Are you a corsetmaker, considering to share your knowledge with fellow corsetmakers or students? Have you been asked to teach a class about your special corsetry knowledge? Or are you a corsetmaker, who would like to take a masterclass yourself, to improve your skills, learn new techniques and broaden your horizon about other peoples approach to corsetmaking?
In each case my article series on corsetmaking classes might give you some insight of what subjects such an event could cover, how it can be organised and what possibly to expect from or look for in a corsetry class. In this first article I will share my experiences and thoughts on the organisational aspects of masterclasses, which topics to cover, the target audience, timing, location and costs of such a class.
Last year I was approached by the Austrian Tailors Guild, which offers a wide range of education and training classes on different topics around the processing of textiles and other related trades for their members. I felt very honoured that all these masters of their trade showed interest in my knowledge and since I really enjoy sharing and exchanging my experience with fellow artisans, I quickly warmed to the idea to teach a masterclass myself for the first time.
In Austria corsetmaking is a forgotten trade, for which no education or classes are available and only very few people have further knowledge of. So the Tailors Guild thought it would be an exciting new field to explore even for professional tailors and they inquired about a full four to five days class, covering all topics from pattern drafting to material science, construction and embellishing. I was asked to send them a concept how such a class could be set up, what my conditions would be and what qualifications possible participants should have, to take part in the class. This inquiry already gave me several definite checkpoints (length of class, location, topics to cover, number of participants...), so I didn't have to start from scratch with planning the event. I still gave a lot of thoughts to all these questions, also asking myself, which other options would be possible if the institute hadn't invited me and I now would like to share all these considerations as starting points for other and maybe very different corsetmaking classes.
What Topics to Cover in your Masterclass
Probably the most important question of all, since it will heavily influence all other aspects of the class. In my case I didn't have to think about that question, as the task was to give a good overview of the entire trade of corsetmaking. I can imagine very well, though, that shorter classes on certain parts of corsetmaking also could have a lot of potential, especially for people who are already familiar with corsetry, but want to improve only certain skills like pattern drafting or a special construction method. This would also allow the participants to immerse themselves into a certain topic, because the basic skills are already there and could lead to very in-depth expert discussions and new insights for the students as well as the lecturer - something I definitely would like to explore in the future myself.
As a matter of fact, Foundations Revealed offers this in some way online - articles written by experts on very specific topics, sharing their thoughts and techniques on this certain matter. Some possible topics for teaching classes in modules:
- Pattern Construction and more specific pattern construction for a certain style of corset, bespoke or ready to wear corsets, tightlacing corsets, corsets for men...
- Construction Techniques: one or multiple layers, special seamlines, ways of putting different layers together, working with different materials...
- Embellishing: beading, lace appliqué, cutwork, rhinestones...
How to Choose a Topic for a Specialised Masterclass
On the one hand - with what techniques do you feel comfortable and confident and on the other hand - what would possibly interest your target audience? If it is something very common, most people possible know already about it and if it is something too specialised, it might not be interesting enough for the majority of possible participants. As, so often, it is all about finding a unique point of sale, which you are also passionate about yourself and would enjoy teaching other people.
The Audience or Class Participants
Another very important task is to find the target audience for your corsetmaking class. Would you like to teach the very basics of corsetry to students, who don't have any experience in corsetmaking yet? It might be quite easy to find a good number of interested persons, as corsetry is such a beautiful and versatile garment, where lots of people are curious to learn more about it:
A next step could be to teach advanced tailors the special aspects of corsetmaking, as they already have good sewing skills, but might not know all that little tips and tricks which distinguish corsetmaking from traditional tailoring. This was the case in my corsetmaking class and whilst the pattern construction and sewing was quite easy to follow for my students, the special materials (coutil, busks, spring and flat steel...) and how to use them was very new and and exciting for them.
The third level would be to teach very advanced knowledge and special techniques to fellow corsetmakers. In this field I consider the target audience much smaller, though I can speak only for Austria and the German language area, as there aren't that many professional corsetmakers around here. I could imagine that it is a different situation for example in the UK or US, where corsetry is much more common. If you are not sure what kind of class and target audience would work for you, best try to make inquiries at local education institutes or ask your followers and fellow artisans via social media, if, and in which kind of classes, they could imagine themselves participating.
Once the main topic and direction of your masterclass is settled, it is time to get more specific with the set-up and start organising. Depending on your target audience, the dates and timing will play a very important role - especially for your students. If you intend to reach people, who want to visit your class as a hobby or as advanced training next to a full-time job, it is important to offer the class outside of their working hours - usually in the evening or even better on a weekend (two full free days available for most people). For self-employed fellow corsetmakers or students a class during the week might be more convenient.
In general I think a full day class is good for extensive and complex topics like pattern drafting or construction, whilst a shorter evening class might work for smaller topics like a certain embellishment technique. An enquiry via social media might again give some good input about what peoples preferences.
For all-embracing classes like mine, I can very much recommend splitting the class in two parts. In my case it was four full days, split in two weekends with a break of three weeks between part 1 and part 2 of the class. This gives the participants time to reflect what they have learnt in the first part, maybe finish things they couldn't because of time restrictions, rehearse the new knowledge and also very important - give you feedback on your performance, as reference for future classes and for the second part of the class. If you intend to teach a smaller topic, two days on two weekends or an evening every week could also work well. The only exception I could think of are students from abroad, as a split class would double their travelling time and costs and could keep them from booking a class with you.
Finally the time of the year also is a fact to consider when planning a class. For example Christmas season and summer holiday season are usually not ideal, as everybody is busy or away around these times of the year. For students it may be important, that a class doesn't clash with the main period of their exams/end of terms and for fellow corsetmakers that a class doesn't take place when they are super busy because of festival or wedding season. Again, considering the circumstances of your target end audience is very important to allow them to book a class with you.
Finding a suitable location - especially for bigger classes - might be not easy, as most of us don't have the facilities and workspace for, let's say, 5 - 10 students available at their hands. For pattern construction big drawing tables are required, for sewing topics fully equipped sewing and ironing stations and for construction hardware like grinding machines, dress forms, grommet setter, etc... might be necessary.
To find all this equipment, I can recommend to contact education institutes, fashion schools or artisan guilds, who often are open to rent their workrooms when they are not occupied by themselves. Maybe you won't be able to find an ideal workroom with the latest equipment in perfect condition in your area or for an affordable cost, but in my experience it works perfectly fine if some things are a bit improvised. Thinking of the working situation some of us started with ourselves (like sewing in a tiny corner of my bedroom in my case), most people will be fine to compromise, if the class therefore is affordable and as long as the machines and equipment are in good conditions, so everyone can work without problems.
Cooperating with an Institute
Before I dive into the details of organisation, I would also like to share my thoughts about cooperating with an educational institute - or even to teach your classes in the name of an institute as a freelance trainer for the time of your classes. For me this was an incredible relief, because the institute took care of the bookings, the marketing of my class, the finances and the location. I had no responsibility in all these points and therefore could entirely focus on putting the best possible content together for my students. This was a huge task on it's own, as I will explain in the second article of this series and I was grateful that I had only this one task to master and not to worry about last minute cancellations, machines not working, finding enough participants, etc...
The downside of this is, of course, less freedom in how to organise everything. The one point, where it definitely made a difference for me was the financial aspect. On the one hand it is safer to have a fixed fee for the entire class, no matter how many people sign in for it, on the other hand it definitely gets more expensive for the participants, as the institute not only charges for the location, but also wants to make money on each class. If the class is fully booked, it will be a nice profit for the institute, whilst your own fee could look quite moderate compared to the income of the institute but if the class is only half or less booked, you won't loose anything and still get your fee in the end, even if it's a loss for the institute. If the class turns out successfully, though, there might even be the chance for regular classes, which could become a second source of income, if you like teaching. Definitely some pros and cons to consider, in case you have the chance of such a cooperation.
The Financial Aspect or How to Calculate the Costs of a Corsetmaking Class
When my class was announced I got messages from several people, concerning the high price of the event. They expressed their great disappointment, that my masterclass was far out of their financial possibilities. Whilst I definitely could see their point, I was quite glad that in my case the institute made the pricing decision for me and I didn't have to worry about it. If that is not the case, the costs of a class have to be considered very carefully and it is a balancing act between don't making a loss and charging a fair hourly rate, while still making the class affordable for your participants, in addition to travelling costs and accommodation for students from abroad.
Before thinking of your own hourly rate the general expenses have to be calculated, which might be:
- Rent for the location and equipment,
- Materials you would like to provide for your students - this part requires some good consideration of what you would like to teach, which materials for this purpose you would like to provide yourself and which materials the participants could bring on their own,
- Travelling expenses and accommodation for yourself, if you are teaching in a location further away from your home.
These factors will likely already make a good amount of money, which will be divided between all participants, but of course your own fee still has to be added to this sum. In my case I could again benefit from my collaboration with the institute to determine a fair hourly rate for my services. The institute's hourly rate for their trainers is defined with ~ €38 / hour, which is an average hourly wage for private teaching in Austria (in some branches the hourly rates go up to €100 and even higher, but usually not in craftsmanship branches, as far as I know).
After some thoughts I decided to suggest an hourly rate of €50 / hour, because I consider myself quite experienced in my subject and also I intended to put a lot of time and effort into preparing for my class – hours, which are not included in the contract with the institute, but which I would like to have covered nevertheless.
At this point you also might consider, that teaching not only means working for an hourly rate, but that you are also sharing your valuable knowledge and skills. It might have taken you years, to obtain all of these yourself and it also might be fully or partly the source of your income, which makes teaching hours more valuable than other working hours.
Multiplying my hourly fee with the booked days for the class, plus the other general costs and adding their own profit margin, the institute announced my class with €580 (+ €60 – €80 material costs) for four full days. With travelling costs and accommodation this easily makes it €1000 for students from abroad, which is a lot of money. On the other hand education and special training is something very valuable and if the trainer is good, the students gain in skill and knowledge can be priceless, next to experiencing a great time with fellow corsetmakers, networking and all the other positive side effects of meeting people who share your interests.
Finally. I'd like to add at this point, that the number of participants also is an important fact for pricing. In general less students mean higher costs for each participant, whilst more students will reduce the individual costs. This might also be a factor for determining the ideal number of students for your class. You have to find the right balance between making it affordable with enough people and still staying small enough, so your students can profit from personal discussions and tutoring in a small group. Teaching very few people will give them lots of detailed information, time to discuss their individual questions and interests with the trainer and close insights, but since all the costs are divided between only very few people, it therefore will be quite expensive.
I hope that all these thoughts could give you some input on how to calculate your own classes, or for students; how classes are calculated and why they are often so expensive. Of course all of these costs may vary greatly from country to country and you might end up with a very different sum and/or hourly rate for your own class. In my second article of this series I will share the detailed contents of my corsetmaking masterclass, how I prepared and put all the information together for my students and how everything worked out in reality throughout teaching my class.
I hope you enjoyed this first part of the series and that you will check back in a few weeks time, when the second part will be published.