jotted down as reminders to include them in the instructions; for example, if a thread is straightened, a special length, etc. If threads and stitches don’t work as envisioned, areas are taken out and reworked, perhaps tested on stitch swatches.

The amount of time to design and stitch a piece varies greatly and can easily take weeks of time over several months depending on such factors as size, complexity and whether revisions are needed. Now that the planning is in place the piece is ready to be proposed as a teaching piece. Part II describes what yet needs to be done to get the piece ready for teaching.