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Valerie Yeaton Shares Advice for Wannabe Quilting Teachers

Valerie Portrait

Occasionally, I am asked for advice on becoming a quilting teacher. Teaching can be such  a rewarding means of sharing your passion with a group of eager students. Let’s be honest: I think we all enjoy spending time working on projects, and working alongside friends makes the process even more enjoyable. I have been on both sides of the table and each has wonderful advantages. There always seems to be something to learn and wonderful people to meet.

It’s a win-win situation for both a quilt shop and teacher when classes are full and buzzing with the sounds of happy students. I started teaching before I had my own books and patterns to work from. At that time, I taught anything that was both interesting to me and requested by the customers, and I quickly found my love of the classroom.

Valerie Yeaton is a long-time local quilting teacher who shares my passion for teaching. I always enjoy seeing her beautiful samples on display at The Cotton Patch, a local shop where we both teach.

I asked Valerie if she would share some advice for anyone interested in stepping into the teacher’s role. Here’s what she had to say.

What do you look for when choosing a pattern or book for teaching?

I am looking for a new technique or tool.  Something I personally want to learn.

A design that is visually interesting, that will display well in the store, and that will attract potential students.

I think about what class participants will want to learn. Lately, I have been looking for “stash buster” patterns and patterns that use pre-cuts like “jelly rolls.” My friends purchase these and then want a project that will use them. I have a new class that uses pre-cut 2-1/2″ strips and I am amazed by the numbers of strips that the students bring to class.

My newest class is “Stack-n-Whackipedia.” It is based on the Stack-n-Whack books by Bethany Reynolds. It was one of the first books I ever taught from and I’m sure the store has sold dozens of copies of the book as a result.

Made by Valerie Yeaton. Based on designs in "Stack and Whack" books written by Bethany Reynolds.

Made by Valerie Yeaton. Based on designs in “Stack and Whack” books written by Bethany Reynolds.

 Do you follow the pattern exactly?

Normally, I follow the pattern exactly the first time I make it.  That way I can identify any potential problems with the pattern instructions.  For example, the cutting instructions may not take into consideration directional prints.  I need to adjust the pattern in the event someone wants to use a directional print.

When I like a pattern, I will make it several times, changing it slightly each time.  I might extend the block design into the border, change the block size, or color scheme.

But, if I change the pattern, I always require the student to purchase the original pattern or book.  Copyright is something I take seriously.

Here are three photos of the “Spring Blooms” quilt which was designed by you, Laura, and your co-author, Diana McClun.

Made by Cynthia Sanders. Spring Blooms pattern by From Me to You.

Made by Cynthia Sanders. Spring Blooms pattern by From Me to You.

Made by Valerie Yeaton. Spring Blooms pattern by From Me to You.

Made by Valerie Yeaton. Spring Blooms pattern by From Me to You.

Made by Debbie Johnston. Spring Blooms pattern by From Me to You.

Made by Debbie Johnston. Spring Blooms pattern by From Me to You.

How do you guide students with fabric and color selection?

Value (contrast) is what will make or break a quilt.  Choose the best quality fabric you can afford.  Support the local quilt stores.  They are the ones providing the classroom space, the teachers, the supplies needed, and the wonderful fabric selections.

Stay within a consistent palette or fabric style.  Choosing the fabric is one of the most difficult parts of making a quilt, but is also one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of the process.

One of the more difficult situations for me is when a student’s color preferences are very different from mine.  I have learned to respect their vision and try to help them achieve it even when it would not be my choice.  Sometimes these are fantastic and exciting, and they open up my eyes to new options.

Made by Valerie Yeaton. Featured in the book "Kool Kaleidoscopes" by Ricky Tims.

Made by Valerie Yeaton. Featured in the book “Kool Kaleidoscopes” by Ricky Tims.

Any advice about teaching from patterns and books?

Read through the entire book or pattern before you start.  Try to get an understanding of the author’s point of view.  What techniques are being used?  Are there new tools that will be useful in completing the project?

Know your students.  What do they want to learn?  What is their skill level?  Can this pattern be used to teach new skills?

Allow sufficient classroom time to complete the project.  It is discouraging for the student to leave with a partially completed project and without the guidance to finish it.   How many “projects in a bag” do we all have?  Understand that some people will do homework and some will not be able to do that.  I try to provide “finish the project” classes for those that need extra time.

Understand how each student learns.  Most will prefer diagrams and demonstrations to text.  Be prepared to demonstrate any new techniques.

Respect what the students may already know.  Sometimes they have learned to measure and cut differently than the way I do it.  As long as it works for them, I try not to retrain them.

Get feedback if it is comfortable for you to do that.

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I hope any of you who might be interested in teaching find Valerie’s advice helpful and encouraging. If any of you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or happen to be visiting, be sure to look for exciting new classes from Valerie. She can be found teaching at The Cotton Patch in Lafayette.

In my next post I will share more of photos of Valerie’s work so be sure to check back.

I am overwhelmed and grateful for the responses to my last post regarding the release of the third edition of Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!! I loved reading through all your reasons for “happy dancing.” I look forward to sending a copy to Lisa Jamieson sometime in October.

Until next time, happy creating . . . and dancing everyone!

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