A Meaningful Handicraft Project: Collaboration, Learning and So Much More!

The Task at Hand

A handicraft of the alphabet described by the author in the post.
Image source: Suzanne Nicks

Quilting and knitting circles have existed for a long time for the purposes of pleasure and producing a useful final product, but how did a handicraft project for a group of Master of Education students turn into a feel-good, emotional learning journey? It was an assignment for a research methodology course, but it was so much more than that. It was also collaboration, self-discovery and an emotional roller coaster all rolled into some highly memorable academic presentations. At least that was my observation, if not quite my personal experience.

Our cohort was challenged with creating a group handicraft project using knitting, crochet, embroidery, hand-sewing or rug hooking as a basis for data collection and analysis. Groups had to collaborate and design their handicraft for a real-life purpose. The processes were written up in academic reports and presented to the class. I was surprised and delighted by the presentations.

Our Group’s Approach

First, let me say that my group’s handicraft/research journey was unlike other groups’ journeys. Our small group of three was focused on meeting the requirements of the project in a thorough, yet efficient, way. We divided the labour according to our strengths and followed the requirements closely to complete the assignment. And we did it well. We combined knitting and hand-sewing to create 26 flashcard-sized ‘coasters’, each with a letter of the alphabet sewn onto them. Vowels and consonants were different colours, and the whole set of letters was intended to be manipulated by a child to build words. 

Emotional Presentations

On presentation day, I was not prepared for the emotional journeys that were described by my classmates. Emotions had run high during some of the crafting; some students recalled memories of crafting with grandmothers, others started knitting circles with their families, and many expressed emotions ranging from frustration to immense pride. Deep personal meaning was put into the blankets, quilts, sewn animals and hooked rugs. The intensity of feelings was apparent, and yet there were a lot of laughs during the presentations around people’s descriptions of their group dynamics and the videos of their crafting. These academic presentations were like none I had ever seen before!

My project partners and I exchanged glances during the presentations as we realized that our key findings of efficiency and successful collaboration in a leaderless group, while valid and well-researched, didn’t have the emotional ‘weight’ that other groups experienced. I wondered if our group’s ‘academic’ approach meant we had missed out on the deeper emotional experiences other groups had.

An Inspirational Journey

In the end, I can say that we sacrificed nothing, learned a lot and had an emotional moment as well. Working with my partners was easy and efficient. Having some laughs along the way helped us cope with occasional challenges. Getting to know my partners better was a nice bonus. The emotional piece came during a video in our presentation that showed our alphabet coasters being enjoyed and manipulated by a boy in the autistic sensory room at my partner’s school. My partner’s last-minute suggestion of her school’s sensory room as a ‘home’ for the coasters gave our project the deep meaning it deserved. That video gave the moment of emotion that I experienced, and it completed my crafting journey and this project.

As we live in a digital world where real connections with real people seem to be decreasing as fast as technology is advancing, this course and this project will stand out in my mind for a long time for the layers of meaning in the collaboration, the final product’s ‘home’ and the learning about research methodology. The whole experience was so much more than the sum of its parts. It inspired and was inspiring.

I believe in the power of collaborative creation, and I enjoy using technology in my ESL classroom, but I am going to find ways to get my students’ hands on something besides their phones and tablets to inspire their learning in the same way this master’s project inspired me. I may not get them knitting, but I hope to create collaborative ‘hand-made’ experiences that inspire more than English language learning. 

Suzanne Nicks is an EAP/ELTE instructor at Niagara College, current M.Ed. student, and musician.


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