I was at Origin last year, the Craft's Council show at Somerset House. This interesting-looking guy stopped at my stand and slowly took it all in. I didn't interrupt and start chatting, as I sometimes do, instead I just let him read and absorb. I should do this more often, I thought. I like to wonder what story people are putting together before I start my story. I fear they might disappear if I don't lure them in with conversation.
So this chap was Robert Pulley from West Dean College. I knew the place, or more the website. I often found myself looking through the course details and wondering which course to do. Funny that the first course I should do is the one I taught. Robert liked my work and thought he'd like me to do something at West Dean. I met Rosemary from the short courses team and we brainstormed. I felt passionately about people knowing how to sew, however basic. People lose their confidence or don't have it to start with and somehow feel powerless. Being able to sew is a gift, and it's not that hard after all. It wasn't about tailoring and steaming ease and so on that you might do with tweed. It's about getting a sewing machine out and having the confidence to use it, to sew a few decent seams that won't come apart and that will even look neat.
So at the end of June - I taught a three day Simple Sewing course at West Dean. We braved the heat and got stuck in. One of the delights about West Dean is that you can stay there. They have lovely rooms. My room looked out over the South Downs.
We started off by making bunting. It was a good task to teach basic skills such as seams, pressing, corners, and finishing off nicely. It was really useful. After this I let students work on their own projects, with the occasional interruption to go through some specific techniques.
West Dean has this atmosphere which is at once a place of excellence and at the same time a relaxed place. There is a nice mixture of full time students and professionals (such as the tapestry studio) and a moving population of people attending short courses.
However, I have to say that the lasting memory for me was wandering around the gardens after supper. As a student or teacher you have the luxury of access to most places. It was breath-taking and exuberant being in full bloom at the height of summer. I am not sure if I loved the famous pergola..
Or the Victorian kitchen gardens with the original greenhouses. There was something romantic but also 'man trying to tame nature' about these trees being invited to grow in a certain way.
I could spend hours there and will certainly be visiting again. In fact, I'm teaching again in March 2010 so I shall have the chance again.