To celebrate My First Teacher Week here at Craftsy, some of our instructors reflected on the teachers who influenced them the most. Their touching responses are shared below. See more stories here.
Romi Hill, Knitting
This is me napping on my mother’s shoulder waiting at the airport. We were on our way to Europe. (I didn’t knit the sweater, I’m afraid, but I still have it.)
My mother was my first needlework teacher. She was an avid crocheter, as was my grandmother, and taught me when I was in preschool. I had a yarn stash at an early age! I remember that first giant wooden crochet hook I used, along with some wildly variegated yarn. My mother’s big thing was making baby blankets for expectant friends. When my first grade teacher went on maternity leave, my mother came in and taught the whole class to crochet squares. Then she stitched them all together to present to my teacher. Looking back now, I marvel at the patience it took her — first to teach all of those kids to crochet (every one of them!), and then to take those misshapen blocks and make them all into something beautiful.
When I was 9, I begged my mother to teach me to knit. It took a long time, but I finally convinced her that I wanted to move on from crochet, and she taught me. My first project was a plain stockinette stitch scarf in amber colored mohair on huge needles. I was late to school because I so badly wanted to finish it! I wish she could see now what she helped me start. And because I remember all of those kids she taught, I know that anyone at all can learn to knit and crochet beautiful things, and that’s how I teach.
- Romi (New Directions in Lace)
Carol Ann Waugh, Quilting
My first quilting teacher was — myself! I didn’t know anything about making a quilt so I went out and bought some books about the subject, read them and said to myself, “I can do that!” I designed my own pattern, made some cardboard templates, bought three colors of fabrics, and started stitching.
But I wasn’t a very good teacher since I made the mistake of only buying half of the fabric I needed for my king-size quilt. So I never finished that one and decided to write a book instead so other quilters wouldn’t have to make the same mistake when designing their own patterns. The book was called “The Patchwork Quilt Design & Coloring Book” and was published by Butterick Publishing in 1977.
I didn’t get started back into making quilts until 2005 when I decided I needed to devote some time to charity work and joined a group called Firehouse Quilts. That when I met the teachers who rocked my world — Dusty Darrah and Mary Peterson. They welcomed me into the group and patiently showed me how to use a rotary cutter, ruler, mat, and how to piece together an “i-Spy” children’s quilt. They even showed me how to calculate the correct yardage I would need to make the quilt! I was hooked and have not stopped making traditional and art quilts since then.
- Carol Ann (Stupendous Stitching: Adventures in Surface Design)
Pepper Cory, Quilting
Marie admiring an Amish Center Diamond quilt at an exhibition
I first met Marie Moore back in 1975. I was learning, slowly, from books on how to make quilts. Some kind soul referred me to her and said, “She’s an excellent quilter.” And indeed she was. Marie invited me in and graciously shared with me her beautiful quilts — Grandmother’s Flower Garden and Double Wedding Ring — all done by hand. When I exclaimed over how much time they must have taken, she smiled and said, “Anything worth doing takes time. Besides, I enjoy it.”
During the Great Depression years of the 1930s, Marie grew up on a hardscrabble farm in southern Michigan. A plow mule kicked her father and he died three days later from his injuries. She was only 10-years-old at the time and helped out her mother but never got to finish high school. She told me she had pieced her first quilt at the age of 7.
In 1976, I opened a quilt shop and a year after that, Marie consented to work part-time. I couldn’t have done it without her. The shop was called Culpepper’s Quilts, and since Marie was the sweet smiling silver-haired lady who greeted customers, most people assumed she was Mrs. Culpepper. I swept the floor while she and I enjoyed the private joke.
Marie saw me through personal trials (a divorce and move) and never was judgmental. She did, however, give her opinion on guys I dated after becoming single. She was thumbs-down on the red-haired drummer in the rock band but highly approved of the quiet, dark-eyed man who took me out for coffee — and he was the man I later married. Good choice, Marie!
We met later, after she and Dick moved to Colorado, at quilt events around the country, and I eagerly looked forward to her newsy Christmas cards. She was Nancy Crow’s “stunt quilter” and kept me up on which quilts by the famous art quilter she was working on. She told me, “I always say it takes three months or I’d be overwhelmed with work from her!” Marie quilted Nancy Crow’s famous Mexican Wedding Ring quilt that is ranked as one of the 100 best quilts in the world.
Here is what I learned from Marie: Foremost, I learned patience. She took me under her wing and taught me all “the hard stuff” in quilting — curved seam piecing, dealing with tiny pieces, hand quilting with even stitches, and applying a scalloped binding all by hand. She was unfailingly courteous, even with difficult people, and often made me laugh at myself, especially when I was going through yet another emotional trauma. She was solid as a rock, patient, kind, and my quilting mentor. Bless you, Mariebelle—I still miss you.
- Pepper (Scrap Quilting)
Me quilting, 1978
Eileen Roche, Embroidery
I wish I had a warm and fuzzy story about how I learned to machine embroider. Wouldn’t it be lovely if there was a kind and generous teacher who mentored and encouraged me? I wish it was someone who was as colorful as embroidery thread and as tech savvy as 10-needle embroidery machine. But she — or he — didn’t exist for me. I learned to machine embroider by sheer grit and determination.
You see, I was new to sewing in the late ‘80s and loved it. It became my passion and I took big confident steps to share my knowledge with students at a sewing machine retailer in Drexel Hill, PA. Now remember, this was the ‘80s, so there was no Internet and most certainly no bloggers sharing an unearthly amount of knowledge regardless of their sewing ability. If you were in front of the classroom, you had to know your stuff. And then, the first home embroidery machine came on the market. And guess what? No one — not even the dealer — knew how to use it. He looked at me and said, “You need to learn this and teach it.” And so I did.
I devoured that manual (translated poorly from Japanese) and made many mistakes. However, I only made each mistake once because I learned from every one. I learned to pay attention and apply common sense. The famous author Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. I definitely banked my 10,000 hours in first three or four years of my journey. And it paid off!
-Eileen (The Machine Embroidered Quilt)
Georgeanne Brennan, Food & Cooking
My first and, in the end, my most influential teacher was my mother. It was from her that I learned to love books, food, cooking, a good table well-set, gardening and sewing. While I haven’t sewed to any great degree in years, my life and career have been centered around books, first as a teacher, later as an author. I’ve written more than 30 books and they have been translated into more than a dozen languages, from French to Finnish. All of the books have been about cooking, some about gardening, and more than a few about both, because the connection of the food we grow with the food we cook and eat is inseparable.
As you can see from this photo of me at about 4-years-old in my playhouse, I took quite seriously a nicely-set table, food, and serving my guests. Built for me by my father, the playhouse was well-stocked with dishes, cups, utensils and tablecloths. My father, too, was my teacher. He showed me how to pry an abalone off the rocks and how to clean and cook it. It was with my father that I caught my first fish and I cleaned and cooked it with him, a skill I recently shared with my twin grandsons.
These days I’m a grandmother myself, so now I realize how much my own grandmother taught me. She lived on a property with a small fruit orchard, and every summer I’d spend time with her, picking the peaches, plums and nectarines, and turning them into jams or preserves. At our own home, we had an apricot tree, so, in June, when my grandmother came to visit us during apricot season, we’d pick apricots together (I still have the scar on my hand from falling out of that tree) and we’d can them and make jam. She also supervised my sewing as I pedaled the treadle back and forth on her sturdy black and gold Singer. I still have her Singer, but my mother later had it converted to an electric motor and put into a cabinet case.
Now, I live on a small farm and when my grandchildren come to visit, they head first for the garden to see what’s new, then go next to the bookshelf, and after playing Legos, catching lizards, and swimming, they come into the kitchen to help me cook. We’ve made escargots together (two of the children are half French and very broad eaters), pesto (basil from the garden), stuffed chickens, ratatouille, Peanut Butter Pancakes (from my Dr. Seuss Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook), tomato sauce, and, from my apricot tree, apricot jam.
Best of all is sharing the time around the table with them as we eat our meal, listening to their stories of school, and soccer, horse camp and other adventures, then snuggling down together to read a book.
Thank you, Grandma, Mom and Dad
- Georgeanne (French Cooking at Home: The Food of Provence)
Mark Seaman, Cake Decorating
Sandy Folsom was one of my first cake decorating instructors. I remember how hilarious Sandy found it that I struggled so much with one of the most fundamental of all decorating techniques: piping a royal icing rose! For three days I struggled before my “cabbages” turned into a wannabe rose. Sandy just chuckled and said “your grandfather is rolling in his gravel at this, Mark!” (My grandfather owned a bakery for 40 years and could pipe a mean rose!)
Sandy was a great teacher in many ways. She was always patient with all of her students and always had a smile on her face. I have now known Sandy for nearly 15 years and marvel at the litany of basic questions with which I pummeled her in what I consider my seedling stages of cake decorating. As years passed and I developed my own areas of expertise, I remember how I struggled with that piped rose and can draw upon that experience to relate to my students who struggle with other techniques from Australian stringwork to gum paste flowers. I take “the Sandy approach” and try to help the student keep the challenge in perspective so it doesn’t take on a life of its own. I remind them that proficiency at cake decorating is a matter of practice and diligence, and answer every one of their questions regardless of how “out there” it may seem. Thanks, Sandy!
-Mark (Mastering Australian Stringwork)