Wednesday, July 7, 2010

First steps

This fall, I want my students to reflect on the process of learning a new craft. So it seems only fair that I reflect on my first experience with crochet today.

My agreement with myself was that I would start the process of learning to crochet in July. I had thought that I'd be farther along with the class syllabus by then ... but no matter. A deal's a deal.

As I wrote last night, I have no childhood or familial experience with crochet, and having only learned to knit a few years ago, crochet seemed utterly peculiar and counterintuitive to me. I felt like I had to prepare myself for today's embarkation with some study. Last night I read through my entire textbook -- Teach Yourself Visually Crocheting. And for some reason, I thought I actually understood the process better than I ever have before. Perhaps my fumbling experiments in the craft prepared me for the explanations I saw in the book; perhaps watching videos (even though the crocheters in them always seemed to move awfully fast and know a bewildering variety of stitches by heart) had put the right templates in my head; or perhaps the book is just that good. In any case, I felt upon closing it that I could pick a yarn and hook and try a sampler of stitches the next day.

This morning I wound a ball of cotton, took it with me to my Wednesday coffeeshop retreat, and, studying the book's directions intently, made my first chain. Much like I've always thought it was discouraging to teach knitters to cast on first thing -- it's a process you don't use all that often, it's not knitting, and it delays getting to what you actually want to learn -- I found starting with the foundation chain alarmingly dispiriting. It wasn't chaining that made me anxious; it was trying to see the parts of the chain clearly, and counting the links. Nevertheless, I forged on with my treble crochets. When I got to the end, I tried a turning chain. Onward through single crochets, double crochets, and half-double crochets. After I got back to the treble crochet row, I stopped and looked at what I'd done.

It looked like crochet. The movements were becoming more natural. I had started to believe I could remember which stitches had yarn-overs where. But my sampler was too narrow. I unzipped it, rolled the yarn back up, and started again with a longer foundation chain.

This time I felt better about my understanding of the chain. And the crocheting went quickly. But when I stopped at about the same point, I found that I had lost two stitches somewhere along the way. I looked carefully to try to understand where. It looked like I had missed a stitch in the middle of a row at one point, and maybe mistakenly started with the second stitch at another point ... or maybe missed crocheting into the turning chain at the end of a row, it was hard to tell.

I ripped it out again. I have nothing to show for my hour of crocheting -- no swatch, no scarf in process. But something changed today nevertheless. The stitches made sense. The hand movements started to come naturally. There's still some trick or some taking-care that I am missing -- something akin to the knowledge, so rarely imparted to the new knitter, that if you turn your work and the yarn is at the back, you're going to add an extra stitch because that first stitch is pulled over and is going to look like two on the left needle. But you're not a failure as a knitter because your first piece grows every row, unintentionally. You are just in need of that next step of awareness or information that will keep your stitches at the right number.

And so, faster than I had thought possible, I am a crocheter. The world of crochet seems open before me. I am confident that I can figure out what I need to figure out, YouTube and Ravelry what still doesn't make sense. Launching into learning a new skill -- or teaching it to yourself -- is always a bit dicey right at the beginning. What if you don't get it? Does that mean that your learning and growing days are over? So it's a relief to find that I'm still able to pick up something new. I am still a student. I am still learning.


The Sensible Seamstressq said...

Although you haven't even hinted about requiring or even asking me to learn a new skill, as well, I now feel like I'd better do it so that I can fully participate in the class, if only as a well-wisher, question-asker, devil's-advocate, comment-poster, student-encourager, or whatever the heck I'm going to be! So I'll go get the book you mention - which company publishes it? I have one crochet hook already...

aw, heck, I need to do it anyway so I can add something called "shrimp edge stitch" or some such ridiculously named thing to the edges of sweaters.

Congratulations on mastering the first steps!

The Sensible Seamstress said...

Ah, never mind about the book - I just noticed you'd linked to it. I'll check into it.

Luckily, my friends at the yarn store can crochet, as well, and can help me on Wednesday nights!

Donna B. said...

Yes, I absolutely should have informed you of that requirement! And the edging you're probably thinking of is crab stitch -- I read the directions on how to do it in the book but haven't tried it yet.