Last week, I mentioned my friend Maria.
We initially met at the YMCA, so it’s no surprise that our coffeeshop conversations often circle back to fitness metaphors.
(I asked Maria if I could share photos from her stunning instagram account – truly, my blog has never been lovelier. I hope they enhance your reading experience. )
A few weeks ago, I was unraveling my frustration as an upholstery instructor.
We work with students of many levels, you see, and we’re very, very public about it.
But I often feel torn between what I think is accessible for my student, and what the larger upholstery community may have to say about it.
As a teacher and professional, I’m of the mind that learning upholstery is a life journey, if you choose to be good at it. But we all have to start somewhere, and I also believe in grading initial efforts on a curve.
Your first chair is going to be imperfect – but it still has worth.
And in fact, if we get utterly bogged down in minutia on day one, we can stall out before we even get going.
“You can’t educate well all at once,” I told Maria. “You need to deliver content in stages and layers, as students are ready for it.”
It was like yoga, I posited. When someone first walks into class, you don’t nitpick them incessantly on every pose, and you don’t immediately give them the most advanced options.
That would be ridiculous.
You focus on the broad strokes, the most important basics. You celebrate their initial (imperfect) efforts and gradually build on it.
The objectives need to be different, depending on who you’re educating and where they’re at in their journey.
And the yoga community respects that: There are appropriate classes for practitioners of every level.
“You can do free yoga in the park, or attend a once-in-a-lifetime retreat in Bali” Maria observed.
Yes . . . YES!!!!!!!
And yoga in the park does not devaluate yoga in Bali. Yoga in Bali does not eliminate the need for yoga in the park.
The more I thought about yoga as a model for upholstery education the more jazzed I got.
There are good metaphors here . . .
The healthy tree of education and industry
If you look at yoga in the U.S., it is a healthy and thriving tree.
According to a 2016 study, over 36 million people in the U.S. practice yoga (up from 20 million in 2012.)
There are casual classes for newbies, a variety of yoga-specific clubs for serious practitioners. There are intensive, retreat style events and specialty branches, like prenatal or aerial yoga.
All these branches exist in relative cooperation and harmony, to the betterment of the whole.
Is any class the BEST????
It depends who you are and what you want. It’s apples and oranges. But if you start lopping out branches, you’re going to weaken the tree in a hurry.
Once I pictured this, the upholstery industry seemed pretty alarming by comparison.
Professional education is one thing we’ve lost, but it isn’t the most concerning.
Over the years, as education and industry dwindled, we’ve gradually lost our infrastructure, and THAT is tough to compensate for.
Because we don’t have healthy branches to climb around, we’re all challenged with working from the ground up.
Offerings are sparse, and most classes are attempting to serve a variety of students in one setting . . . but education is never one size fits all.
In yoga, different classes may be apples and oranges – both excellent fruits, but serving different tastes.
In upholstery we may only HAVE an apple . . . so we’re frustrated when it doesn’t look like an orange and taste like a banana.
The moral of my story is this:
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOGA-IN-THE-PARK STYLE UPHOLSTERY EDUCATION.
Community ed? DIY? Upholstery light? It’s ALL good. For some students, that’s as far as they mean to go, and that’s okay . . .
It just isn’t a complete resource for the serious student. It isn’t a whole answer for a healthy industry.
2. Structure to support education
If you desire to teach yoga, you can find a number of certification options.
But guess what? These programs don’t stand alone – your certification will require hours of teaching under the guidance of a more experienced instructor.
In upholstery, serious education should REALLY be paired with opportunities to practice under an experienced tradesperson, outside of the classroom.
So it’s doubly tough for serious students – even if you CAN find education, it’s unlikely to include that critical piece of the professional journey.
And teachers are in a similar pickle.
You’re passionate about about and want to teach yoga? Great! There are places to do that – You don’t have to open your own facility and build your own website first!
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were more opportunities for our great craftspeople to simply . . . teach?
3. Teachers as students
One thing I love about yoga, it’s referred to as a PRACTICE.
Your teacher is almost certainly also a student. They are on their own journey towards mastery. They have something to offer, but they haven’t mastered EVERYTHING.
It’s even not uncommon for the instructor to defer to a participant:
“I’m going to stay here, but if you are ready for more challenge, Maria is going to demonstrate another option . . . “
AND NOBODY THINKS LESS OF THE TEACHER!!!!
I don’t feel like we’ve embraced this philosophy in upholstery.
I have to confess, sometimes when I’m teaching, I’m tempted to give students advanced options, not because it’s appropriate, but to prove to the larger community that, YES, of course I know how to rejoin welt cord with a diagonal seam, or flow match a pattern.
That is a TERRIBLE reason to heap content on an overwhelmed student. But goodness knows, we LOVE to show up and demand to know why somebody’s teacher didn’t teach them the “right” way.
We also have weird ideas that instructors should know EVERYTHING or they have no business teaching.
Who the heck knows everything???
Nobody. That’s who.
18th century, midcentury, future trends . . . Springs and frames, cushions and pillows . . . box pleat, kick pleat, dressmaker’s skirts . . . vinyl, leather, linen, chintz . . . residential, commercial, marine, automotive . . . . managing a business, managing a student, managing a client, managing a color palette. . . .
I’m not trying to knock anybody down.
I AM saying it takes a village.
Our industry needs professionals, students and teachers with all KINDS of gifts.
If you’re the best at anything, congratulations. That’s quite an accomplishment.
Most of us aren’t.
I know for a fact that I’m not the best upholsterer. . . .
I’ve poured so much time and energy into studying education, learning WordPress, Mailchimp, iMovie, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, PayPal, WooCommerce.
Researching and struggling to open a business – the kind of business I thought my community needed.
Time and energy I therefore WASN’T using to hone my upholstery skills.
Does that invalidate me as a teacher?
I don’t think so – it was work that desperately needed doing. We now have more upholstery education in Minnesota than we did two years ago, toot toot!
I bring my fair share of skill and experience to the upholstery table – enough that I hope students see the benefit in studying with me.
But are there people who know more?
Will that discourage me from teaching?
(Okay, maybe occasionally)
I can own that truth, and do one of two things:
- Stop teaching because someone, somewhere is better at something, ACK!
- Keep teaching, and embrace the idea that I’m merely one piece of the puzzle, not the whole picture.
I really dig option two.
I’m 100% cool with the idea that our most successful students will seek out other sources for education. They SHOULD!!!! Go learn traditional!!!!! Make friends with a designer!!!! Hang out on YouTube! Sew a v-berth!!!!! Take a slipcover class!!!! For heaven’s sake, diversify your education, there’s so much I just don’t know!!!
Our industry doesn’t need carbon copy professionals – it needs a rainbow tapestry of talented people. . .
The more I looked at the yoga model for education, the better I felt.
Because I realized, if our industry is to survive, it is is to THRIVE . . . it can’t rely on any ONE of us. We need to work together. We need students and teachers and professionals of many, many strengths, in many, many places. We need to reach out to our neighbors and start to rebuild an infrastructure. We need to strengthen our individual branch and see where we can connect it to the larger community around us.
By doing so, can we inspire others to do the same? Can we provide a model for determination, resourcefulness and collaboration?
We’re going to try.
Maybe together, we can deliver a little Charlie Brown Christmas magic on this hopeful little tree of ours.