14 Cool Classes To Boost Your Creativity — & Make You Feel Super-Smart

UPDATE: Once the holiday warm-and-fuzzies have come and gone, you'll probably want something to keep you occupied — something other than TV and leftovers, right? Get your brain in gear with one of these super-cool, creative classes and start 2013 with a bang. This story was originally published on November 9, 2012.
We don’t know about you, but we feel an insistent pang of jealousy every time a new school year begins. The youngster set heads back to familiar school buildings with snazzy new supplies while college students return to campus with renewed ambition. But those of us who've already passed that phase? We're left out in the cold.
What to do when the urge to learn something new strikes, but going back to school isn’t really an option? Well, you could audit a couple of local university courses, but that's not your only option. There’s a wealth of awesome, off-the-beaten-path classes on offer for anyone looking to try something a little different.
Wish you’d majored in textiles instead of anthropology? There are classes for that. Consider yourself a foodie, but secretly need to make sure you have all the basics down? Yep, there are classes for that, too. Not only are there tons of cool courses up for grabs — at a range of prices, from free to super-reasonable to pricey — but they're also all designed to fit a post-grad's schedule, so you can get your learn on pretty much whenever you want. Ahead, we’ve gathered up the DMV's coolest adults-only classes, so read on to satisfy your deepest creative, culinary, and cultural desires.
What could be better than learning from the best of the best? Believe it or not, the entity that makes the National Mall so rad actually offers its own courses. The Smithsonian Institution has been at it for 40 years, with classes on everything from painting to neon-light sculpture to Japanese flower arranging. The Studio Arts department courses aren’t free — most hover in the $250 range — but they're worth it, considering the awesomeness of the venue. The next batch of classes begin in early January.
More interested in a creative art that will have super-practical uses come winter? Check out the fiber-arts classes at Stitch DC — because the cold is coming, and you want to be ready for it. Start at the beginning with Beginner Knit 101 ($80, plus materials), or hone your skills with a class on mittens ($50, or $25 if you’ve taken classes previously) or socks ($60, plus materials.) These classes are relatively cheap and low on commitment, making them perfect for the on-the-go student.
Letterpress is one of those lovely skills that seems totally unattainable — until you learn that an adorable local shop offers classes in it. Alexandria’s airy stationery shop Fifteen/Eleven has an intimate workshop (maximum six students) for a three-hour letterpress experience. Besides getting a breakdown of how letterpress works, you also get to take home 20 notecards that you make yourself. Take it in mid-December in time for the holidays, or consider the January class a gift-to-self. It’ll run you $175, with materials included.
Love a basic DIY project, but want to take your creativity to the next step? We’ve got two cool classes for you. Among other awesome offerings, the Art League has a two-day Shibori dyeing course that costs $175, plus materials, and will send you on your way with two of your own hand-dyed silk scarves. More into mastering the fundamentals? Learn the basics of hand sewing with the Ginger Root ladies. For $50, find out how to start and finish seams, add four new stitches to your repertoire, and attach buttons — all with your own two hands.
Photos: Courtesy of Lindsay Attaway; Smithsonian Studio Arts/Jen Schiller; Stitch DC
Knowledge Commons DC plays a big (and cool) role in free and alternative learning: Typically held in one-month sessions, classes are one-off lessons in whatever the teacher happens to be into. Past classes have focused on such diverse topics as yarn-bombing and wheatpasting, the practical uses of urban foraging, and an intro to American Sign Language. Teachers are regular folks who want to teach a class in what they're passionate about. The best part about KCDC? All the classes are 100% free. The next session is in January, and there’s still time to submit class proposals. Registration for January takes place closer to class start dates, so keep an eye on the site or sign up for email notifications.
Want to learn something practical (but still impressive) in your spare time? Try a new language! Since D.C. is home to international embassies galore, opportunities to pick up some useful communication skills are readily available. You can go old school with German at the Goethe Institut DC (where classes will run you more than $400) or French at the Alliance Française (also ringing up above the $400 mark.) Looking for something a bit more offbeat? You can also learn Irish for under $200.
Photos: Courtesy of Ginger Root/Charlie Heck; Knowledge Commons DC; Alliance Française
Looking for the right place to start your part-time culinary education? Check out the classes at Barracks Row kitchenware shop, Hill’s Kitchen. It’s the perfect place to learn about crucial knife skills, pierogi-making, and sauce appreciation. Classes are $65 or less, and for the veggie lovers, the courses are labeled with a degree of veg-friendliness (there’s even a completely vegetarian class on Thanksgiving side dishes).
Already know how to make the proper cuts — or want to bump it up a bit after you learn? Check out the offerings at CulinAerie, a cooking school with courses specific enough to impress even the most hardened foodies. Do hyper-focused classes like Fall Southern Classics or Fall Vegetarian Mexico strike your fancy? What about Autumn Bread Workshop or Date Night: Konkan Coast of India? Solo classes are $85 and couples' classes are $175 for two people — which seems pretty reasonable for such an intensive subject of study (sans plane ticket).
Learn some new recipes for sweet treats and boozy concoctions, thanks to a pastry chef-led class at Community Canteen on December 1. Consider this your chance to sample a syllabus of sweets (yes, there will be learning!) and glean tips from chef Cheryl Strasser on how to make goodies like rosemary shortcake bars, brown-butter ginger cookies, and much more. Cocktails are spirited and seasonal, too, like the blood-orange tarragon Old Fashioned, and the class is just $25.
If all that chowing down makes you thirsty, check out the Columbia Room’s cocktail classes, which also range from basic instructions to ultra-niche topics. A $65 admission fee gets you an engaging and interactive lecture in an intimate setting. Choose from classes like Bar Basics — a series designed to get your home bar and skills up to speed — or more specific fodder, such as Yo Ho Ho: Rum and the High Seas. You can also learn how to conjure up your own bitters and infusions, and how to hunt down the perfect cocktail recipe. Classes leave you delightfully boozed up — and a little bit smarter. After all, haven’t you always wanted to drink in class?
Specialty gourmet market and foodie mecca Seasonal Pantry is adding more greatness to its empire — because, apparently, running an awesome shop, holding regular supper nights, and having subscription ice cream and sausage clubs wasn’t enough. On Monday, November 12, and Thursday, November 15, you can experience the Cidre, Sagardo, Cider: Dry, Funky Ciders & Autumn Cheese course, which explores the harmonious link between cheese and cider. $49 will have you eating six cheeses, sampling three ciders, and nibbling on house-made Seasonal Pantry accompaniments.
Photos: Courtesy of Columbia Room/Jim Webb Photo; Lisa Mathias/A Whisk & A Mile; CulinAerie

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