Sunday, September 2, 2007

Labor Day

I know you thought you'd never see it happen.

I'm going to dispense with my usual idiocy and talk about something that has been on my mind. It was sparked by a comment left by the shop owner I visited when I went to Sacramento the other day.

First of all, I want to publicly apologize to her. No matter what she thinks, I didn't mean to hurt her feelings. Apparently someone is saying horrid things about her and/or her shop on Ravelry and other places, but it's not me. She should know me well enough to know that I speak my mind and do so without hiding behind others. I hope she believes me, and I hope she knows that I do love her. It was just a horrible trip all the way around, and had she known what was going on in my life during the past several months, perhaps she would have understood a little better. But in any event, I'm sorry to have caused her pain and went out of my way to not mention her name or the name of the shop. Sacramento has a lot more than one yarn shop, so it would be anybody's guess who I was talking about. And yes, she made some comments that did hurt my feelings, and pretty badly, too. I deleted her comment because this isn't the forum for such things. If you're reading this, old friend, I would really like your e-mail address so I can write to you and explain myself.

In any event, she made a comment to the effect of, "Not everyone started by knitting lace and socks", or something pretty close to that. No, they didn't. Neither did I. While it's true I learned how to crochet by making doilies using size 100 thread and hooks so small I now need a magnifying glass to see them, I didn't learn how to knit that way. I learned how to knit like everyone else - one stitch at a time. She then defended her clientele and her yarn selection. Fine. To each his own. I'm entitled to my own opinions, and she's entitled to hers.

But it got me to thinking, especially since it's Labor Day weekend. Is our work the best we can do, or are we settling for mediocrity?

I was always taught that perfection was the goal, even if it was unattainable. Granted, working on my knitting and crocheting as a child wasn't always fun. I had things ripped out far more often than I had them praised. The backs had to look as good as the fronts or whatever I was working on was ripped out. Each stitch had to be the same as the next or it got ripped out. The same was true for sewing, embroidery, cross-stitch, or any other fiber art I was being taught. There were times I couldn't stand to look at the new ball of yarn that was purchased at Mervyn's (yes, Merv's was a real department store in the early '60's - they sold yarn, fabric, notions, and anything else you needed to make something or run a home). But I perservered, and eventually I learned how to do things to my grandmother's high standards. Even today, the first thing she does is look at the back of something to see if it passes muster, and I'm 49 years old. But I can cook most people under the table, run a house, make just about anything out of just about anything, iron perfect creases, and do any number of household chores. If I'm motivated, you can literally eat off my floors. This isn't bragging. She was preparing me for life. You see, back then she thought that a woman was good for two things: to be a good housewife and a good mother. Since I've been divorced and remarried, I failed on the first count. I wasn't the best mother in the world, either, but I'm a pretty good grandma. But when it comes to my knitting and crocheting (and many other household-type things), I turn into a monster.

While many of us take this weekend off and enjoy ourselves, others work and still enjoy themselves. Even though knitting isn't technically work, you're still doing something that makes something, so I guess in the strictest sense of the word, you're working. I'm working on my swap socks this weekend. I'm attacking them the same way I attack every project - doing the very best job I can. But do all knitters do the same?

There are different types of knitters. There are those who knit purely for the love of the art, and if they make mistakes, so be it. After all, it's a love thing, and who is going to look for mistakes? Then there are those who fix mistakes but don't worry about gauge. It'll work out somehow. And then there are those like me, who are perfectionists to the point of being anal. Is this a bad thing? If it causes so much stress that it takes all the fun out of it, then it's not worth it. But what really pisses me off are those who don't even want to try to expand their knowledge and learn new things. How many scarves and hats can you knit?

It never fails. No matter what class I teach (but especially socks or lace), there's at least one person who starts out the class by saying, "That's too hard. I'll never be able to do that". With an attitude like that, it's not surprising that they're usually the ones who drop out or never really get what I'm laying down. I also get the talkers - those who gab nonstop during the class because what I have to say isn't nearly as important as telling their neighbor (who just might want to learn something) about the dog across the street who always craps on their lawn, and gee, Harry just hates that because it gets dog shit (but they never say shit - no, it's usually poo-poo) on the John Deere lawn tractor blades. Worst of all, I get those who think they already know it all and want to make socks out of luxury fibers (I have one of those right now - she's using buffalo), even though I try to tell them that a lot of luxury fibers are delicate and will begin to felt if ripped out too much. So I've set down four rules in my classes and make sure that everyone knows them before I even crack their textbooks open:

1. When I'm talking, there is to be no talking to their classmates. It makes it more difficult for others to hear what I'm saying; hence, it makes it more difficult for them to learn.

2. No cell phones. Unless it's for a real necessity (children are home alone and might need to get in contact with their mother/father, they're on call for their jobs, etc.), there is nothing quite as annoying as someone's cell ringing in the middle of a sentence and then having them take the call to gab with Mabel about the party they're having in two weeks. I actually have a lady in my current sock class who apologized to me for having her phone on because her daughter was waiting for a liver transplant, and if the liver came through, she needed to know about it. I told her that that was DEFINITELY a good reason for not only keeping her phone on, but also for taking the call. And even after that, she still insisted on putting it on vibrate! It must be the tattoos that scare the shit out of people.

3. If you have a question, please ask me instead of your classmates. Your classmates are usually as clueless as you and will fuck you up something fierce if you listen to their advice.

4. Do your homework and do NOT go past the point where you are told to stop. You may think that going farther makes you a shining star, but it causes me to teach what amounts to multiple classes at once, since all of a sudden, everyone is at a different stage of the project.

I do have wonderful students who do as they are asked, learn what they're supposed to, and try their hardest to master the techniques. They tend to ask a lot of questions, and I don't mind one little bit if I answer questions from here to kingdom come. I even give them all my home phone number in case they have problems (and those who really want to learn do not hesitate to call me). I had one lady who mastered the socks by the third class, and then faxed me a letter on the fourth and final class explaining why she couldn't come. Her mother had just died and was being cremated in a Buddhist ceremony that day. She thanked me for giving her the skill to make socks, because one of her mother's wishes was for a pair of those socks to be cremated in. We all cried when I read the letter in class, and I have it to this day in a sheet protector so nothing happens to it. Those are the dream students. But they don't come along very often and, as a teacher, I understand that.

Also as a teacher, I hope that each student will have a positive attitude and will give it their all. Sometimes what I'm teaching is too much for their skill level. No matter what label I put on a class (intermediate or advanced, for instance, as well as listing the skills they need), there are at least two people who do not know how to cast on, even though they say they've been knitting for years. Sometimes there's a communication problem. Even though I work with people one-on-one if necessary, they may not understand how I'm explaining something, or how the book is explaining something. I'm very patient with these people and will explain something as many times as it takes for them to get it. That's part of being a teacher - learning how to work with all different kinds of people and doing my best to help them. But I'm also a person. Sometimes I have to excuse myself and go have a smoke so I don't blow my stack. But I've chosen to do this, so I have to learn to hold myself in check and scream out the window as I hurtle down the freeway on the way home.

I realize that this is a rant of sorts, but the point is this: if you're going to do something, try to do the best job you can. You've spent a lot of money on your fiber and are investing a lot of time in your project, not to mention the fact that you put a little piece of your heart and soul in each item you create. Have some pride. Even though all knitting is love, be proud of the job you do. Maybe it will become a cherished family heirloom. Maybe you'll want to enter it in a competition. Maybe you just want to see the smile on someone's face when they open their gift and find out it's something you made with your own two hands.

And a lot of swearing, cigarettes, and vodka.

Happy Labor Day!


Katie said...

It's hard, isn't it, sharing something you love with people who only like it. I found myself getting a bit irrationally upset with all the people at Joann's who would step by my table as soon as they heard the teacher across the aisle say that the "knifty knitter" was "so easy I've even taught 5 year olds to do it."

Sounds like you're a good teacher to have, though. Do you ever teach at stores in Indiana? :)

Pam the Yarn Goddess said...

Hi Katie!

Thank you so much for your post! I don't think your anger is irrational at all. I hate shortcuts when the real thing is so much better.

Actually, I hope to be teaching all over soon. I'm working on my Masters' Program through TKGA, so once I have that finished, maybe I'll be asked to do a little traveling. :)

Have a lovely holiday!


skywitch said...

I learned to knit as a child, too--I was 7. My mom and my grandmother praised my efforts, feeble though they may have been.

Today, almost 60 years later, I still love the craft. I do lots of ripping out, but I'm not a perfectionist.
And I'm not an "I have to expand my knitting horizons" knitter, either. I love knitting socks and lace shawls, but extremely complicated patterns? Never. I have no desire to be stressed out while knitting.

My handknit socks are always pretty straightforward. I love making them and I love wearing them, even though no one ever sees them--I live in a college town and wear jeans every day.

I admire the work of those who enjoy being challenged at every turn. The complicated patterns are gorgeous. But I consider myself an excellent (and certainly very experienced) knitter, and I'm just as happy doing stockinette stitch.

By the way, I have tats also!

Wendy in Cambridge

Pam the Yarn Goddess said...

Hi Skywitch!

I'm so glad you posted with your opinions. This is what I hoped would happen - that it would make knitters think and come to realize what kind of knitter they are, and if it mattered to them whether or not they advanced their skills. I believe I said that it's not worth it if it stresses you out, and that's what you indicated. It sounds like you do what you do very well, and that's great! I'm obviously the other type, which may have something to do with the way I was taught. There was no real nurturing for what I did (and still isn't), so I was always trying to please, not realizing that it didn't matter how good I became - it was never going to be good enough.

What bothers me the most as a teacher are people who refuse to accept what skill level they're at, so they take classes which are far beyond their abilities. It isn't fair to those who do have the skills necessary to take the class, because I'm slowed down trying to teach a crash course to bring some people up to speed. Sometimes I'll tell people that the class is just too far beyond what they're currently able to do, suggest that they take a class to teach them the skills they need, and refund their money.

I guess I'm an overachiever - I still try to learn as much as I can and then pass that knowledge on to others. I applaud you for being so proficient at what you do and for thoroughly enjoying it.

And I totally dig that you have tats! You go, woman!

Kellie said...

Firstly, I'm sorry that your friend jumped to the idea that you were being hurtful. I don't understand the point of having a friendship if it is not a safe place where you can say anything without being required to gauge every word. But you are a very good friend to be so willing to explain your situation after hurtful comments were slung in your direction.

As far as the rest of your post, I completely understand 100%. I worry with all the "popularity" that knitting has seen lately, that a lot of people are not really taking in the craft itself, but partaking in the trend. But, much like they say about scripture, even if it is getting taught wrong at least it is getting out there so people will investigate further. I have been guilty of just rushing through a project to get it done, using less than great fiber, and probably over estimating my talents. But I am learning the art of the process of knitting and how that usually doesn't run in tandem with speed, the beauty of working with a fiber that you love which might not have been on sale that week and require a few extra overtime hours of work to pay for, and the awesome feeling that comes with challenging yourself to try new things, even if it stretches you past your limits and you might fail horribly the first time. That last statement is the entire reason I joined the Mirepoix Bodice Knitalong. A sweater that I love.....that involves steeking. Yikes.

I imagine you are a fantastic teacher, one whom students would learn much from if they would open their hearts and minds. Let me know when you start traveling. I'll so be there if you get close.

Have a fantastic Labor Day!!!!

PS....3 tats here, with many more on the way I am sure. You can't stop at just one you know. ;)

Donna Lee said...

I have two tats and got them at age 47 (I am 49 now). I taught myself to knit because I wanted to learn something new. I am slowly advancing my skills but as I continue to be self taught, the process is slow. I joined a "strikke along" so I would have some help learning stranded color knitting. My lys used to have classes but found attendance too low and gave them up before I got there. I don't mind teaching myself, I believe I can learn anything I put my mind to, including complicated knitting processes. I am not a perfectionist. I do the best I can and frog often, but I will live with some mistakes because I do this for enjoyment not production. I buy the best yarn I can afford which is not always the best available but it usually serves its purpose. At this point I am knitting socks because I can learn stitches and techniques in a small project and get graification from that. And I have learned I love hand made socks. Your post has made me think (always a good thing) and for that I thank you. Peaceful Labor Day to you!

Pam the Yarn Goddess said...

Hi Donna Lee!

Thank you so much for your post. I, too, have taught myself much of what I know from books, including how to warp a loom, thread it, and weave; spinning; and any number of fiber arts. I have also taught myself a lot of knitting skills, including knitting socks.

I think you're absolutely on the right road. While you're learning, there is no reason to buy wool that costs $100 a skein. Buying the best you can and enjoying it, as well as enjoying the skills you are learning, is key to you advancing if you so desire. Socks will indeed teach you a lot of things, including patience!

The best of luck to you. If I can ever be of help, please let me know.

Pam the Yarn Goddess said...

Kellie, thank you. I think you're definitely on the right track, too. I extend the same offer to you - if I can ever be of help, please don't hesitate to ask. And thank you for posting - it's always so nice to know that people actually read what I write. It takes me a good amount of time and effort to come up with these posts, and when I do write, I want people to enjoy, or think about, or even disagree and comment on what I've written.