Academy Member Spotlight: April Sproule

Enjoy this interview with AVT member April Sproule.

April: I've been quilting since I was a young child. I learned from both of my grandmothers, so I learned to handpiece quilts, do hand embroidery, crochet lace, and make clothing. I did that the entire time growing up with my grandmothers. And so it's just become a really integral part of who I am and what I do. And with the teaching, I really, really love passing that on to other people, and helping them find their own creative voice and learning to express themselves creatively. And what I do, no matter what it is that I'm making, it only really becomes of value when I share it with other people.

Lisa: What teaching background did you have before joining the Academy?

April: My teaching started probably 20 years ago, teaching clothing construction which morphed into teaching machine quilting classes. I had a long arm quilting business for 20 years. And then I started teaching more surface design techniques like fabric dyeing, manipulation, and printing on fabric. I've designed a collection of stencils, so I teach people how to paint on fabric with stencils. I developed a collection of modern hand embroidery patterns so I now also teach workshops in that. I teach Japanese boro stitching and textile art collage, combining fabric and papers and other items, and block printing on fabric. And during COVID, I started doing a lot of bird illustrations and then translating those into stitch. So, I teach a lot of different classes.

Lisa: Had you previously done any virtual teaching?

April: Yes, so I've been teaching virtually for about the last year, but I've just kind of edged into it slowly because I didn't want to be overwhelmed by the whole process. When COVID first hit in 2020, I spent several months just increasing my artistic skills, doing a lot of new content and product development, that sort of thing. And so now I've started teaching a lot more online. I did take digital video production in 2006 in college, which was quite a long time ago! And so that's slowly all coming back to me through participating in AVT.

Lisa: So, what prompted you to join the Academy?

April: Basically all the information that I've gathered so far has been in bits and pieces, from YouTube videos and articles I've read online, and some from the global Quilt Connection. And that's been really, really helpful. But I kind of felt like everything was piecemealed together from so many different sources. I wanted information from somebody with a more solid background, and something that was a little bit more all-encompassing. To able to be involved in the whole package has been really, really helpful. 

And one of the things that I really love is that Lyric is such an incredibly supportive instructor. I've never, ever seen her talk down to anyone or make them feel like they were asking a dumb question. She's never been condescending to people in any way. And I really like it because it's a small class. You have all different levels of experience, but everybody is good at something different, and everyone comes from such a diverse background that you can pull from what everybody else has learned too.

Lisa: What was the biggest takeaway you learned from this program?

April: Well, the biggest thing I learned was all of the technical information and all of the equipment and product reviews were really, really helpful. And the additional content that Kena provided, along with what Lyric provided made everything really complete. And the different levels of investment in the equipment was really helpful! Every, every penny that I spent on this class has been very, very well spent because it saved me a lot of time. And it's really given me a lot of confidence too! So that's probably been the biggest takeaway for me, that instead of second guessing myself, I know that I can do this and it is going to be okay. And just knowing that it doesn't matter how well set up you are, or how much you know, or how technically proficient you are, things are going to happen. I learned to take things in stride, and not overreact and panic, and how to find a workaround. And so that's that's huge too!

Lisa: What class, and in what format, will you be teaching your first class after the Academy?

April: The next one will be the Beautiful Birds: Goldfinch collage. It’s a mixed media type of workshop where it's hand applique and hand stitching. I've been doing six-hour classes, but I do three hours at a stretch. In the first class, I cover all the fundamentals and get people started with the stitching. Then students have a week before the next class so they can catch up and get up to the point where the next session starts. That's worked out really, really well. I usually create extensive written handouts that I send to everyone in PDF form before the class starts. And then I do pre-recorded video clips for the exercises that take a lot of time or a lot of setup, or they're more involved things I don't want to keep doing repeatedly for each class. And then also I include a PDF of step-by-step images, so students can see the progression of the work and refer back to that for examples.

Lisa: What will be your biggest challenge for this class?

April: The biggest challenge is timing. I just recently taught this class in person, and that was really hard because I only had one day. It took so long for people to get through the first half of the class that there wasn't a lot of time left in the afternoon. But now, doing it online will be a lot easier because they have a week in between classes. So just learning to balance the amount of work and getting it into the timeframe that I have is always the biggest challenge. It's learning to find that balance of giving people plenty of information, but not overwhelming them with too much. And so that's something that I'm really working on because I want to tell people everything! I want to make it easy for them, I want to pass on everything I've learned in the last 30 years, which is not necessary in every class, because I like sharing what I know. I've made so many mistakes on the way, and the biggest benefit for me is that I get to save people from making all those mistakes themselves over and over again. And so I like I like that a lot. I like helping people learn.

Lisa: What other benefits do you see in teaching this class online versus in-person?

April: When I’m teaching in person, it makes it really hard because everyone has to crowd around me to try to see what I'm doing. But online, I can use a close-up camera that's very high definition, and students can see the details of every single stitch. That's a huge advantage. And also being able to show pre-recorded video clips. If somebody gets stuck, I can just replay a clip for them to review that information. And that's great.

Lisa: What would you want to ask of your fellow members of the Academy? And what one little tip can you give your fellow members?

April: I would say, moving forward, I’d really like to see more community involvement, to keep in touch and interact with one another and learn from one another. I'd like to see more of us gathering information from one another as far as people's expertise. For example, I was never trained as a professional teacher, and I know many of the people in the course are, and so sharing their expertise in different ways with other members of the community would be really valuable. And as far as tips, I would just say not to let anything hold you back. Set your goals and then just go for it. And ask people for help, and ask for reviews or whatever you need along the way. But don't be afraid to ask for help if you get stuck on something, because there's usually always going to be someone there that's willing to help, including me!

Lisa: That’s a great point! People just don’t like to ask for help sometimes.

April: They really, really don’t! They don't want anyone to think they can't figure it out themselves. But you know, somebody else has already been through the same thing and they're probably more than willing to share their experience.

Lisa: And I've always found that when you ask someone for help, people are usually happy to help! They want to share their knowledge and their expertise; they want to help other people. So that's great advice!

So, would you recommend the Academy for Virtual Teaching to others, and if so, why?

April: I absolutely would recommend it because I've gained so much from it. I don't have any problem with learning on my own, but to have it all wrapped up in one package is just invaluable. And all of Lyric’s experience, and all of the things she's done, really adds a lot to AVT. And she has such a wonderful way of engaging with people and interacting with people. I think that's huge. I've learned a lot! And I've come a long way in this in these just these past few weeks!

Lisa: What other interests do you have that maybe the other Academy members don’t know about you?

April: I really love the outdoors a lot. I'm from Fortuna, California, about five hours north of San Francisco, and one and a half hours south of the Oregon border. So I live in the area where we have a lot of redwood forests and a very rugged coast and a lot of really beautiful wild rivers.

Recently, I've been taking a lot of hand stitching courses with a really great teacher in the UK. I've learned a tremendous amount, and it's really changed the way that I work.

And I received a $10,000 grant from the local arts organization for travel and artistic development. I applied for that grant three times and had pretty much given up on ever receiving it. And then two or three people recommended that I apply again (who I figured out later were on the review board), and I got it! I haven't been able to travel, but I still have the money sitting there. So, I want others to not be afraid that you're not good enough. Don't ever think that, just go for it anyway, because someone has to receive those grants and those awards and it might as well be you! So don't hesitate to reach out for those sorts of opportunities that pop up along the way.

Lisa: I love that you talk about how you're continuing to learn yourself. Do you take classes to enhance your teaching skills, or do you just like to learn new things?

April: I love to learn new things and I like to constantly progress. But textiles are kind of my happy place. And so whether I'm learning watercolor painting, or linocut printing, or whatever, I bring it back to the textiles and incorporate that in some way. And I just really love drawing. Everything I do stems from drawings and illustrations. That's how I get things rolling creatively. I think it's just really important to constantly progress. You're never too old, believe me, to learn new things!

Lisa: Lastly, is there anything else you want to share that I haven't asked about?

April: Just never stop learning, keep learning and trying new things. It doesn't mean you're going to succeed at everything (I have things that I have not succeeded at!) and I haven't given up yet. If it's important to you, just keep learning and trying new things. And you'll grow and then others around you will benefit as well.

You can find out more about April on her website, and sign up for her classes on her Currently Scheduled Workshops Page.

Categories: Member Spotlight