Become AN ARTISAN
Chicago School of Shoemaking and Leather Arts
You don’t have to be an anticonsumerist Marie Kondo type to want to make your own shoes (and if you are, well, a handmade pair certainly won’t hurt your cred). Master cobbler Sara McIntosh guides students in creating a pair of desert boots from scratch using techniques she has honed since deconstructing her own beat-up ones in 1974. She’s made over 10,000 custom pairs since. Over one weekend, you’ll hand-build the boots to your own exact measurements — instead of using lasts, the foot-shaped molds used in commercial production — ensuring a perfect fit.
Sept. 26–27. 9 a.m.–5 p.m. 3717 N. Ravenswood Ave. $795
The Discover SAMPLER
Chicago Weaving School
If, like most of us in the industrialized world, you’ve never actually seen a loom in action, here’s your chance. Over eight four-hour classes held once a week, students work at their own pace to complete a single project, like a scarf or a table runner, on one of the school’s 109 table and floor looms. In the process, they learn everything from how to set the threads to mastering various weaves, twills, and even lace techniques.
Programs start on a rolling basis, based on loom availability. 4201 W. Irving Park Rd. $440
Electric Guitar Making
Chicago School of Guitar Making
Chicago used to be the guitar-making capital of the world, teacher Ian Schneller says. Now he’s one of the last luthiers left. This course starts with a general setup and maintenance class so you know your way around a guitar before you embark on the design and construction of your dream instrument. In-class instruction consists of four six-hour sessions, but students typically put in 80 to 120 total hours of labor (at home or during open-workshop hours at the school) to complete their guitar, from wiring to custom-finishing. (Machining your own hardware is also an option.) The end result, says Schneller, is a professional-quality instrument that, properly maintained, will last “many lifetimes.”
Sept. 12, 19, 20, and 26. 11 a.m.–5 p.m. 1240 N. Homan Ave. $1,195 (materials not included)
“I Made This!”
Teacher Ian Schneller describes attaching the neck of the guitar to the body as a come-to-Jesus moment for his students: “With the installation of four screws, it’s turned into a corporal entity. When they pick it up, it’s like a mama holding a baby to her bosom for the first time.”
Chicago Mosaic School
Want to really get Byzantine? This six-week primer covers the fundamentals of the ancient art form, including initial design, cutting tesserae (the individual blocks of stone, tile, or glass that make up the mosaic), and grouting. If you catch the bug, this course will open the door to the school’s surprisingly broad offerings, from mosaic jewelry to cut-glass portraiture.
Sept. 30–Nov. 4. Wednesdays, 9 a.m.–noon. 1127 W. Granville Ave. $300
Macramé Plant Hanger Workshop
Urban Macramé Fibers
Macramé beats knitting in the grandma-chic category, and here’s why: You can complete a winsome plant hanger in a couple of hours using only your hands and some string. Self-taught instructor Kenyatta Forbes uses whimsically descriptive language (the working strings are called “wives”; the ones that just sit there, “husbands”) in demonstrating the decorative knots you’ll need to master to complete your creation. Once you do, it’s on to the next project, and the next. Did someone say macramé dog harness?
ONLINE Sept. 20. 3–5 p.m. urbanmacramefibers.com. $50
Chicago Printmakers Collaborative
Relief printing is the oldest of printmaking techniques, and also the simplest — no special press is required — which makes it doable at home. Students provide their own materials (wood is the traditional choice, but easy-to-handle linoleum is also popular), and once they’ve carved an image, they can make as many prints as they like — and pose as many questions as they want to veteran teacher Duffy O’Connor. Basic techniques like parallel cutting and making a state proof (a trial print to check progress) will be covered alongside lessons on drawing and imagery, because O’Connor emphasizes learning the art, not just the craft.
ONLINE Sept. 20–Oct. 25. Sundays, 1–4 p.m. chicagoprintmakers.com. $215
Woodworking 101: Table Making
Ready to move on from Ikea? Design and fabricate a dining, coffee, or any other kind of table at this nonprofit and you may not even notice you’re getting an intro to woodworking at the same time. In five weekly three-and-a-half-hour sessions, learn to mill the lumber (essentially, make it flat and square), cut it, assemble it, and finish it. Almost all of the wood comes from deconstructed local buildings, so you might even get a little piece of Chicago history.
Classes start Sept. 5, 14, and 29. 1740 W. Webster Ave. $420
You’re only a few sheets of sandpaper away from being a DIY-wood-furniture master, says instructor Carrie Rasor. “Whenever I see something in an alley, I’ll grab it. If it’s structurally sound, really the only thing that you need to be able to turn that into something amazing is a sander to get the finish off. Once you take it down to the raw wood, you can decide how you want it to look, with stain or paint or polyurethane.”
Exercise YOUR INTELLECT
Beginning Genealogy: A Crash Course
You could take a DNA test to discover you’re 0.01 percent Icelandic. Or you could find rich stories about your particular relatives in this three-hour session at the city’s premier historical research library. The Newberry is renowned for its genealogical records, which it has been collecting since 1887. They include everything from the family trees of colonial Americans to legal and military records spanning the United States, Canada, and the British Isles. Beyond just teaching how to search the databases, Marsha Peterson-Maass, author of Fundamentals of Genealogy, will impart lessons on the creative thinking and diligence it takes to become a private investigator into your own lineage.
ONLINE Oct. 17. 9 a.m.–noon. newberry.org. $85 ($76.50 for members, seniors, and students)
Botanical Names Demystified
Taking a first date on a nature walk is nice, but wouldn’t it be nicer if you could casually point out the mulberry-colored blossoms of a houndstongue and seductively whisper, “Cynoglossum officinale”? This power can be yours with the arboretum’s two-hour self-guided course from botanist Chris Benda, who not only teaches you how to identify (and pronounce) the scientific names of 40 plants native to Illinois but also shares the meanings so you can more easily remember them. (Cyno means “dog” in Latin, and glossum means “tongue,” a reference to the big, rough linguiform leaves — you can practically hear the panting.)
ONLINE Becomes available Sept. 22. mortonarb.org. $23 ($16 for members)
Of Snakes and Sandals
The prairie plant known as rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) owes its name to the Meskwaki Indians, who used its root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. But it has another claim to fame, says Morton Arboretum’s Chris Benda: “In southern Illinois, there was a site where a biologist was studying pack rats, and he found a nest that had a sandal-like object in it. He noted it in his report and moved on. Then an archaeologist found the sandal and had it tested, and it turned out to be made of 5,000-year-old rattlesnake master fibers. It is the oldest known textile in Illinois.”
Creative Writing Essentials
Writing classes tend to assume that you’ve done the hardest part already: starting. Novelist Sarah Terez Rosenblum, by contrast, commences at square one, helping students tackle that most bedeviling question: “What do I write about?” During this eight-week course, she also teaches formal elements like tone, dialogue, and imagery so you can take that seed of an idea and grow it into a completed project.
ONLINE Sept. 14–Nov. 2. Mondays, 6:30–9 p.m. storystudiochicago.org. $500
A Little Self-Medication Is OK
“Smoke some pot or drink too much coffee — if you can do it responsibly — to take yourself out of the way you normally see things,” Sarah Terez Rosenblum tells students who are waiting for the words to come. “A lot of it is getting yourself out of your editorial mind and into a flow state, and giving yourself permission to fail.”
Critical Cultural Competency
Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training
Antiracism training is now in vogue, but so much of the teaching focuses on individual actions at the expense of understanding the root causes of bigotry. This discussion-based daylong workshop looks at the building blocks of white supremacy and the ways racism is woven into the fibers of our society and our institutions. The class also prompts participants to examine current events, like the coronavirus pandemic, through a racial-equity lens, with the ultimate goal of giving people the tools they need to know racism when they see it — and the language to speak up.
ONLINE Sept. 19. 9 a.m.–5 p.m. crossroadsantiracism.org. $25–$100 (based on income)
Hardwood Meditations: Basketball and Philosophy
Warning: If the basketball superfans in your life take this class, they could become insufferable. Not only will they continue to effuse about stats, but they’ll start waxing poetic about how the sport epitomizes the Zen Buddhist practice of destroying the ego. Teacher Harrison Sherrod dips into everything from ludology (the study of play and games) to phenomenology (a branch of philosophy that privileges the experience of consciousness over rationality) in examining how philosophy and basketball relate.
ONLINE Nov. 17. 6–7:30 p.m. newberry.org. $40 ($36 for members, seniors, and students)
To illustrate Heidegger’s concept of “being-in-the-world,” which can be understood as entering an intuitive flow state, the contemporary philosopher Hubert Dreyfus uses a Larry Bird quote: “[A lot of the] things I do on the court are just reactions to situations. … A lot of times, I’ve passed the basketball and not realized I’ve passed it until a moment or so later.”
How to View Art I
University of Chicago
In this 10-week course (the first of three, each focusing on a different era), instructor Ariela Lazar helps students with no formal knowledge of art history or appreciation tackle the question “What am I supposed to get out of this?” Lazar encourages students to create a “toolkit” of practical ways to engage with visual art— everything from the socioeconomic conditions of the period to the reasons behind formal choices like posing and body position. Focusing on the Art Institute’s premodern collection, Lazar helps students get curious and ask questions rather than rigidly memorize facts.
ONLINE Sept. 30–Dec. 9. Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m.–1 p.m. (Or Oct. 1–Dec. 10. Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.–1 p.m.) grahamcourses.uchicago.edu. $475
New American Cinema, 1968–1975
University of Chicago
Cinephiles who are missing community while stuck at home will find one here. Covering the period known as the American New Wave, this eight-session class takes students back to a time when Hollywood giants like Martin Scorsese and George Lucas were young upstarts. Teacher Michael Latham leads viewing sessions and follow-up discussions covering some of the brightest auteurs of the era, including Arthur Penn, whose noirish 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde ushered in the movement — and divided critics — with its unapologetic portrayal of immorality.
ONLINE Jan. 7–Feb. 25. Thursdays, 1:30–4:30 p.m. grahamcourses.uchicago.edu. $425
Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life
University of Chicago
This 10-week self-guided class, offered on the massive open online course platform Coursera and taught by neurobiologist Peggy Mason, is the most popular of the university’s free listings. In short, digestible videos, Mason covers everything from embodied emotion (the connection between emotions and body states) to vestibular senses (the sensations that allow us to keep our balance and center of gravity) to the flurry of activity in our central nervous system responsible for the simple act of breathing.
ONLINE Available anytime. coursera.org/learn/neurobiology. Free
Virtual Listening Club: Orchestral Music
Music Institute of Chicago
Lawrence Eckerling, the award-winning conductor of the Evanston Symphony Orchestra, leads this “book club” for symphonic music. Club members listen on their own to Eckerling’s curated selections, then come together on Zoom for an hour a week over 15 weeks to discuss what they heard, delving into historical context and musical theory, as well as Eckerling’s performance notes. Throughout, the conductor urges his students to keep their “antennae up.” Do that, and you might just hear a jazzy connection between George Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major.
ONLINE Sept. 25–Jan. 22. Fridays, 10–11 a.m. musicinst.org/adult-studies. $135
Earn CULINARY KUDOS
These freeform single-session classes at Carrie Nahabedian’s acclaimed French restaurant are based on a combination of the chef’s whimsy and student requests. This means that while you’ll certainly learn how to prepare a three-course meal during your three hours with Nahabedian, pastry chef Craig Harzewski, and wine director Michael Nahabedian (Carrie’s cousin), you may also go down a side road to acquire a lifelong skill like, say, being able to tell if a steak is done just by touching it. Each class ends with dinner, and each student leaves with a free cookbook.
Selected Saturdays, 9 a.m.–1:30 p.m. 534 N. Clark St. $250
Introduction to Japanese Tea Ceremony
Japanese Culture Center
Chanoyu is the collective term describing the nuanced rituals of making, serving, and drinking matcha green tea in the traditional Japanese style. Learning the slow, meditative process offers a respite from fast-paced modern life — and it is a process: Students don’t actually drink any tea until later class sessions, after they’ve learned about seated bows and how to properly fold the purifying napkin.
Oct. 3–24. Saturdays, 10 a.m.–noon. 1016 W. Belmont Ave. $120
3 Ways to Make Your Afternoon Tea More Zen
1. Slow down. “There’s a value in the process — in some ways, more than in the tea itself,” says teacher Omar Francis.
2. Sip with a friend. “For someone to make tea, there has to be a host and a guest.”
3. Be present. “There’s a phrase that we use a lot in Japanese: ichi-go ichi-e, which means ‘one moment, one opportunity.’ Put your entire heart into each moment.”
Master Sugar Art
Sugar art is the red lipstick of the baking world: The delicate, intricate decorations turn even the plainest cake into a showstopper. In this weekend workshop, pastry chef Laurie Bradach (who studied under Ewald Notter, known in the biz as the father of modern-day sugar arts) teaches students to create bows, flowers, orbs, and even birds using isomalt, an edible sugar alcohol. It’s rare to find this technique being taught outside of a professional culinary school, but Bradach claims there’s no one she can’t teach, “from an 89-year-old woman to a big, burly Marine.”
Sept. 19–20. 8 a.m.–6 p.m. 7511 Lemont Rd., Darien. $550 plus a $125 registration fee
Nella Cucina di Paola
Avanzi is the Italian art of transforming leftovers into a delectable new dish, and home cook Paola Nervi, who wrote a whole book on the subject, will let you in on her secrets for doing just that, all the way from her home in Turin. (Nervi’s cousin is the director of this Edgewater-based Italian cultural organization.) She uses recipes that have been passed down in her family for generations, as well as new innovations born of sudden cravings and a fervid desire to not waste a morsel of food. The five two-hour class sessions are in Italian (a language teacher sits in to translate) and on Italian time, which works well if you wake up hungry.
ONLINE Oct. 24–Nov. 21. Saturdays, 10 a.m.–noon. sentieri.com. $150
Paola Nervi’s Recipe for Spaghetti Timbale
Cut a ½ pound of leftover cooked spaghetti into 1½-inch pieces and add to a large bowl with 2 beaten eggs and salt and pepper. Mix well, then stir in 3 ounces grated Parmesan (and some diced cooked prosciutto, if you like). Meanwhile, heat an oiled 8-inch square baking dish in a 400-degree oven, then pour in the spaghetti mixture, smoothing out the top, and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, invert the spaghetti onto a sheet tray, return it to the baking dish with the uncooked side facing up, and put it back in the oven until golden on top, about 5 minutes more.
Chicago Meat Collective
Expert butcher McCullough Kelly-Willis will show up at your home (or welcome you into hers) with a full pork leg — hock, hoof, and all — and a meat grinder. In a customized lesson (they vary in length, depending on the depth of instruction you crave), you’ll carve up that partial pig (the only required equipment: a sharp chef’s knife) and grind it down, then season it and stuff it into natural casings. For those who don’t want to get their hands dirty, Kelly-Willis can just demo everything — but what a waste of a rare opportunity to go full Sweeney Todd.
Offered year-round. chicagomeatcollective.com. From $250 (price varies depending on class size)
Boost YOUR CAREER
This 40-hour course from the local campus of this tech-ed stalwart covers Excel and Tableau — two well-known programs for organizing big data sets — but the real value is the extensive instruction in SQL, a language that enables you to essentially perform an advanced search on raw databases of any size. Even more so than programming languages like Python, SQL has become ubiquitous. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a data job that doesn’t require it.
ONLINE Sessions start Sept. 14, 22, 26, and 28 (scheduling format varies, from full-week intensive to weeknights or Saturdays only). generalassemb.ly. $3,950
Developing the Documentary
Illustrious alumni of this wide-ranging six-week class, which welcomes both beginners and budding filmmakers with some experience under their belt, include Diane Moy Quon, the Academy Award–nominated producer of Bing Liu’s 2018 documentary Minding the Gap. Director and producer Julie Englander’s online curriculum covers fundraising, equipment, and legal issues like fair use.
ONLINE Aug. 12–Sept. 16. Wednesdays. (Or Nov. 4–Dec. 16. Wednesdays.) chicagofilmmakers.org. $325
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
This 10-session weekly class acknowledges a basic truth about fashion design: Making beautiful clothes won’t get you far unless you know how to build a brand and market it. Teacher Anna Hovet Dias, founder of Hovet Fashion Studio and director of programming at the Chicago Fashion Incubator, starts with design basics like sketching posed figures and garment construction terminology (“gauchos” versus “culottes,” say). But she also drills down hard on business essentials, like identifying your target customer and sourcing your labor.
ONLINE Oct. 6–Dec. 8. Tuesdays, 6–9 p.m. saic.edu/continuing-studies. $625
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
“Local designers way underprice their things,” says instructor Anna Hovet Dias. “They’re trying to compete with Zara, but they are making handmade beautiful garments that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. And so I tell them, ‘Even if we put your time at $15 an hour — minimum wage — garments should still sell for $400.’ ”
Data Visualization with Tableau
Quick, entry-level workshops with live instructors are a rare combo in the tech-ed world. This two-hour class — offered by Promotable, a Chicago-based startup — focuses on Tableau, one of the most popular and widespread data visualization softwares, seen everywhere from weather maps to COVID-19 dashboards. Transform data sets into graphs and maps using raw material from your field. The best part is that there’s no coding necessary — so you can put down the Python.
ONLINE Sept. 23. 6:30–8:30 p.m. promotable.io. $50
Embrace YOUR INNER PERFORMER
Absolute Beginner Ballet
The Rooted Space
Finally, a ballet class for those of us who didn’t grow up with a dance mom. When impresario Natalie Rast retired in August, she passed on her namesake studio to a new generation. Among the continued offerings is her 90-minute barre and floor class. Welcoming and free of attitude (you won’t be shamed if you heard “potpourri” instead of “pas de bourrée”), it’s now taught by Lauren Meadows, who has been leading the University of Chicago’s student ballet troupe for nearly 20 years.
Drop-in classes offered Sundays, 12:30–2 p.m. 1803 W. Byron St. $15
Acting Studio Chicago
Unlike other acting jobs, doing voice-overs — providing the voice component for animation, commercials, video games, and other media — is perfectly suited to working remotely. Over eight weekly three-hour classes in this newly virtual course, a professional voice actor instructs students on creating characters, choosing the right tone for a script, and fashioning a home recording studio. You’ll need some general acting or public speaking experience — a college production or improv workshop should do the trick — to get in, but the class covers all the basics, whether your dream is to be the next Bugs Bunny or just the guy who spits out the small print at the end of a car commercial.
ONLINE Sessions start Sept. 15, 16, and 19. actingstudiochicago.com. $395
Mountain Dulcimer I
Old Town School of Folk Music
There are a lot of reasons to try the Appalachian dulcimer: It’s relatively cheap (you can get a decent one for $150), there are only four strings to pluck, and an instructor like Dona Benkert can get you playing melodies even before you tackle scales. Certainly, you’ll learn some Smoky Mountains tunes from the likes of Dolly Parton, but Benkert has also been known to teach “Ziggy Stardust” when the mood is right.
ONLINE Sept. 3–Oct. 22. Thursdays, 6:30–7:50 p.m. oldtownschool.org. $206 ($186 for members)
There are those who scorn the concept of standup comedy classes in favor of cutting your teeth at open mics. Those people are men. Feminine Comique — FemCom for short — is the city’s only all-female (inclusively defined) standup class, started by Take My Wife creator Cameron Esposito and now taught by comedian Alex Kumin. In five weeks, learn set structure and word economy (the fewer the better) and also how to adopt nonapologetic behavior, which for some reason most male comics have already aced.
ONLINE Aug. 4–Sept. 1. Tuesdays, 7 p.m. thelincolnlodge.com. $200
Bite Back With Humor
Learning how to deal with boorish men while doing standup can have real-life applications, says instructor Alex Kumin: “Let’s say Joanne says something in a meeting and Peter claims it as his own idea. If Joanne can cut through it with a quick joke, like ‘Hey, man, that was a great idea — when I said it five minutes ago,’ it’s going to be easier to speak up.”
This seven-week oral storytelling class for folks over 55 is premised on the notion that by the sixth decade of life, you’re guaranteed to have stories worth telling. By using classic exercises like freewriting (committing your thoughts to words the instant they come to you) and list poems (collections of ideas or observations centered on a general topic), the Goodman’s instructors train students how to access their material, hone it into a tight five-to-seven-minute story, and then workshop the performance. Select students will be chosen to speak at a virtual public showcase.
ONLINE For fall schedule and to sign up, email email@example.com. Free
Improv for Anxiety
This class reinforces a truth confirmed repeatedly by psychologists: Improv can help with social anxiety. The eight-week program pairs traditional improv comedy classes — taught by heirs to the legacy of Second City alums like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert — with weekly group therapy, led by licensed clinicians, that explores the worries, anxieties, and obstacles that came up for students during class.
ONLINE Sept. 6–Oct. 25. Sundays, 6–8:30 p.m. secondcity.com/classes. $775
John Prine Songbook
Old Town School of Folk Music
Learn the tunes of a Chicago folk hero from one of his old friends. The former is the late, great John Prine, the Old Town School alum whom Bob Dylan called one of his favorite songwriters; the latter is Ed Holstein, who owned a folk venue in the ’60s where Prine used to play. Holstein leads this play-along class with guitarist Bob Goins. For eight 80-minute sessions, guitarists and various other strummers gather with fellow Prine fans on Zoom to learn some of the musician’s greatest hits (like “Angel From Montgomery”) and to reminisce.
ONLINE Sept. 1–Oct. 20. Tuesdays, 5–6:20 p.m. oldtownschool.org. $202 ($192 for members)
Yin He Dance
Learning the moves in K-pop music videos is so wildly popular that even groups’ dance practice videos, where you can see the steps without any distractions, pull in hundreds of millions of views. But the routines can be tricky, so Yin He, a traditional Chinese dance troupe and school, offers these laid-back, no-experience-needed classes, split into boy-group and girl-group styles. Instructors post the songs of the week on Facebook ahead of time so you can familiarize yourself — and adopt the appropriate persona.
Saturdays, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (girl); Sundays, 5:45–6:45 p.m. (boy). 547 W. 31st St. $15
You can’t master K-pop moves without tackling the swagger, says teacher Kelly Liu. “I know some terrific dancers, but they just lack energy because they’re not confident in their performance. K-pop helps with that. When K-pop idols are performing onstage, it doesn’t feel like they’re actually real because their stage presence is so intense. It’s like, wow, they just exude confidence.”