Welcome to the beautiful city of Montreal. Bienvenue à Montréal, la plus belle ville du monde, in my opinion. (I didn’t need a translator to write that, in case you were wondering.)
We’re kicking off a whirlwind road trip across our great country, and if you hang with us all the way to the end, there will be rewards. I promise you, there will be some lovely rewards up for grabs. But you can’t bail on us partway. Go to the bathroom before we leave because we’ve got a long distance to cover in only 7 days and we’re not stopping at every Tim Horton’s we see!
So this happened and, as usual, halfway through I was asking, “What the hell did I just get myself into??” A couple of months ago, I got an email email from Craftsy, my favourite online place for learning cool stuff. In fact, I have nicknamed them “Cracksy” because the classes are so ridiculously addictive. The email was a call to affiliate bloggers to write reviews, among other things.
Now, before I go any further, I want to be sure you understand that this post has some links that are affiliate links, and others that are not. Craftsy provided the classes to us free of charge in exchange for our reviews, but they placed no restrictions on what we can or cannot say. That means all of the opinions I express — good or bad — are my own. (Not that I’d listen if they tried to tell me what to say, anyway.) Back to my story…
Right around that same time as the email, I had come to the decision that my blog was going to focus on Canadian content as much as possible, and Canadian Designer and Instructor Janelle MacKay‘s class Mix & Match: Clutch Bag Techniques had just released to rave reviews… Ding, Ding! How about a blog tour with all Canadian bloggers and featuring our hottest new celebrity? Yes, Please! I was off and running with mainly only my left brain doing the running. Yes! I ran in a few circles…
I finally managed to not make up my mind and ended up watching and reviewing not one, but 2, Craftsy classes — a free class taught by Kristin Link of Sew Mama Sew, and a paid class taught by Nicole Vasbinder of Stitch Craft. Both classes were designed around sewing a tote bag and a zipper pouch, so why not do my own comparison and mix & match?
Let’s step back a little and get clear on what Craftsy is and how it works. According to their official corporate wording, “Craftsy equips you with the tangible skills, quality materials, access to inspiring… [ … ZZZZZzzzz-zzzz…] … Yep! it’s that exciting. And I find it doesn’t do the reality of the experience any justice. The Craftsy I know is a learner’s wonderland of classes that, once you buy (or win), you can access for life and watch as many times as you please.
With everything from scrapbooking to woodworking, photography to metalsmithing, sewing to gardening, it’s a crafters dream and crafter spouse’s nightmare. Oooooh, ooh, oooh! I very nearly forgot! They sell fabric and notions and project kits and patterns… and they have a ton of free patterns, and crafting guides on their blog, and they support indie pattern-makers … and, and, … and … [pant, pant, pant] I need a paper bag! (and a crafter spouse with a fan.)
Whew! that was intense…
I signed up for an account in the early days when the company’s little feet were still wet, so I’ve watched them grow. I’ve seen them make some mistakes — little ones and some doozies — but they’ve come a very, very long way since then. From some of the worst editing ever (well, besides me trying to use Windows MovieMaker to make films of my cats) to what has become one of my favourite features: the high quality of video production. Like I said, they’ve come a long way from those early days.
But my absolute fay-vorr-eet thing about Craftsy is their
dealer customer service. I don’t know how they can manage to solve problems so fast and keep so many people happy and coming back. It feels good, it really does, almost like a fix of Cracksy. Pause here. Take a moment, contemplate your cuticles, and decide if you want to continue reading. I’m about to introduce you to the gateway drug and if you start down that slippery Craftsy slope, don’t say I didn’t warn you. At least your hand-basket will be well made.
Right up front, I’ll say I like the instructor, Kristen Link. She has a calm, soothing tone and she’s really easy to watch.
This was one of the first classes I ever took on Craftsy, because it was free and I wanted to try it out before committing. (That and I was broke and learning from all the free resources I could.) It’s not often you come across an instructor who understands and is willing to adapt her teaching methods to the multiple ways that people learn. The learning style is what has to be honoured in any teacher/student relationship and the teacher has to be flexible enough to adapt. Kristin aced that! Especially considering that there are only so many ways you can change things up when you’re dealing with a recorded video format.
The instructors for free mini classes like this one aren’t required to participate in the class discussions and answer questions, so I wasn’t surprised that Kristin rarely showed up in the conversation threads, but the other learners were just so helpful that it’s ok to give the instructor a break. In the paid classes, you would have instructors answering questions and participating in the discussions.
As much as I liked her and loved the class, I did take issue with her pinning style. I’m not a big fan of sticking those pins in willy-nilly, just because you happen to be facing that way. Pinning could be a whole other blog topic, if I get started. Everything else was well done, extremely clear and easy to follow. She paced herself nicely and didn’t go into too many details, which would be great for a confident sewist who is just trying out bag-making. For the new sewist who just got their learner’s permit, it would be a challenge to piece together how some of the steps were completed, so keep that in mind.
I know that review sounds lukewarm and bland, kinda like leftover unsweetened porridge. (It’s good for you but it doesn’t inspire you to take a picture and post it on Instagram.) Then suddenly, you lift out your spoon from the bowl and find the tastiest morsel of crispy bacon with cheese … Kristin is the only instructor I have ever seen/heard teach sewing inside corners the way she does and it was one of the best tips ever in my sewing. I stored that yummy bit away in my brain when I watched the class eons ago, and started using it on every corner including the corner store. Yet, for the life of me, I could not remember where I learned the technique. I even spent a day doing Google searches to see if I could find where I first came across this ingenious piece of information, but nothin’! That is, until I watched it again for this review post. Lightbulb! and a smack to the forehead! (So now I’m blinded and concussed. Not the best condition for sewing or writing.) I won’t tell you what her technique is. You’ll just have to go watch the class and see for yourself. (What are you grumbling about?? It’s a free class, for Pete’s sake!) My corners have never been the same. If only she could do that for all the drivers in Montreal…
In most free classes that you can watch (yes, I’m looking you, YouTube addicts!), you won’t get as many valuable take-aways as you will with this class. If you have to start somewhere free, this is the place to do it. And lookee! You get to make little prezzies for your friends and they’ll say, “Wow! I didn’t know you could sew!” and you’ll blush, and they’ll get all uncomfortable watching you turn red, and you’ll shuffle your feet and… Ok! nevermind. Nicole is waiting…
Unless you think you know everything there is to know about sewing (Seriously??), rush right over to Craftsy and get this class right now! It is worth every single penny, even if you pay full price. (Which you won’t have to if you click… right… here! Go on, click it. I dare ya!)
Nicole Vasbinder is the kind of teacher I want to be when I grow up. She’s got a charming way of delivering the material starting at the very beginning and covering every step in detail. For years, I’ve used driving analogies to teach dance, and now I use them to teach sewing. Picture my delight when I found Nicole doing it too! She’s thorough, and she knows what she’s doing. No kidding! Fan Girl crush happening here. I just love this woman! She’s like a great big platter of Singapore Pepper Crab. (Put that on your bucket list.)
One of the (rare) sensible reasons I chose this class to review was because I wanted to compare what you get in a free class with what you get in a paid class. Both Kristin’s lessons and Nicole’s take you through the construction of a tote bag and a zipper pouch, so I figured that would be a level field for a fair comparison. While the difficulty of the actual sewing skills needed for the two classes were at par, there were a few key differences other than porridge and crab.
Kristin’s class assumes you have the necessary sewing skills and vocabulary to follow a pattern, but Nicole’s class starts you off with all the basics you need if you have just taken your first-ever sewing machine out of the box. (Well, she did skip over the part where you plug it into the wall socket and flick the power switch, but come on! You can handle that if you’re on the internet.) This is not so much a bag-making class as it is an introduction to sewing, with the bonus of having made some pretty cool bags at the end of it.
From start to finish, this is one of the best investments a beginner sewist can make (along with buying good quality thread and a decent iron, but don’t get me started!). I’m convinced a lot of people don’t like sewing because they never learned the right way. This, my fellow travellers, is. the. right. way!
I have to stop gushing like a schoolgirl and confess I did have a couple of issues with the class. (Of course I would!) The pattern for the pouch is unnecessarily complicated with cutting out the corner notch before sewing. There are two ways I know of to “box” your bag corners. (If there are more, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.) There’s this way that Nicole shows in her pouch lessons, and there’s the other way that Kristin shows in her tote bag lessons. Kristin’s way is much easier. But (yes, there’s another “but”. What did you expect?), there is method to Nicole’s madness. Because this class is geared toward teaching you all the introductory skills you need to start making prezzies on your new toy, she wanted her students to practise using a printed pattern. It would have been very silly to give you a pattern that consists of a rectangle. (She already told you how to cut a rectangle in her fold-over tote lesson.)
The second problem was that she didn’t top stitch around her zipper. I’m sure that lining will eventually give up on its sharp crease and end up stuck in the zipper teeth, kinda like how you gotta make sure you have a toothpick if you’re going to eat a mango. I went ahead and top stitched mine because I just don’t want any lining (or mango) in my teeth.
Despite those two nitpicky points, I’m still geeking out over her teaching style and how much information she packed into those classes. But you know what nearly made me swoon? It’s that Nicole is so accessible and helpful on the discussion board. She gets some of those questions that might seem obvious to anyone who sews, but in every one of her responses, she’s respectful and answers in the simplest terms. She’s the kind of teacher I want to be when I grow up. (I swear I just had a deja-vu moment.)
I can totally hear some of you saying, “I’m not buying a class if I can YouTube it!” Ahem! You start messing around with free videos when you have zero clue, there are plenty of wannabes out there ready to steer you wrong. Invest in this one class, like you invest in your sewing machine, and at least you will have enough know-how to choose your free videos wisely and actually enjoy sewing. There’s nothing sadder than a sewing machine collecting dust in a corner because its owner got frustrated and quit. By the way, if that’s your sewing machine stuffed behind the TV console, I’ll give you my address and you can send it over here. I welcome free sewing machines … Wait! come to think of it, yes, you go on over to YouTube and let me know when I can expect my new machine…
Seriously though, I think these classes are great but there’s one important thing I would change about both of them. It’s that the tote bags came out too floppy for my liking. I couldn’t even get them to hang for a decent photo without crumpling. Quilting cotton just doesn’t hold up well on its own so I would suggest either using home decor fabric or adding stabilizer to them. I can’t stand a bag that can’t stand on its own!
As for the final product, I much preferred Nicole’s tote bag because it had more style to it. It is just as practical as Kristin’s but the design is something I find more aesthetically pleasing. Kristin’s tote has a utilitarian look that makes me want to shove it in the pocket of my coat for those unplanned stops at the fabric store. (I like to go green with reusable bags.) On the other hand, Kristin’s pouch wins hands down for me. It has a neat compact look to it. And with the zipper on the face instead of the top, if I drop it while it’s open — I’m not saying I drop things often — but if I were to drop it, all the contents wouldn’t roll across the floor and pick up cat fluff and then become a hockey puck for the critters’ entertainment. You know what I mean, right? Or maybe I just don’t like boxy pouches.
Let me add one more thing here: it was the biggest challenge for me to just follow directions as is, no hacking, no tweaking, no changes. But if I were going to play fair on this review, I had to do it. (Um, except for that itty bitty topstitching cheat, but let’s not dwell on that.) Now that it’s over, I can do all the hacks and mashups I want. (Maybe another post in the future?)
So just to wrap this up with a confusing driving analogy… If you like to offroad with a Toyota Prius and risk life and limb to learn sewing, by all means, YouTube away to your heart’s content. (Don’t forget to send me your sewing machine.) If you like to hit the highway and use “the force” with your internal navigation to get you there, start your engine and go visit Kristin for a quick gas up. If you have yet to pass your driving test, get Nicole’s class before you hit the road.
Or more simply, Nicole teaches the absolute beginner to use their sewing machine and she follows up with enough detailed sewing instruction for them to easily complete a project they can be proud to show off. Kristin‘s class teaches the steps to assemble a bag and a pouch, along with the best cornering tip ever!
Get the free class here: Bag-Making Basics: Reversible Tote & Zipper Pouch
Get the beginner sewing class 50% discount until Apr 11, 2016: Learn to Sew: Simple Bags
Before I give you the links to visit the upcoming stops on your tour across Canada, I have to thank Craftsy for the free classes that we reviewed. And our superstar Craftsy instructor, Janelle at Emmaline Bags for being our anchor in this adventure and for donating one of the prizes in the giveaway. We’re also very grateful to Celine at Blue Calla Patterns for graciously donating a prize even though she’s not participating in the tour.
What’s all this about prizes? Nobody said anything about prizes? Of course not! If I’d told you about the prizes, you would have skipped to the end and not read all my
painful painstakingly good writing. (I know coz that’s what I’d do!) Here we go…
We have some amazing prizes for you to win in two separate giveaways:
First, the easy one. All you have to do is click to enter before April 11, 2016. The prize is an enhanced Rowan 3/4 Patch Tote Bag Kit, which includes the PDF pattern, Kaffe Fassett fabric and Pellon fusible interfacing.
Giveaway 2: Prize Packs
You gotta do a little something to be entered in the second giveaway. Sign up for my newsletter to get a wake-up call. Come back here on Sunday, April 10 for your chance to win one of 4 prize packs. Prizes include patterns, bag bling, a Craftsy class, more patterns… There are some extra special bonuses and discounts in the newsletter, but you don’t have to subscribe. You can always set your own alarm to come back and visit on Sunday.
Coming Up on the Tour…
Tuesday, April 5
Wednesday, April 6
Thursday, April 7
Friday, April 8
Saturday, April 9
Emmaline Bags — Recap/Roundup
Sunday, April 10
Set your alarms to come bag here or sign up for the newsletter to get a reminder and other exclusive treats.
See you on Sunday!