Taking online class about Foundations of Textile has been an eye-opening experience. Sharing three life changing lessons, my exercises’ highlights, and why taking this class is worth it.

Deciding to start studying textile design last year was a leap of faith decision. I had been itching to do more focused learning, starting with fundamentals of design thinking. After countless hours of research, advice seeking, and bank account checking, I knew I found the right class for me to start with.

So since mid-2017, I started to take an online course in textile foundations from Open Creative Arts (OCA). OCA is part of the University of the Creative Arts, an excellent art and design school based in the UK.

Committing myself to this Foundations of Textile course was a little scary at first, but soon excitement and perseverance washed over me. The course is estimated to take 8 – 10 hours of work per week for a year, but the actual hours are flexible. Online supports are plenty, and I also got a tutor who’s an accomplished textile artist and teacher.

I was really excited when the coursework binder arrived from the UK. Nowadays, I’m still very excited for the continuous learning opportunities. Instead of diving into fiber qualities, this class focuses on discovering and exploring design qualities with exercises in mark-making, lines, collage, materials, and sketchbooks. I posted some of my ongoing class works on Instagram from time to time. If you’d like to follow my textile learning journey, feel free to check out my learning log Talk Textile Study.

Talk Textile Study - Mira's Learning Log for Foundations of Textile class

There are so many things I can share about my taking this extended online course. You might have questions about my decision-making process, and you’re welcome to ask me that in the comment section. However, right now I’d like to focus on three life changing lessons I unexpectedly learned from this experience. Moreover, this post features highlights of my class exercises so far, and my take on whether taking a flexible, extended online course is worth it.

Also, I’d like to make it clear that this is NOT a sponsored post. This experience sharing is my own initiative, since I know how scary it can be to commit oneself to a distance learning education, especially in an unfamiliar field. I just hope it can help anybody who was in a similar situation.

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1. Context is just not all you need to appreciate objects.

This course really changes the way I look at my surroundings. I was really used to see objects with their context. Everything – from roads to tables and everything in between – were all contextual and sometimes even filled with prejudices and assumptions. A chair to sit on, a car to bring people from point A to point B.

From mark-making exercises with both conventional and non-conventional tools to exploring lines and silhouettes, they all immediately encouraged new ways of looking at things.

Mark-Making Exercise using Conventional Tools - drawing a vintage purse
Mark-Making Exercise with Conventional Tools - Vintage Purse Drawing result
Line Exercise Using Negative Mark Masking - Talk Textile Study

Thanks to the exercises, I look for shapes, patterns, textures, and moods everywhere I go. From observing lines of constructed garments, seeking traces of brush strokes paintings, and even seeking patterns on electric poles, I become much more aware of objects beyond its context.

How they are built, the materials they’re constructed with, techniques their creators use, and so many more. It’s mind-boggling how I experience ‘seeing’ so differently now. I felt my observation skills have leveled up from doing these exercises, and this will allow me to better understand works by artists and creative makers.

Line Making Exercise Observing a Doctor's Bag - from Talk Textile Study

2. Real discoveries happen when I stop controlling the end results.

One quick example: left-handed blind sketching. I’m right-handed, and my drawing suck. Holding a pencil with my left hand felt awkward (it still is), and I could hardly control the movements, let alone do a blind sketch blind (i.e. not looking at your drawing pad when you are drawing an object in front of you).

But it’s so fascinating to see how my left hand naturally do things the mirror opposite of my right hand, or how the uncertain lines give an innocent quality free from right hand’s memories and mistakes. And the sketches I made with my left hand are – in my opinion – far superior from what I could do with my right hand. They are bolder, clearer, and freer. I love it so much that now I almost always do abstract sketch with my left hand. Some of the drawings above were done with my left hand. Can you tell which one(s)?

This discovery also applies to other exercises, especially when I did my Collage exercises. I usually started creating something with an end result in mind. In the past, I would try my best to steer the process so I got that exact end result. But guess what? It became predictable, boring.

Nowadays, I have learned to embrace the constant detours and surrender myself in the process even when they can be time-consuming. The only constant thing is change. Exercise results became so much more dynamic and thought-provoking, and so far I haven’t stopped saying, “Wow, I did that?” almost every time I finished something. Such results were possible had I stayed in my assembly-line-like thinking.

Midnight Tea Time Paper Collage - from Talk Textile Study
In-Progress: In Plain Sight paper collage - from Talk Textile Study
In Plain Sight Paper Collage - from Talk Textile Study
Model: Mirror Mug paper collage - Talk Textile Study
Mirror Mug Paper Collage - Talk Textile Study

3. Creativity breeds more creativity, and it keeps going

The aforementioned detours in working those exercises keep my creative juice flowing. What if I do this or that? Remove this and add that instead? The constantly experimenting mindset works wonder in breeding more creative ideas. I got more curious about more creative methods and techniques, and I got myself into trying new things.

That’s why I went to Craftcation 2018, an annual 4-day workshop and business conference for crafters. I made many great friends who love crafting and creating, and I learned so many new techniques – from hand embroidery, block printing, free-form hand lettering with watercolor or wood burning methods, gel press printing, and more.

All these newly acquired skills are really applicable and expandable in many different combinations. I’m really excited to apply some of these to my DIY Projects and Foundations of Textile exercises, and see what kinds of new discoveries await!

Tea Escape paper collage - from Talk Textile Study
Golden Summer paper collage - from Talk Textile Study
Tea Cup Appliqué paper collage - from Talk Textile Study
"Permission to Merge" paper collage - from Talk Textile Study

There you have it. By the way, if you read my April Notes 2018, you’d realize that I had been struggling with a serious health issue this year. Because of this, my Foundations of Textile study was paused since March. However, I’m on the mend and continue to get better every day, so I’m looking forward to resume this course.

Now, let’s talk a bit about whether taking an extended online course like this is worth it. For me, it has been a great experience due to these factors:

  • Self drive – the most important factor. I have tremendous amount of self drive and motivation; I know I want to learn and I will continue learning about this.
  • Time flexibility – I can choose when and for how long I work on course exercises.
  • Tutor assessment – at the end of each exercise module, students can submit their work for professional assessment of their tutor. These are thorough and critical feedback aimed to challenge and improve students’ way of thinking. I found it very refreshing and encouraging.
  • Online learning log – students are required to keep an online learning log, and that’s awesome. Not only I am encouraged to document my processes and discoveries succinctly and effectively (I still have a lot of work on that), I am also encouraged to reflect on assessments on Talk Textile Study. All these contribute to more wholesome learning experience.
  • Online community – while I haven’t met any course mate from the US, the qualities of student works have been inspiring. Everybody is really nice and ready to help each other as we journey through the course.

That said, the course is not without its flaws. Some of the instructions on the coursework binder were not clear, and sometimes things can be rather overwhelming. If you are spread out too thinly and/or need to have constant guidance and encouragements, then perhaps this kind of distance learning isn’t suitable. Taking a non-credit course at a local college or local workshops will be a better choice. For me, the time flexibility is something I value greatly and I had no problem working on exercises in short bursts of time.

In any case, if you are contemplating any kind of continued education – be it distance learning in physical or online setting, or anything in between, – I suggest doing your research to see what works for you. Don’t skip doing research no matter how troublesome it seems, you will thank yourself later on. And once you make your decision, you will be ready to experience your own life-changing lessons, your Pandora’s box.

Pandora's Box paper collage - from Talk Textile Study

So that’s it! I hope this post is inspiring or useful for you who may be contemplating to take part in distance learning. Let me know if you have questions and I’ll be happy to help.

Thanks for reading; until next time,

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