Continuing Education

Colorful Interplay: A Q&A with Instructor Barbara Oakley

Continuing Education (CE) instructor Barbara Oakley has a love of language, literature and learning as well as a mind for organizational leadership. This winter she draws together her wide-ranging talents Imageand professional experience with her two classes, Introduction to Quilting and Start Your Own Non-Profit on a Shoestring.  

Q: This quarter you’ll be teaching a two wildly different courses. How did you find yourself translating these diverse interests into teaching opportunities?

I know, they are very different subject areas, aren’t they?  I admit, I have a lot of interests.  I do always want to keep learning new things – and sharing what I know with others.  Teaching is a great way for me to share my knowledge.  I already teach several sewing and quilting classes in the Northgate area and I was looking for additional opportunities to expand that base.  I’ve taken other CE classes at North Seattle College before, so it was an obvious choice for me.

The Non-Profit class started out as a conference presentation I developed with my friend and colleague, Kacey Kroeger.  Kacey is the co-founder and executive director of the Plus One Foundation, a Seattle-based non-profit.  The presentation was a huge success, so we agreed to seek out other opportunities to share the information we had already put together.  This class gives a longer time for discussion and interaction with students, so that’s a great addition.

Q: How long has quilting been a part of your life and what excites you about it?

I have four sisters.  We all learned how to sew from our mother at a very early age.  Since then, three of us have also become quilters – and one of my nieces is as well.  So I’d say the quilting bug has been there most of my life. 

When it comes to quilts, my first passion was – and still is – for color and how colors interplay, mix, blend, and impact each other.  Put two blues together and they’re restful, at peace.  Put a blue and an orange together and they can be striking, shocking, jangly, or just outright fighting.  I’m also constantly amazed by all the different ways you can construct a quilt block and get different effects.  By using different fabrics, different arrangements, and yes, different colors, you get a completely different overall impact.  It can be as simple as turning one piece 90° and you get totally unexpected results.  That always takes my breath away.

But I didn’t take my first quilting class until after I finished graduate school and had my first professional job.  I knew that if I started playing with colors and quilt blocks before I had my career Imageunderway, I’d be lost down that lovely rabbit hole.  That was wise self-counsel on my part!

Q: Do you look upon quilting as a solo creative activity or a communal project, or both?

Definitely both.  I enjoy the quiet, introspective time when I can be alone at my machine building a quilt piece-by-piece, thinking through the process, solving problems, and creating something new and unique.  At the same time, I learn so much from the creativity and the techniques I gather from other artists.  Quilters are a social bunch and an amazingly generous community.  Many hours of effort go into making a quilt and then they are often given away to family and friends, but also to charities.  It’s uplifting to see that kind of caring and generosity.

Q: Please tell us about the Plus One Foundation and what your experience has been like working with them?

The Plus One Foundation is a Seattle-based non-profit with the mission to “mobilize resources to inspire hope and enrich the lives of those affected by neurological conditions and educate the community about related issues.”  The people I work with there – who are mostly volunteering their time, like me – have strong personal connections to the mission and really care about making a difference in people’s lives.

Kacey, (pictured below) the co-founder and my co-developer for this course, lives and breathes the mission every day.  She had her own experience with neurological debilitation as the result of an auto injury.  The injury wreaked havoc on her life and her road to recovery was slow, largely not covered by insurance, and one she and her doctors had to map out every step of the way.  She understands that if she had difficulty finding and paying for effective treatments, others are facing the same challenges.  She also recognized Imagethat the problem is often compounded when those very neurological issues make communicating about or advocating for one’s own health that much more difficult.  She identified a widespread need for advocates and resources that bring together skilled, compassionate health professionals, rehab focused on mental and physical improvements, and access to physical, water, and other alternative therapeutic treatments for those with neurological issues.  More than anything, she didn’t want anyone to have to suffer or wait to get well.  Thus, Plus One was born.

It’s that kind of personal dedication and connection that inspired me to get involved.  I myself had a brother with epilepsy who died when I was just twelve.  At the time, epilepsy was not very well understood and there was a lot of stigma about his condition that made it even harder for him to manage, personally and socially.  I’m glad to be involved with an organization that helps people and their families who experience similar difficulties – helping to make it easier for them, to connect them with the resources and therapies they need.  And I see that same spirit in the other volunteers, board members, and supporters of Plus One.  It keeps me energized and connected.

Q: What makes for a successful Shoe String Non-Profit? Can you share some examples?

It definitely takes a lot of heart and dedication, never giving up, even after you hear “Sorry, we can’t help you,” a hundred times.  Eventually, you get a toehold, then a foothold, and start finding the paths to “Yes!”  We talk a lot about that in the course. 

One of the best tools we all have are personal connections – family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc. – already close at hand.  It’s important to identify them, organize them to support your cause effectively, and show that you appreciate them and all the ways they already support you.  These can be little – and inexpensive – things, like a hand-written thank you note or recognition at an event for a donation or support.  But they are very important to keep your volunteers and supporters energized and engaged.  And it keeps the positive feelings circulating.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if chocolates get passed out in class when students suggest ideas of how they will activate and engage their supporters.  It’s been known to happen.

Q: In teaching both classes, what do you hope your students will take away with them?

I always hope my students get their questions answered or have the resources to find the answers, at the minimum.  Beyond that, I want to challenge them to learn something new, maybe something unexpected – to start to ask new questions or look at a situation or picture from a new perspective.  When we can see things the way someone else might, or examine a problem in a new light, we can use new tools and new skills to solve those problems.  Maybe we can turn just that one piece 90° and get a whole new result.  That’s when learning really begins.

Learn more about Introduction to Quilting and Start Your Own Non-Profit on a Shoestring.