At the last Social Saturday Stitching Circle in my store, I was teaching a raw beginner (adult) to crochet. My husband happened to come in and quietly observed the process. Later he suggested I write a blog post about what I taught her. I argued that there are lots of YouTube videos to teach beginning crochet. And he told me that what he meant was that he saw me teaching her how to be a beginner. He thought it would be valuable for others if I shared that. So here we go.
Learning a new skill is often exciting, frustrating, challenging and perhaps even a whole lot of other “ings”. It takes time, focus, patience, practice and determination to succeed. Often as adults we can be our own worst enemy during this process.
Teaching people to knit, crochet and sew is a part of what I do in my shop. As a teacher who has worked with children and adults, I have found that adults often come into the process with unrealistic expectations. Those expectations can set us up to fail. We often have a fantasy that after a quick session to learn the basics, we’ll be able to complete a complex project right away. We see that completed project in our mind’s eye. As capable adults, we are accustomed to being good at the things we do and fully expect that we will be just as successful with a new skill… right out of the gate. We also come into the process with a well developed internal critic. This is not a good combination. So I say, “Woah, Nelly!” Slow down. Having goals is great; I’m all for it! And…
- Give yourself permission to be a beginner. Allow yourself to take in all the steps and processes of the new skill the way a beginner does. When you learned to read, you probably took a while to sound out each word individually before you were ready to see the whole word and understand what it was. Being able to see and understand a whole phrase in one glance came a whole lot later. Allow yourself time to digest and internalize the new skills.
- Let learning the basics be your first goal. Don’t come to your first class with a pattern for a lace shawl in hand, expecting to get started on it. Don’t get me wrong, you can have a lofty goal. Just don’t make that goal part of the learning process. Focus on just getting comfortable with how it feels to create an even chain stitch; consistent tension; where to insert the hook for your single crochet stitches. Or just cast-on stitches over and over until the movements that make up the cast-on feel natural and comfortable. Practice sewing a straight line with consistent speed. Let those steps be your goals.
- Choose a simple first project. Once you feel like you’ve mucked around enough with the basics that you’re ready to take on a project, keep it simple. I recommend that you knit or crochet a sampler. This is a square or rectangle (dishcloth or scarf, perhaps?) in which you simply practice the basic stitches. Let’s say you’re crocheting. So do a row of single crochets, followed by half double crochets then double crochets and finally triple crochets and then repeat. Or if you are knitting, do a section of garter stitch (knit on the right side and the wrong side) then do a section of stocking stitch (also called stockinette stitch, this is where you knit on the right side and purl on the wrong side). Then you might choose a very simple pattern like a seed stitch and try doing a section of that. Get really comfortable with how to hold the work. Practice so the feeling of the movements becomes natural to you. If you are sewing, start with projects that require straight lines before tackling curves. Then do curves where both pieces of fabric are the same shape before trying to attach a curve to a straight line. Start with woven fabrics before working with knits.
- Give your first project permission to “suck”. These skills take coordination. With persistence you’ll eventually relax into it. Just like when you learn to drive a car. You start out staring obsessively at the little bit of road immediately in front of the car. It can be really overwhelming. It’s easy to miss things. Your body will tense up. Gradually you become comfortable resting your gaze on the horizon and just glancing at your gauges when you need to. The reality is that most people’s first project won’t be pretty. And that’s okay.
- Find a support system. This is important. Show up at your local “Stitch’n’bitch” gatherings. If there aren’t any, start one. Find people that you can hang out with who can encourage you as you build your skills and confidence. Look for people whose skill levels exceed yours so that you can ask them for guidance when you get stuck. Find an online group. There are lots of groups on ravelry.com that are there to offer support to newbies. Reach out. Your support system will encourage you, and celebrate your successes with you. It’s also inspiring to hear others’ stories about their experiences.
At the end of the day, we learn to knit, crochet, sew, embroider or do any other craft for fun.
When you come up against obstacles and frustrations remember that. Set the work aside when you get frustrated and come back to it a little later with a clear mind. Hang in there and before you know it that lace shawl pattern will be just one of the many projects you made out of a ball of yarn with a hook or a couple of pointy sticks.