Tag Archives: Embroidery in school

Focus. The One Attribute Essential Our Students. Embroidery can help.

As I have been teaching embroidery to students for many years I have been in a perfect place to notice how learning embroidery affects 7, 8 and 9 year olds.

Firstly, as is probably obvious, putting a needle, thread and fabric in the hands of a child creates in each a variety of different emotions. And as I give out the materials I can see these emotions on their faces. What do I see? Mostly I see curiosity, excitement,( this is a bit out of the ordinary…what’s going on?) Alongside those emotions I see concern, worry, and in a few cases panic.  But the overriding atmosphere in the class room is one of intrigued anticipation. ( What on earth does she want us to do with this stuff?)

In order for the student to make a success of their embroidery they have to be able to listen to instructions carefully, follow directions exactly and focus completely on the assigned task….to make one stitch.

Some students do not find these three requirements a challenge. they can listen, do and create without too much difficulty….to their delight. Some students for whom any one of those three is difficult will struggle to complete even one stitch. It is these students for whom embroidery is a slowly opening door.

If they cannot listen then they cannot follow directions…or complete the task.  If they listen but without the needed focus they cannot follow the directions or make a stitch and if they can listen and follow directions but lack focus to finish the task as directed they cannot do this either.


This task cannot be completed without the focus that this student is showing


This is focus in action.

Education will have to go through a serious revolution if it is to prepare our students for their working lives. Their future promises to be one of constant change, lifelong learning and adaptability to a workplace which not even the smartest among us can forsee.

Ok…I hear you say…what does this have to do with teaching embroidery to a class of third graders.

Dr. Daniel Goleman wrote a book entitled Focus, the Hidden Driver of Excellence. In his excellent book he describes in detail what it takes to develop focus and how important this attribute will become to our future citizens.

Over the years I have watched embryonic embroiderers grow, develop and master the needed focus to complete their assignment.  Embroidery teaches focus. I can see it in action. The students tell me that as soon as they stop focusing they make an error. They are aware of their work, they are thinking about the way they do what they do. Any error is very obvious and very annoying and they are therefore very incentivized not to make errors. How do you not make errors? Answer……….Focus.

Goldwork in School. Pure magic

How to couch. The metal thread is laid on top of the fabric and held in place by couching stitches.
How to couch. The metal thread is laid on top of the fabric and held in place by couching stitches.

So….we had 20 students not 17. Teaching elementary goldwork to a large group of young embroiderers needs careful planning. And I discovered that even with what I thought was very careful planning some things were a surprise.

I had no clue how long this project would take. To have 20 students learn a new technique, and stitch an entire, time sensitive project before the holidays was hopeful perhaps. After some initial name changes in the student list and some additions of students who really wanted to be included. We made a good start with learning couching. Surprise #1. The 5th grade students took to couching like pros.  We had great conversations full of math words like “equidistant” and “perpendicular”.  But couching is now theirs. They understand it, they have harnessed the dexterity necessary to make the materials behave the way they want them to behave and they are thrilled with their new found skills.

Four finishers. Four proud people. Four students with success in their hands.
Four finishers. Four proud people. Four students with success in their hands.
Seven more completed.


Goldwork is a very simple, very pleasing art form. The students really enjoy the creativity involved and the feeling that they have learned something new and made something beautiful.

Surprise #2. We are going to finish on time. There are 11 finishers who can come to class as tutors for the nine still to finish. To learn a skill and teach it empowers the students. It is possible to watch the self esteem blossom in the classroom. The warm smiles and palpable feelings of accomplishment are very rewarding, to themselves and to me.

Surprise#3. Even though I organized the gold threads into bags labeled and counted exactly, with extras just in case …and explained this in minute detail to the class. We still ran out of the third gold thread for the tree. Can 5th graders count to four?  How did that happen? No idea. Mysteries of this kind are all part of the story of teaching creativity to a large group of enthusiasts.  Embrace it.

Surprise #4.  It is likely that my after the holidays class might be bigger. This is a challenge I am happy to embrace. Goldwork “lite” which is how I think of what I am teaching is a simple, effective creative technique. The glitter and glitz of the threads and the interplay of learning and undeniably attractive results makes this class a popular choice with this group of after school artists.