I just returned from vacation with my family, and have lots to share. I love travelling, and of course, like most people, I don’t get to do nearly enough of it. The change of pace and new scenery, even in this case, when I spent time where I grew up, always inspire me and make me appreciate the value of learning. I always come home with a fresh perspective and in the mood to start new projects. Regardless of whether you are returning from a trip or simply in need of something new in your life, taking time to learn is always beneficial. Unfortunately, (and I see this in the shop ALOT with newbie crocheters and knitters), adults have a tough time accepting that learning is a process. So in honor of the gift we call learning, I’d like to share my top five parts of the process. My list is from the perspective of learning to knit and crochet, but you can apply the general ideas of the learning process to almost anything.
- Start with a dishcloth. I have no idea why people hate the idea of making a dishcloth, but when newbies come in the shop wanting to start their first project, they never seem to like the idea very much. If you want to crochet and knit, I’m sure it’s because you saw or heard about some of the amazing things that have already been made. But I am here to tell you: don’t start with your end goal! I learned first to crochet, then to knit, and both times, I started by making a dishcloth with the cheapest cotton I could find. In defense of the dishcloth, consider the benefits: no matter how uneven your stitches are or how ugly it turns out, you will still have a useful item. People often start with scarves, which are good because they’re flat, but really, who wants to wear a scarf that is full of mistakes? If you complete a dishcloth or two, you will have learned to tension your yarn properly, how to read your stitches, and of course, just the general technique of the craft. The other good thing about dishcloths is that they can be finished much quicker than almost anything else, which allows you to learn some of the bare basics and then move on to something more exciting.
- Keep your expectations reasonable and cut yourself some slack! Knitters and crocheters really need to give themselves credit for how much stuff they have to learn! We learn about fiber content, how things drape and wear with time, how to “read” our stitches, how to tension yarn, and so much more. It’s ludicrous to expect to know it all instantly. The fact of the matter is that learning is a process. It’s great to have a goal, but it’s also important to remember that it takes lots of time and practice to learn something new. This is the most major issue I see in the shop when I’m teaching people. You don’t learn to sew by starting with a couture ballgown, and beginning knitters and crocheters shouldn’t expect to go from making a scarf or dishcloth to a fitted sweater with a complicated pattern. You will get there eventually, but ease up and keep the learning curve gradual!
- Practice really does make perfect. People come in the shop all the time, see me working on a project they think is cool, and then seem floored when I tell them I’ve only been knitting and crocheting for about 5 years. Maybe my learning curve has been fast, maybe it hasn’t – I’m not really sure how I stack up in relation to other people’s rate of learning. But here’s my truth for everyone: I spend pretty much any chance I have knitting and crocheting. I don’t watch much TV, or if I do, it’s while I”m working on a project. I don’t have a crazy social life where I’m out on the town every weekend, and I don’t go a day without sitting down to work on a project for at least an hour. This is not to say everyone needs to make it the priority that I do, but the truth is there is no shortcut to learning something. Regardless of what it is you want to become good at, there is no substitute for practice.
- Understand from the start that you WILL make mistakes. No one likes doing it, but unfortunately, making mistakes is part of learning, and sometimes, ripping out is the only way to fix it so that you can be happy with the end result. I’ve gotten much more used to ripping out now that I’m a designer because alot of design is trial and error. But even if designing your own stuff is not your end game, there will still be times, especially when you’re starting out, that you need to rip back and fix things. It’s never a happy moment, so pick and choose when it’s absolutely necessary, but don’t expect to never have to do it. The bright side is that usually, when you redo the part you messed up, you figured alot out in the process, and it goes much quicker the second or third time around!
- Be willing to focus on the process, and push yourself to finish projects. When I started, I couldn’t wait to make gifts for loved ones, and I learned the hard way to be careful about what kinds of deadlines I put on myself. If you are in a rush to finish things and stressed out about self-inflicted deadlines, the process of making something becomes stressful instead of enjoyable. The other pitfall to watch out for is having too many unfinished projects laying around. All of us have projects that frustrated us so much that we had to put them aside for awhile. If you are that frustrated, then go ahead and put it aside. But beware of constantly starting things and not finishing them. Take it from me – too many unfinished projects laying around will cause you more stress and frustration. Even though it often feels boring by the end, it’s important to give yourself the satisfaction of finishing things, which is why, even now, I still make dishcloths when I need that feeling!
As you progress, you will realize that not knowing it all is also the beauty of it. The knowledge that there is always something more to learn is what keeps the more experienced of us coming back for more! May you always have something left to explore!