Devizes School (Wiltshire)

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Many teachers get students to stitch on to lined paper when they first use a sewing machine but Mike Olive from Devizes School in Wiltshire turned this on its head and got students to use their practice stitching on calico to create a piece of lined paper which they then embroidered on top of. This simple activity, inspired by something Mike saw on Pinterest, is a great way to introduce and develop sewing machine and hand sewing skills with the practice materials also becoming a finished outcome. Part of the appeal is also the 'unfinished’ feel the work has because of it’s experimental starting point. 

Mike Olive Devizes School 2

The messages students embroidered onto the calico was inspired by the ‘Post Secret’ website where people anonymously share secrets on postcards, many of which they've decorated as art works, which are sent to the website founder who displays them (see video). 

Mike later felt some of the content of some postcards was too adult so in future he would not use it with students but the website is still good for teachers to use as a starting point for their own inspiration on how they might approach the project. With students it may be better for them to focus on websites with poems, soundbites, affirmations, and motivational quotes.  

Mike Olive Devizes School

Mike used the activity with year 9 but this would be suitable for any year group. One of the things that is great about this activity is that it makes the early stages of learning how to use the sewing machine more interesting. 

Students were given measurements for the size of a piece of calico to cut, along with the positioning of the stitching for the red line margin and the first blue line on the page. This blue line was then used as a guide for the presser foot, with each new line of stitching using the previous one as a guide. Hand embroidery was then completed aalong the lines. The hand embroidery was completed at home and students were given a length of embroidery thread and a needle to take away. A letter was sent home to parents beforehand to make sure they knew students would be bringing a needle home and offering a space to attend the homework club if there were any concerns. 

As well as developing sewing machine and hand sewing skills there’s potential for additional learning in this activity which might include the properties of the cotton calico, the woven construction of the fabric and designers who use embroidery in their work. 

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