Drawstring Bag: A Design Project

I’ve been thinking about the NuVu Studios for the last few days, absolutely blown away by the quality of their program on (what must be? may be?) a shoestring budget. They had a couple of computers, expected students to provide their own laptops for some kinds of activities, and provided WiFi. And yet they were getting kids to do research, to plan, to do first and second drafts (both in text and in physical materials), and generally put together new systems for improving life in the world.


Today, I worked through that process myself. I asked my mom, a great seamstress, to make a drawstring bag for me. She refused. Instead, she talked me and coached me through the process of learning how to make one myself. Here’s a picture of the final project.

It’s hardly perfect. But it’s a better than average prototype. Instead of being klutzy or ugly, it’s actually quite beautiful. And it has a rectangular bottom, so it will stay put instead of rolling to one side when I fill it. I could have chosen better thread for the placket (that’s the tubular pocket for the drawstrings), but the fabrics inside and outside (did I mention that there’s a beautiful liner fabric) match that thread, and it’s lovely.

Mom coached me through the whole process. I sketched a diagram of what I wanted. Then she helped me turn that into a paper pattern. Then she guided me through the fabric selection process, and the construction of the two bags (outer fabric and liner fabric), and then the merging of the two. The rectangular seams were tricky, so we made a mock-up of it with a scrap of extra fabric. I measured fabric, measured angles with a protractor, learned to operate the sewing machine forward and backward.

Then she showed me how to set up the sewing machine with new thread, to make the ruffle and placket, and helped me select ribbon to close it off.

Never once did she ask me what I was making it for. Truth be told, I’m going to use it for holding stones or pebbles for sortilege, one of the steps in geomantic prediction — an early precursor of binary code. Mom might not approve of that, but probably she won’t really care. It was a genuine project for me, with a real meaning, and I wanted her help with it, and it was easy for her to teach me.

Underneath it all, though, this is what designers do. They decide they need or want to do some sort of project. They work with a coach to learn how to do it, and learn the tools and processes they need to go through in order to make the project happen. Then they do it. Once they finish, they go through the process of figuring out what they did wrong, or what they could do better, and they think about how to make use of the tools more effectively next time, or what raw materials to substitute.

I may not use a sewing machine for three months or six months or a year. But I’ll have some better sense of what to do and how to do it because of this project. I have better graphics skills and better visualization skills as a result of this project, and I’m inspired about three other projects that I have in mind.

How many of my writing assignments in school can say that? How do I transform my teaching so that my students are inspired by their work for me to try new things, and not do the same-old, same-old?

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