Students benefit from experience of lifelong learners in CSU Advanced Textiles class

A woman holds up a quilt with a hypnotic design
A lifelong learner in the Design Thinking class displays a quilt she's made.

A chance meeting enabled Kelly Gallagher-Abbott to find out about the incredible resources available in Colorado State University’s Nancy Richardson Design Center. From there, she became an instructor for the Design Thinking Toolbox class on Advanced Textiles in Spring 2022.

Because of her wide-ranging background and connections to the textiles industry, Gallagher-Abbott was able to invite industry professionals as lifelong learners, students above the age of 55 who can audit classes at CSU for free, to join her class with the younger, traditional-aged students. The mix has led to a dynamic classroom environment, enriching the experience for all.

Finding the RDC

Gallagher-Abbott has been in the textile, quilting, and design field for decades and has extensive experience in the manufacturing as well as the business side of the industry. In fact, she owns a shop in Fort Collins that sells computerized longarm quilting and other machines.

It was through this shop that she found out about CSU’s Richardson Design Center when Sarah Badding, the operations and academics administrator for the RDC, walked into the shop one day.

“We started talking about the technology we utilize for our embroidery and quilt machines and our laser cutter,” said Gallagher-Abbott. “Sarah shared about the RDC and invited me on a tour. I was so enamored with the space and equipment, it’s everything a textile artist could hope to have access to in one fabulous space!”

A woman holds up a quilt with the CSU logo on it
In this class, students have the opportunity to experiment with all kinds of materials.

This lucky crossing of paths led to Gallagher-Abbott’s position as the instructor for the Advanced Textiles course. In this course, she teaches everything from hand-sewing skills to high-tech projects using software to create files for the laser cutters and fabric printers to draw from.

“I originally thought we’d focus on the high-tech aspect of sewing and design, but quickly discovered that many of the students have not done even basic handwork,” Gallagher-Abbott said. “There was great feedback about how they enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the course, so we’ve needle felted, hand appliqued, crocheted, knitted, quilted, and created patterns from favorite garments, in addition to many other textile techniques.”

Lifelong learners

After having taught in the world of quilting for over 30 years, Gallagher-Abbott’s shop had amassed a great number of followers on social media who were fellow textile artists, and who would be very interested in a class like this one.

“I knew they’d love the space and equipment, as well as the instructional content,” she said.

Approaching the start of the class, Gallagher-Abbott put out a short description on her social media channels and attracted several participants.

The class already has a lot of variety in terms of the students it attracts who are from many different majors, but the insight and understanding of the material from the lifelong learners enriches the classroom experience to a degree Gallagher-Abbott didn’t anticipate.

Of the lifelong learners in the course, two have a vast amount of experience in corporate interior design, kitchen design, and are accomplished clothing artists. Others are incredibly well-versed in artistic quilting or the construction of garments.

“On average, I’d say most of my lifelong learners have at least 30 years in textiles and design, so there is a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge in the room,” said Gallagher-Abbott. “All the lifelong learners value advanced education to improve their skills, and previously had to attend conferences or online instruction to achieve that. Having a semester-long course with the fabulous equipment is a unique opportunity – I don’t know of any such collaboration elsewhere.”

‘Wonderful collaboration’

A person holds up a sweatshirt with orange spots for the class.
Lifelong learners can provide invaluable insight to residential students.

Gallagher-Abbott’s insight to specifically invite lifelong learners to enroll in her class has turned the classroom into a cornucopia of wisdom, encouragement, and collaboration, from students in all stages of life. According to her, any of the lifelong learners in her class could teach their own semester-long textile design course, so they’re an asset to have alongside her.

“There is such wonderful collaboration,” said Gallagher-Abbott. “No matter what direction our residential students want to explore, there is an expert in the room willing to guide them. There are strengths and skills the residential learners have that they are willing to assist the lifelong learners with, – it’s such a win-win situation.”

It’s been especially exciting for Gallagher-Abbott, who has thoroughly enjoyed teaching the class.

“I’ve taught adult learners since the late ‘80s and have never enjoyed teaching to this extent,” she said. “I learn from every person in the class!”

The Nancy Richardson Design Center is an interdisciplinary program in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.