Following a Pattern: adventures in education

Druid Project: Bardic Sash
I wish I’d taken more progress shots…

One of my goals for this past summer was to teach myself a few more art-forms that I could impart to my students in the design program, or at least study with people who had those arts and pick up the basics of them. My goals were some metal working, some carpentry, some sewing, and some knitting.

Two out of four ain’t bad. As a side effect of my carpentry efforts, though, I did get to build a Japanese-style tool box, and I helped my carpentry teacher reorganize his workshop to be more effective and useful today. So that’s a plus.

Yesterday, as part of my sewing efforts (I’ve been ably trained as an apprentice sewer [I won’t say tailor, because that implies I’m a lot more skillful than I am]), I cut the eight pieces necessary to assemble the sash of the Bardic grade in the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn, a Druid-revival organization to which I belong.  The sewing work is not part of the official curriculum of the Order, but it is a useful adjunct to it. Today, after my sweeping-and-sorting in the carpentry shop, I went to the sewing machine in the Design Lab, and assembled my eight pieces.

The result was that I completed the sash of the Bardic grade.  These sashes look remarkably like the sashes of, say, a deacon in the Catholic or Anglican church, given that the fabric band is about four inches wide, and extends from the shoulder to the hip, where a tab holds the two halves together and allows a pair of tails to hang down at a natty angle against the thigh.

I can’t say that the sash is correctly or perfectly assembled.  I think I could have used more pin to hold the pattern pieces to the fabric while I was cutting the pieces from the bolt of cloth.  I think I could have used more pins to hold the pieces together while I was sewing the ends to the shoulder bands.  I could’ve used more pins to hold the two sides of the sash together while I sewed them inside-out before turning the whole thing right-side-out and closing up the last bit with a combination of top stitch and ladder stitch.  It’s a quick-and-dirty bit of work, not an elaborate bit of fashionista posturing.  No one is going to summon me to the catwalk any time soon to take a bow.

Druidry: Bardic stole complete
The completed sash.

I’m not sure that’s the point, anyhow.

The point of the Design Lab is to train designers.  What’s a designer?  A designer is someone who recognizes a need for a tool, a product, or a service in the world, and then busts their own ass to see to it that this product, service or tool is made or constructed.  There are lots of different kinds of designers in the world, and the Maker Movement is certainly part and parcel of that scene.  The Maker Movement is, in part, about people who design and create for the sake of themselves, or for others, but really out of the sheer joy of the Making.

And I think this is one of the things that many teachers don’t get about design thinking programs, or at least about our program in particular.  We’re out to make designers.  But designers need to know how to make things before they can solve problems.  It may not matter what they know how to make, whether it be silk-screen t-shirts or circuit boards; what really seems to matter is that they’ve gotten up, they’ve tried to build something, they’ve succeeded enough to try again, and then they’ve built the thing that they tried to build from the beginning — no matter how long it took.

Ideally, of course, we want those turnaround times from conception of the project to completion to be short enough that the kid(s) feel like they’ve succeeded… but the value of the work comes as much from the imperfections of the finished product as from the the product itself.  The process matters, so many teachers tell parents, while still valuing the end product more than the methodology by which it was created.

But in a real process-driven educational environment, it’s not only the quality of an individual work which matters, but the demonstration of increasing quality and growth of experience from the first finished product to the most recently completed product.  An evaluator looking at this sash, compared with my green Ovate’s sash, would initially be disappointed — this one is much less good than the first one you did, they might say.

And I would reply, But I was coached all the way through that one, from cutting the pattern pieces, to the assembly, to how many pins to use. And during a critical point in the assembly of the green sash, the project was taken out of my hands, and assembled and pinned by a master — who then watched me the whole time, while I sewed it together on a top-of-the-line sewing machine.  Whereas this one is fully the work of my own hands, working in my own house on my own sewing machine, without the tools of a master artisan nor their guidance except as an echo of their teaching, which I followed faithfully but imperfectly.

Faithfully but Imperfectly.

At a housewarming party on Friday night, I was talking with James, who’s working his way through art school in a complex way (Don’t Go To Art School). And James said that he’d said to one of his teachers, “Why doesn’t my stuff match my plan for the art?”  And James’ teacher had said, “If we laid out all of your work from end to end, every sketchbook page and every painting, how far would it stretch?”  James said, “I dunno.  A couple of miles?”  The teacher smiled and said, “Every artist’s career really opens up and takes charge when they’ve produced a hundred miles of art.”

In the meantime, we make stuff. Faithfully but imperfectly.  That’s how you make a tailor, or a carpenter, or a designer. Even a magician or a druid can be produced in no other way.

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