Learning stitch by stitch

AmyLeigh Harrison's students can thread their way through cyberspace thanks to a technology grant. Harrison, a Career and Technical Education teacher at Rocky River High, received a $5,000 Hornets Teacher Innovation Grant to purchase Spiegel sewing machines equipped with Wi-Fi and camera lenses. She teaches apparel classes.

Harrison has about 60 students each semester. She said the demand for the apparel courses has increased and she hopes it will continue to expand. With the new equipment, her students will create their own educational videos and tutorials. They will be able to track their individual progress, share it with each other and on social media.

"Using sewing as a means of creative exchange can create a new era of possibilities, self-marketing and entrepreneurship opportunities," said Harrison. "I can see creating a virtual sewing site using the technology as a springboard for questions, teaching and inspiring other young learners."

The sewing machines, unveiled during an event Nov. 1, have 350 standard stitches, more than most machines. The machines are compatible with smart phones or tablets and the free Spiegel Social Sewing application provides users with video tutorials and special features. As students use the machine, they can see the area being stitched on their device.

"I couldn't wait to use the machine," said 11th-grader Ana Sandoval. "I like making double-stitched scarves, so what I found most helpful is seeing what I am doing from above on my device. I'm excited to explore the other features."

During the unveiling, students heard from people in the industry. Richard Lowe, Spiegel's international creative director; Karen Dixon, owner of Front Door Fabrics and Interiors; Christine Lukowitsch, textile artist and owner of Little Lotte Studio; Lemond Hart, owner of House of Lemond, a vintage menswear boutique, and Aly Amidei, an assistant professor of costume design for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, each shared how they became successful.

"Don't despise humble beginnings. I started in my bedroom taking photos of my work and posting it to Instagram," said Hart, an Independence High graduate. "Now, I own my boutique, work with celebrities and in February will be creating a clothes line for an Atlantic City fashion show. Use the tools you are given to their fullest capacity."

The speakers also emphasized the variety of careers available to students.

"Look at the tables, chairs and bookcases around you. Someone designed those," said Dixon. "If you love creativity, you can design anything. Make sure you are paying attention in math class, too, because you will use pi if you decide to go into interior design."

Twelfth-graders Fox Scott and Caitlin Rivera like their apparel course for different reasons. Fox is interested in pursuing a career in the fashion industry. He has already made some scarves and wants to learn how to make sweatshirts. For Caitlin, sewing is more of a relaxing hobby. Both are looking forward to seeing how the new machines will expand what they are learning.

"As a student gives life to a project, the accomplishment feels great and even the smallest usable object is usually cherished for years to come," said Harrison. "As a 21st-century educator, it is my responsibility to give my students access and opportunities. We have great things happening here."