Stitch Safari Podcast

What Do You Want From A Workshop?

In this episode of the Stitch Safari Podcast, I want to make people think and have an understanding of what our expectations are for the workshops we book into.  Is it to take work in a particular direction, or is it to have fun, relax and enjoy creating with other like-minded people – because that’s important too and you never quite know what will grow from those experiences.

I’ve noticed an ever-increasing number of offerings for embroidery and textile-based workshops recently and that can make choices even harder for attendees and sometimes even more confusing.

Let’s see if I can offer some clarification so that you can ask yourselves ‘What is it exactly that I’m after here’?

And hopefully, garner the correct answers for you.

Marketing and pretty pictures can be very persuasive. Of course, I’ve succumbed and enjoyed these experiences from time to time – but it’s also wise to be thoughtful and knowledgeable before placing your name on that booking list – and to do that you need to know just what it is you want and what you’ll receive from a workshop before you book in.

Do you have a vision?  Are you focused?  Will you learn a new technique or skill or are you after something far more relaxing?

We all have different needs and as a result, different expectations, so let’s understand some of those needs and expectations.

Embroidery and textile-art-based workshops have become big business from what I can see – so much so many are now called ‘experiences’ offering accommodation, food and in many cases, materials too.

All you have to do is turn up and enjoy – but obviously, the dollar sign is factored into that experience, sometimes making it quite expensive.

Plus, there are more and more offerings from national and international artists alike – as a result, it’s becoming competitive trying to sell those workshops to the same interested market.

But that’s someone else’s problem.

I want to talk about knowing what you want to get from a workshop so there’s no confusion because workshops in embroidery and textile art are not cheap, nor are the materials.

So the first question has to be ‘What do I want from this workshop’?

And there can be multiple answers, such as:

  • I want to have fun within a creative community
  • I want to learn the technique exactly as advertised
  • I want to learn a new technique with my twist on it
  • I want this experience to build on my vision for an outcome
  • I want to learn a variety of different techniques to add to my repertoire

So let me address each of these as I see them:

  • I want to have fun within a creative community:

By now we all know the power of creativity to help soothe, heal and mend – using our hands to create has been applied for centuries for these same reasons – to calm anxieties, strengthen and repair damage from injuries, reclaim a sense of mindfulness and working in the moment, giving a sense of purpose and direction.

Creativity can also lead to community engagement, along with the making of friends, and a shared social commentary.  In other words, creativity can help you find your community and give you a voice if that’s what you’re looking for.

We’re looking at connections here – people, groups, tutors – community.

Or this style of workshop can simply offer some downtime, to let your hair down, try something new in a friendly environment with no pressure of an outcome- and if that’s the case, book in now and enjoy every moment.

  • I want to learn the technique as advertised:

I would describe this style of workshop as product-based learning – there’s a set outcome that participants have an expectation to achieve – and that may be difficult for some to cope with.  Those who like to do their own thing may not enjoy this workshop.

But, it’s an opportunity to concentrate and focus on a single outcome – so there’s some deep, deep learning that can occur, supported by a defined sequence of tasks to follow to achieve that outcome.

This is a learning experience where you’re expected to reproduce the product or sample to match exactly what was advertised, so if you want or need to learn a particular technique thoroughly, then this is definitely the way to go because you should be supported by a step-by-step process.

The focus of this type of workshop is on the end product – there’s less opportunity for self-expression and it can be a very narrow yet concentrated experience with an emphasis on meeting certain expectations – frustrating for some yet comforting to others.

This is a valuable and well-used learning experience with the expectation of a defined outcome.

  • I want to learn a new technique with my twist on it:

This style of workshop is far more process-driven, providing a learning opportunity that offers exploration, innovation and self-expression.

Now this type of workshop makes a lot of sense to me – because I become frustrated conforming to other people’s ideas, so tis workshop technique fosters originality, individuality and ‘the journey’ of developing that technique to suit your needs.

There’s a greater emphasis placed on the process rather than the end product.

So I would call this a process-based learning opportunity – one that has no prescribed outcome, no step-by-step instructions and no set example to follow or reproduce – this gives you the freedom to experiment, explore, innovate and express yourself through the work.

Scary to some, I know, but manna from heaven for others because the focus is on the doing, that’s what’s beneficial, not the outcome.

There’s no right and no wrong way to create – attention is given to the technique, tools and materials and how you decide to use them.

If you want to take it in a different direction then you have to solve the problems that arise – but what that gives you is a sense of achievement in being able to do just that.

This type of workshop is usually quite relaxed – giving you the freedom to think and work the way that suits you to explore possibilities in your own way.

Now not everyone likes that freedom, so check before you book in.

The value in this style of workshop comes from your decision-making,  ability to take ownership and being able to explore the process.

A valuable learning experience for those who like to break boundaries and go their own way.

  • I want this experience to build on my vision for an outcome:

There are some people who may wish to take their work in a particular direction – and by that I mean, they’d like to hone their skills to exhibit, enter competitions, write a book, sell, become professional or eventually teach, so asking these types of questions of themselves helps to create focus – a wise course of action because trying to do everything and appeal to everyone won’t work.

So I have just two words for these workshop attendees – vision and focus.

Vision to know what outcome they wish to gain by attending this workshop.  Will it build knowledge in them as an artist?  Will it support the work they are currently doing? Or, Will it send them in a completely different direction leading them to lose focus?

Focus – and to achieve an outcome we need focus – that means we need to concentrate, pay attention and spotlight that end result every step along that journey.

The onus here is on the attendee to know what their vision is – so that the workshop supports their desired outcome.

  • I want to learn something completely new

Now this would suit the embroiderer or textile artist who may wish to change their style to work very differently or are unsure about a technique and want to deep-dive a little to learn more about whether it would suit them or not.

Well worth the time and effort to try something before you take it on fully.

  • I want to learn several different techniques to add to my repertoire

Sometimes a tutor may offer a series of workshops wherein attendees are offered several different techniques over specific periods of time.

If you’re completely new to embroidery and textile art, this would be perfect because this offers a huge learning experience.

You’d receive an overview of many different techniques – one of which could become a springboard for you to pursue even further.

So this is at the core of the whole dilemma of attending workshops – knowing what it is you’re after so that afterwards, you’re not disappointed with that learning experience.

Now having gone over everything I can think of for the attendee, I believe there’s an onus of responsibility on both the tutor and workshop provider to ensure the workshop is properly advertised – in other words, you get what’s on offer.

I don’t want to harp on about money, but fair’s fair, after all, you’re paying for it.

Tutors need to hone their writing skills ensuring their workshop is fully described, interesting and informative at the same time.

An easy-to-understand material list must be included if materials are not included in the workshop price and it should be triple-checked to ensure everything required is noted.

The same should be applied to kits provided by the tutor – and whether or not this attracts an extra fee – something to think about if you believe the workshop is already expensive.

Plus tutors should always be thinking about how to value-add to a workshop offering – for instance, I love to include insights into history if applicable, and offer a resource list that includes books, shopping, artists to research and even interesting YouTube channels.

It doesn’t cost me anything other than a little time, but it adds a great deal to the workshop experience.

Equally, workshop providers should check and re-check this information before advertising and promoting any workshop.

As an attendee though, if anything is not clear, it’s worth asking questions before you book in just for peace of mind.

So the gist of this message is to make sure you know what it is you’re really after and that you’re getting what you pay for.

That way it’s a win-win for everyone.

I like to challenge myself after each workshop, asking, ‘Could I have done better?’ or ‘Was there something more I could have included?’ – because for me, the learning is the experience and I want to make sure I’ve teased out as much as I can to help make that experience more valuable.

And the only way to find that out is to ask for feedback at the end of the workshop.

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