For a little while now, a friend who lives nearby has been asking me to teach her some textile crafts. She first had the notion to do embroidery, which ended up not happening due to time constraints, and more recently, she decided that she would like to learn how to knit socks. She had previously only knitted accessories with with thicker yarn, no fancy stitches, and no shaping (scarves), so this would be a challenge for her.
It’s amazing how quickly a determined person can learn a new skill. Her first sock is a bit wobbly, but it’s totally wearable and the right size — really, it’s a magnificent first effort! She also finished it in days, not weeks, which is laudable for someone struggling with new tools, techniques, and materials all at once.
Knitting was my entrée into fiber arts, and I really did love it at first, but I’ve found it to be more difficult for me than most crafts. At times, the frustration has been far more profound than the rewards, and that has taken a lot of the excitement and joy out of the process. When I try a new knitting technique, I expect to fail, and that’s not a healthy way to approach learning. The last time that I tried something new in a workshop setting, the instructions were unclear (some of the issue was due to a language barrier, but the chart was also confusing to me), so I ended up unraveling and redoing the start of the project several times. I was feeling pretty miserable about it as I fell behind the other knitters. However, it wasn’t that I couldn’t grasp the technique; I simply needed more guidance, access to the sample to see what the finished object should look like (I only had a brief glimpse), and a chart that was easier to understand and that showed all of the color changes clearly. There is a sign of progress in this, if I allow myself to acknowledge it — I have developed the basic skills, and I only needed better information to know how to apply them. Developing those skills has been a matter of intense dedication for me, so it should be satisfying to see that they have substantially improved. Still, it can be difficult to see that when I’m stressed and feeling like I am conspicuously the worst knitter in the room.
It’s a delight to teach a quick and motivated student, and it also renews my motivation and my love for the craft. You don’t know how much you know until you teach it to someone who is newer to the subject/skill than you are. It builds confidence to share a skill with another person, and there is also something sacred to it. Textile crafts are ancient magic techniques that transform materials that humans would otherwise have no use for into objects that keep us warm, protect us, and that allowed us to travel to distant lands in the not-too-distant past. They are a medium for meditation and prayer, allowing for a repetitive, soothing invocation in their many stitches. To bring another person into these crafts is to initiate them into an ancient way of being and to include them in the great lineage of yarn spinners and cloth makers that has its origin millennia before anyone recorded what we would recognize as history. While knitting is not the most ancient technique, it provides the fundamental essence of all textile making as a creative and social act — sitting for many hours while the fabric grows under deft hands and making while chatting and laughing with friends.
At one point, my friend told me that since she started knitting her sock, she has been minutely examining every sock she has instead of taking them for granted. This is one of the most exciting things to me about teaching someone a textile craft. Most people move through a world that is largely incomprehensible to them. We constantly interact with objects that we don’t understand. Objects are like words in another language, even another alphabet — we don’t know what they say, so we skim over them, interacting as we need to without entirely getting what they’re trying to tell us. To teach someone even a small bit of how textiles are made is to make them literate in some fundamentals of the language of textiles, and suddenly they realize that the things they wear everyday have a complex and fascinating structure and story.
To teach someone these crafts, it is helpful to have finished objects to show and interpret, not just images and descriptions, and so I’ve been inspired to do much more knitting than usual. I’ve gotten through two socks in the past week, although they aren’t mates. I got excited about a design I was planning after I finished the first sock, so I decided to just move on and make it instead of finishing the pair. Now I have two socks that need mates, but that’s okay. I used to be the kind of person who allowed half-finished projects to languish, but I’ve been trained in Estonia to finish them in a reasonable timeframe, so I don’t think that I’ll fall prey to the dreaded Second Sock Syndrome.
My next step will be to finish the second sock in the new design and write up the pattern. I’m pleased with it so far, but I want to add a few cute bells and whistles in the second version. It’s still up in the air, but I hope to release the pattern publicly — it will be my first one.
Thinking about how the act of sharing the craft combines intellect and creativity, hands and mind, connection and letting go, motivating and being motivated, I find that I want to create more things for others to enjoy in their own craft journeys. If something from my mind and creativity warms the hands of other craftspeople, it will be an honor. No matter what, I will keep teaching and sharing my love of textile crafts so that more people will be initiated into the joys of a handmade life.