For the past couple months I’ve been running a trial version of my online fabric collage class—enrollment of which ended last November. Thirty-eight of my $10 and $20 Patreon supporters signed up on the private Facebook group to be my guinea pigs in the class, which started in December and is ending on January 31. I’m taking February to incorporate the changes students have suggested, before opening the class to the public in March.
The class is made up of two parts. There is the online, multi-media website—with text, pictures, and video—that explains the process. The second part is the private Facebook group in which students share their work with me and the other students for feedback.
The class is process-oriented rather than project-oriented. In other words, the class teaches how to do fabric collage, not how to do a particular fabric collage project. The overall goal is to teach fabric collage in such a way that students will be able to tackle any subject they choose.
For me, the teacher, the most vexing part of creating an online class has been deciding how to provide feedback to those who wanted it. When I asked my readers what they expected from an online class, one of the features they expressed a desire for was the ability to receive feedback on in-progress work. It makes sense, as the online class should in as many ways as possible emulate the in-classroom experience, during which I typically give feedback twice in a day.
However, what I imagined was dozens of students taking the online class at one time and requiring feedback from me on a daily basis. In my real-life classes, I only attempt to teach 20 students at a time maximum. I prefer 15, and 12 students seems to be about ideal (the number of students in my own Maine retreats). How could I provide feedback for dozens or even hundreds of students at once? This was the question that haunted my sleepless nights.
The obvious answer is, of course: I can’t.
I can’t possibly provide feedback to all my online students for an unlimited amount of time.
The solution is simple: My online fabric collage multi-media website will be available for purchase to anyone who wants it at any time.
Feedback, however, will be purchased separately, and will be restricted to a certain number of students for a certain length of time. Notice the vague terms here. I’m still not sure how many or for how long is best. Don’t quote me on this, as it’s likely to change, but I imagine feedback to happen in this way: Rolling enrollment of 12 students for six weeks, during which I’ll answer questions on a weekly basis. To be honest, I’m just not sure yet.
So, to sum up this update: The online class will launch in March. Access to the multi-media fabric collage website will be available at that time, forever. Feedback—coaching through a private Facebook page—will be available later (date yet to be decided based on my teaching schedule) and purchased separately; each feedback session will be for a limited duration to a limited number of students.
So, How’s It Going?
The most important thing for you and me to know is that the class works. You can learn fabric collage using the online class. That wasn’t a given when we started developing this over a year ago. So it’s a relief to know that the time and effort Tom and I have put in hasn’t been wasted.
Most of the work you’ll see below was done within the last four weeks, which makes me think that four to six weeks of feedback will be a good length of time for an online student to work creativity into everyday life—time for feedback and time to actually work with it. And the feedback was not only limited to what I had to say. The other members of the private Facebook group added their own thoughts and encouragement. Though so many of us had had never met in person, there still developed the sense of a classroom atmosphere, and virtual pats on the back.
The best evidence that the online class works is the quality of the quilts being produced and how the students feel about the the experience of creating them. So I’ll let some of the trial-run students and their projects do the talking.
“In Susan’s class I have learned so much about fabric values and the use of shading and color blending in collage piecing.” —Nancy Frith
Nancy took the advice I give in the online class materials and started out with a simple project before moving on to something more challenging. Within the class there is an exercise, a warm up project, of a collage spiral, which she did a beautiful job with. I also suggest using black and white photos of your work to concentrate on value, which Nancy did here.
After developing her skills with the spiral she then applied them on her octopus, which is still in progress.
“Having the opportunity to take this class was a privilege as I’m in Australia and don’t have access to the expert advice that Susan has provided. I have the book but have learnt so much more from the feedback that Susan provided throughout the process. Without Susan’s advice I would have given up very early on as I struggled with the basic concepts of color as I am not an artist but her way of explaining the process was so easy to understand. I want to do more pieces and hope that I can take what I have learnt and create some amazing art. Thanks for being so patient with me its been a great experience.” —Helen King
We in the Online Class Trial saw the progression of Helen’s Serendipitous Sea Turtle from beginning to end. The screenshot below shows how feedback worked on the private Facebook page. I was especially pleased with how supportive the students were of each other. This is an aspect of the live-classroom experience that I was unsure could be replicated online.
Helen did so well on her stylized turtle that she decided her next project would be something a little more lifelike. Here’s the design for her next sea turtle quilt.
“What good fortune it was to find Susan Carlson at a time when when I was able to take her online class, thus making fabric collage jump to my #1 favorite hobby. I don’t think of myself as an artist at all, but beautiful things started happening with fabric thanks to Susan’s tutelage and experience. Photos and questions from other group members made the class even more fun and helped bring home important points to incorporate into a successful project. This was a very worthwhile class and I feel very lucky to have been able to participate. Thanks Susan and Tom!” —Nancy D Rogers
While Nancy was working on her beetle (from one of my patterns), she used the Facebook group as a sounding board. My answer to her question in this case shows one of the advantages of the Facebook group over the classroom setting. In class I find that students sometimes forget what I told them. By the time I work around to them again they’ve forgotten the suggestions I gave them first time around. On the Facebook page, Nancy is able to go back and refer to my answer at any time.
After completing her beetle Nancy started on her chameleon.
Martha attended one of my October 2017 Maine retreats, and was also an active participant in this online class trial, making comments and posting the progress on her fish. This was another thing I think people will like about the online class: you can participate as much or as little as you want. Martha, being familiar with the process and all the questions that can come up with every step, I’m sure she helped those newer to the process as she gave us an inclusive overview of her Carpe Carpem goldfish from sketch, fabric selection, collage process, and figuring out background, to her finished quilt.
“Having Susan’s eye on the project was a blessing. She is gentle with her feedback in an inspiring way that helps us to see the change needed and feel that we can do it. Never once was I discouraged by the suggestions and changes that I needed to make on “Anneliese at the Beach”.” —Jane Deskis
I first saw Jane’s piece “Anneliese at the Beach” in the Facebook page I host for my $20 Patreon supporters. One of the benefits of being a supporter at the $20 level is monthly feedback. When Jane became a guinea pig for the online class trial, “Anneliese at the Beach” turned up again. Here’s some of my suggestions that she referred to in the Patreon forum:
Once “Anneliese at the Beach” was far enough along, Jane started her next piece of a snail.
My thanks to all who have participated in the online class trial. It’s no doubt that your input has improved not only the website material, but strengthened Tom’s and my faith in the potential for success in teaching fabric collage online.
I am very excited for the online class to “launch” (as is Tom) in March. It’s the culmination of a year of actively working toward that goal, and over two years of writing my weekly blog posts. Those bite-sized installments of information—rearranged, edited, and added to—have become the bones of this online class.
And a final thank you goes to my Patreon supporters. Your monthly monetary support gives Tom and I the ability to dedicate months of time into development of a class such as this, as well as keeping the blog posts coming.