Reflections on a Vocational Happenstance
"The art of teaching is the art of aiding discovery." - Mark Van Doren
I am a self-taught knitter. I began by choosing a pattern for something I wanted to make and following the basic knitting instructions included. This is not a method I recommend for anyone else. I finished that first little baby jumper only by dint of my extreme stubbornness.
In general, I don't enjoy "how-to" classes. Academic courses are fine, but I am not one for group learning when it comes to hands-0n skills. I prefer to read instructions and suss things out on my own. This method of solo exploration usually works well, but sometimes I run into trouble.
Several winters ago, I was stuck, stuck, stuck. I wanted to master stranded knitting and knew that I wasn't doing something correctly. My work looked OK, but was taking far too long. Those great Fair Isle knitters couldn't possibly have been doing it the way I was doing it.
I had read instructions in a book, watched a bunch of videos online and still couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. I was exasperated and would think, "But that's what I'm doing! and it doesn't work!" It was time to get help, but still I resisted. I had this foolish pride thing going on. I didn't want to take a class because I didn't want to need to take a class. I cherished my status as "Self-Taught-Knitter". Fortunately, the Universe conspired to rescue me from my own obstinacy.
I received an email from Brooklyn Brainery, a fabulous crowdsourced adult education organization. My husband and I have taken several courses at the Brainery, and you should, too. Usually I skip over all the arts-and-crafts listings and go for those in history, music, and art. But that month, providentially, Jessica Kaufman was teaching an introduction to stranded knitting. I threw in the towel and signed up.
Jessica came to the classroom wearing a hand knit sweater featuring a beautifully executed Fair Isle yoke, and in her work bag was a gorgeous pair of stranded fingerless mitts, so I knew I had come to the right place. I tried to settle in and hide my impatience as I waited for her to get to the part I didn't understand.
When the time came, what she demonstrated looked exactly like what was in the books I had read and in the videos I had watched. With the other students, I began emulating her deft example, only to feel the familiar brick wall looming. Jessica worked her way around the table to look over my shoulder. After about 3 seconds, she asked, "May I offer you a correction?". Given permission, she reached down and lifted one of the working strands of yarn from one side of my index finger to the other. That was it. The whole problem solved, just like that.
Stranded knitting is an excellent way to use up small amounts of yarn in creative color combinations. Now that I've gained proficiency, it's one of my favorite techniques, especially when knitting for children. I employ it several times each month. But what happened that day is something bigger, something I'd do well to remember.
To my surprise, the strongest feeling I experienced when Jessica pointed out where I had gone wrong was not disappointment at my own past failure, and I did not think about how dumb I must have been not to figure out something so simple. What I felt was a combination of relief, gratitude, and renewed energy. I wanted to run right home and work on the project I was stuck in, and I could see a whole new world of knitting possibilities open for me to explore.
The right teacher at the right time made all the difference.