It feels almost unoriginal now to talk about the uncertainty the pandemic caused for so many small businesses and creative organisations. But as the world moves back to in-person events whilst continuing to deal with the aftershocks of the last two years, it’s worth reflecting on the changes we made that made it possible to keep going. What has the pandemic taught us? How many things will go back to the way they were, and how many of the situational changes we made during those ‘unprecedented times’ will carry forward?
Here, we talk to Sandra Cassidy from Sew Confident Dundee, who regularly runs sewing, knitting and crochet workshops from her bespoke Broughty Ferry studio. Over the years, she and her team of 5 tutors have helped over 1,000 people to fall in love with these crafts. She tells us a bit about how the pandemic affected them, how they adapted when in-person teaching wasn’t an option, and what they did to ensure their community continued to be a welcoming place for newbies online.
For many, one of the few blessings of a global pandemic was that people had more free time at home to do things that interested them. With idle hands, they looked to find new hobbies to keep them occupied, leading to a raft of people interested in learning to sew, knit and crochet. But tactile processes like these are often easier explained in person, where you have access to the expertise of someone who can see what you’ve done wrong and help guide you in the right direction.
For Sandra and her team, this posed a problem: how could they continue to share their skills in an approachable, understandable way whilst being hands-off? Used to teaching beginners, they came up with ways to introduce people to sewing, knitting and crochet in different formats. Easy to follow craft kits were developed, and they adapted their teaching styles and classes for online space based on the feedback their community provided on social media of what they wanted to learn most.
Away from the practical, they also had to come up with a way of maintaining the vital community around their classes online. They set up relaxed digital “Sewcials” so their members could continue to make things with others whilst having a chat and a laugh. And because these events were online, what had once been a solely Dundee-based group expanded, with people joining from across Fife, Aberdeen and Dunblane. They also set up a dedicated Facebook group where those who had been to classes could still keep in touch, share their makes and bounce ideas off other crafty enthusiasts.
This relaxed, supportive atmosphere proved to be a respite, especially for those who were busier during the pandemic. Sew Confident’s classes are made up of over a quarter of people working for the NHS or in other healthcare roles, many of whom in those stressful months used sewing and other kinds of crafting as a way to switch off from their daily workloads.
Georgie Levison, a GP in the Dundee area, tried her first Sew Confident class in 2020 and hasn’t looked back since. She says, “I call it the secret world of sewing and I tell anyone who will listen about the benefits. It’s so easy to get sucked in because it’s the perfect balance between mindfulness and creativity. It’s extremely relaxing but also so rewarding when I wear my handmade clothes or dress my children in them. Working in a productive and reactive job, I think the creativity of sewing really balances out my work.”
Their friendly approach to learning seems to have been their ultimate success story. It’s an attitude that continues to encourage people who join for a beginner class to keep coming along, learning and making with them. Alumni have gone from student to helping to teach the classes themselves, working alongside Sandra, with many others going on to set up their own businesses.
It’s undoubtedly a relief for them to be able to get back to in-person teaching; as much as you can do online, it’s much harder to show people how to fix a wonky stitch or a temperamental sewing machine when you’re not in the room with them. But Sandra is ever optimistic about sewing, throughout the pandemic and beyond.
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