- - - - - - - - - Winter 2017 - - - - - - - - - -
Quilt Festival Happenings
For many decades, home economics programs like sewing, cooking, and shop were a standard part of the educational system. Today, these types of classes have largely disappeared from schools, despite substantial research demonstrating that skills like problem solving and patience can be learned through experience-based education.
For Educational Psychologist—and former costume designer—Shelancia Daniel, home economics and shop were always her favorite classes in school. And upon hearing that they were no longer being offered, she wanted to find a way to reintroduce them.
She enlisted the help of well-known quilter Ginny Eckley, and decided to launch the Houston-based non-profit organization, Creativity Shell, in 2015. But what began as a mission to bring home economics back into schools quickly became a learning experience for Daniel herself.
“When I started sewing classes at a local school, I realized that it was extremely difficult to teach the kids how to sew,” she explains. “In one
of my first classes, the students were in grades four to six, and they
could not thread a needle, they had poor scissor skills, they could not
tie knots at the end of a needle, and many of them had never used a sewing machine before. I also found that students were extremely impatient, couldn’t cope when faced with difficulty, had poor problem-solving skills, and, most importantly, they all had a strong desire for instant gratification.
“This is a new generation of children,” she continues. “Many of the things they were born into—fast internet, cell phones, computers, tablets, Amazon Prime—were things that we’ve adopted to. Many of us adults have difficulty going without our modern technologies, but imagine what it’s like for the students who do not know anything else.”
Relying on her expertise and research in educational psychology, Daniel had to reengineer the classes and the way they were taught to better suit this current generation of students. For the first few weeks, sewing rules that could be broken (like the concept of seam allowance) were ignored, the students’ desires for instant gratification were appeased, and the classes allowed for a structured, but fun program that taught students without requiring them to spend too much time on cumbersome details. But that is only the beginning.
“Most of our programs are 12 weeks in length,” Daniel says. “All of our projects are graded on items like problem solving, coping, decision making, skill level, frustration, and gratification. Students enrolled in
week one of 12, for example, will receive a project that has a zero level
in problem solving, coping, decision making. Students enrolled in week five of 12, however, will make projects that are a level five in problem solving, coping, decision making. By week 12, it is expected that students can sit for two or more hours to finish a large project. This method allows us to wean our students off instant gratification while teaching them to make decisions with the items they are sewing (such as whether to
sew on a button or use a clasp) and build their skill level by boosting
At the end of each year, the organization hosts a big fashion show called Creativity Rocks!, for which students are allowed to design, make, and wear their own outfit, something—Daniel says—that serves as a fantastic motivator to keep students returning to the classes.
In addition to the organization’s Sewing/Textile Arts program, Creativity Shell also offers a S.T.E.M./Sewing program that blends S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills with sewing by teaching students to sew with conductive thread and add electrical elements, like LED lights, to their garments.
Teaching kids to “make something good!”
Naturally, Creativity Shell also has an eye toward philanthropy, teaching students of the importance of giving back to the community, through organizations like Project Linus, as they teach them to sew. And as they grow, they also have plans to partner with animal shelters and rescue organizations, giving students the chance to make items to be donated
to these organizations.
Perhaps most inspiring among the work Creativity Shell is doing is its commitment to helping students rescued from human trafficking and homelessness through vocational fashion programs designed to teach them practical skills and help them heal.
“Human trafficking is a major problem in Houston,” Daniel explains. “Most of the girls are extremely young and, besides the traumatic experience they’ve endured, they also lack the practical skills of many of their peers. Our sewing program for trafficking victims is designed to be therapeutic and educational at the same time.”
In some of the shelters, there are restrictions on what they are allowed to make. They cannot make bags, for example, as that could potentially give them an item with which to run away. They also have to be careful not to introduce any kind of “contraband,” even if it might otherwise seem harmless—something like pins could be used by the students to harm themselves or others.
“So, we make projects like scented sachets that can be used for therapeutic purposes. We teach them to dye fabrics like underwear and scarves. We also have a fantastic upcycling program where we teach the girls to repurpose donated garments like t-shirts into sports bras. When we receive donated sewing machines, we gift them to their girls upon their leaving the shelter, so that they can continue sewing for therapeutic purposes or start their own sewing business.” Creativity Shell also works with the Homeless Gay Kids drop-in shelter in Houston, where they offer sewing instruction in the hopes of teaching kids practical skills and keeping them off of the streets for several hours a day. Some of the items they create with these students include practical things like waterproof pillows, pillow bags, and socks with moisture wicking fabric to keep their feet warm and dry.
For Daniel—and the other members of the Creativity Shell team—the goal is to ensure that children from all walks of life have access to the programs they offer and the opportunity to learn practical skills that will positively impact their life and future.
“We would love for every school, public library, and shelter to embrace Creativity Shell nationwide,” she adds. “Because of the magnitude of work that needs to be done, we certainly cannot do it alone. We are open to partnering with like-minded organizations or starting new Creativity Shell chapters in different locations. At the end of the day, the one thing we want most of all is to fulfill our mission to use creativity to educate and inspire the next generation of makers.”
For more information on Creativity Shell and its programs, visit their website at www.creativityshell.org.
Creativity Shell relies on donations of cash, fabric, supplies, and new sewing machines for its programs. For information on donating, visit www.creativityshell.org/donate.
All photos are of participants in the Creativity Shell programs.