Getting The Best From A College Course

Dress in Progress at Morley College

Having completed a term at Morley College, I thought it might be worth posting some tips should you be considering a similair type of course.

My term lasted for three months (one three-hour evening class a week) and cost about £150. That’s not bad when you consider that some day courses are the best part of £80. However, if you’re hoping for a venue that has bright light, neon pink chairs, inspiring artwork on the walls and a latte shop downstairs, you might be disappointed. This is good, old-fashioned adult education. So you need to make this work for you. How?

Be sure you can commit.

The prospect of three hours of concentration after work and with no proper evening meal can feel overwhelming. It’s actually easier than it sounds. Compared to the deadline-driven commitments of my workaday world, college felt much more relaxed. (In fact, I loved being back in a learning environment where the only thing expected of me was to … learn.) But you really should try to turn up every week if you’re going to complete a project in a term. Think hard about the travel, your other commitments and what your energy levels are like before stumping up the cash. That’s money you could be spending on fabric.

Be prepared to work at home too.

I was halfway through my term before I’d even cut into my fabric. If you want to get the most from your lessons, I’d advise doing some work at home during the week, also. Just to keep on track. There are parts of the process that you can easily complete without supervision. I’d usually try to get as far as I could alone and then stop and wait for the next class when I needed my tutor’s eye for the next step.

Figure out what makes your teacher excited.

For the next term’s make, I took along two sewing patterns to show my tutor. I pulled them out of my bag, then stood back and watched how she reacted. She immediately lit on the dress with the interesting kimono style sleeves and I knew that was going to be my next make. I want my sewing tutor to be interested in what I’m doing.

Watch what others are doing.

I was surrounded by students making:

  • a man’s shirt
  • a winter coat
  • a skirt
  • a dress from a vintage Vogue pattern

This meant I was surrounded by different fabrics and techniques. Want to learn how to make a plackett? Watch your fellow student. Need to understand how to adjust the drape of a coat? Stand close by when someone else is adjusting their toile. You learn stuff just from being around other people.

Be Realistic.

What are you going to make in a term? If you go for something like the Vogue 1162, with its 72 construction steps, just watch your tutor’s face blanche!

On the other hand, a simple A-line skirt is probably going to leave you twiddling your thumbs over a term.

Take Notes.

Sounds really obvious, but in a hands-on class it’s easy to forget. It’s not just what you’re being shown, it’s what you’re being told. There will be several throwaway pieces of information casually dropped into conversation – good places to shop for silk, that place where you can buy an overlocker, a fabric shop in Battersea that you’ve never heard of before… My little notepad was a godsend! I also found it useful for recording toile adjustments and my body measurements. Whenever I need to remember those, I know exactly where to go now.

Plan Your Outfit.

Can you make out the last scribbled note in my notebook? Halfway through the term I worked out the obvious – to take a pair of flats to change into. You’re on and off your tired feet for three hours at the end of the day.

I also started planning my day’s wear according to whether or not I would be trying on a toile or work-in-progress during class. My worst planned day saw me peeling off a cardigan, belt, blouse and skirt every time I wanted to check the fit. Clown! A simple dress is MUCH easier to scramble out of.

Have Fun!

You’re going to meet people you would never normally encounter, you’ll learn stuff and – fingers crossed – you’re going to end up with an FO that you’re really proud of. One of the great things about being an adult is that we get to choose which classes we take.

I hope this helps. Any of you have other study tips that you’d share?


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15 Responses to Getting The Best From A College Course

  1. Kerry says:

    Thanks Karen, an interesting post, with lots of practical tips. I’ve done both a sewing and a knitting evening class, and it’s so nice to be around people who share your passion.

    From my experience, it seems obvious, but I would say to find out exactly what you’re signing up for – will you be choosing a shop bought pattern and making it with supervision? Sitting behind a machine and learning about different types of seams, or learning how to draft your own pattern? Classes can vary so dramatically from place to place.

    (incidentally – 72 pattern pieces, eek!)

  2. Very good point, Kerry!

  3. Dibs says:

    I’ve read alot about Morley College, and at one point, thought I should enrol. I changed my mind however, when I found out you use a store bought pattern. I would rather go to a course that teaches me how to make my own patterns. The sewing bit, I think I will learn more if I make mistakes, that way it sticks better with me. But then again, people have different learning styles.

  4. Yes, people have different and sometimes very specific needs. You definitely need to find the right course for what you want to learn.

  5. Portia says:

    This is a great post Karen, and so true. All of it.
    I would add…
    Take photos. I’m quite a visual learner when it comes to practical skills. So photos of the demos that my tutor gives, techniques I try etc are very good for me to refer back to.
    Starting a blog and documenting my progress has been a fantastic compliment to my sewing progress. I’m essentially building my own online sewing reference library. Each time I write a new post about a new technique I’ve learnt, the process of explaining it in writing and images, further reinforces my own understanding of the topic. Add to that all the things you can learn and like minded people you can meet in Blogland, then blogging has been invaluable to me!
    Thanks Karen, really enjoyed this post.

  6. Sewer says:

    I’ve enjoyed your posts. I wish that there were an equivalent to Morley College where I live. Instead, I’ve taken evening and weekend classes at FIT. I’ve learned quite a bit, but the classes are industry-oriented; in the sewing classes, everyone uses the same pattern, sometimes in different sizes. The key difference is the fabric used by the student. The draping and pattern making classes tend to be oriented to fitting an industry mannequin. For New York residents, the classes are fairly reasonably priced, if large, especially since students do have some access to the workrooms during non-classroom hours, as well as access to other institution facilities and student discounts.

    But I’ve learned that to fit myself, which is my goal, I’m going to have to get help beyond FIT.

    As for class tips, I recommend taking notes, and when permitted, photos and short videos. I’ve thought of getting a Livescribe pen (, which is a pen that records as well as writes. The material also can be uploaded. Because of the class size, I can’t always see what the teacher is doing, but if I had audio, I would be able to reconstruct it. If you have classmates who are willing to help each other, you can email each other materials.

    Some people make sketches. I can’t draw clearly, especially under pressure.

    I would always arrive early to get a machine and get it set up. The teacher often is available before class for questions. I always bring my pattern and all the materials needed for my garment.

  7. rachel says:

    I wish we had such great courses here. The only ones I have found are a few hours in length and don’t cover fit or technique in such a rigorous way. You’re lucky! I can’t wait to see how your kimono-style sleeved-dress turns out – I bet it will be gorgeous.

  8. Andrea says:

    Lovely job so far on your dress. The color is divine!

  9. Michelle says:

    This is a great post – so informative! I would love to do a course on how to get a proper fit, but I don’t really live in a city that has courses beyond beginner sewing. And the next step is doing a fashion diploma at the local tech, but that’s a lot more than I wanted to commit!

  10. Some great extra advice here, guys. Thanks. I’m learning too!

  11. Tilly says:

    Great tips, Karen. And AWESOME pink ink. x

  12. Freya says:

    I agree it is a big commitment but it is so rewarding! I’m signed up to do a year’s course and I’m about halfway through now and even though I’m tired and grumpy from a day’s work and I rush over to the other side of London to get there on time, I can honestly say that within about ten minutes of stepping inside that classroom, I’m a different person! It’s great to be around such lovely and inspiring people.

  13. liZ evans says:

    I just found your blog and I adore it. However, this post made me seriously jealous. I’m a school junkie…I have 3 degrees, art, education, and history…but right now I am a stay at home mom who is in love with her kids and her sewing machine and who dreams of attending some night classes to learn how to properly construct clothing…
    …anyways…your blog is fantastic and I’ll be back again to visit soon.

  14. Roby says:

    Hello! I am so glad to have found your website while looking for fashion courses and more info on Morley College.
    I love the dress and colour! I wish I could make a similar one!
    I was just about to start a course in fashion design this July at CSM but unfortunately it was cancelled. So, I am looking for other Colleges where I could take a similar class and Morley College seems to have many courses in fashion design and clothes making.
    Could I please know the title of the class that you are attending at Morley College?

    I have no knowledge of fashion other than what I see on TV, shops and magazines. My degree, postgraduate have all been in law. However, I would love to be able to design clothes and actually cutting and sewing them.
    Please, do you know if there is a course in London or at Morley that would combine these? I know that I could just go and have a look at the prospectus (I have done so)but sometimes you need to be doing a course to know what the course is about.

    Thank you


  15. Itsy says:

    Thanx for the post , im looking to enrol at Morley myself and have been having some doubts about whether its best for me. But your post has really given some clarity

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