I attended my first quilting class today at the Quilting Box and this is what I achieved. I have done some quilting over the years, and been quite pleased with what I have achieved but I knew I had a lot more to learn – I just didn’t quite know what. Textile crafts have so much to tell us about learning in general.
I joined an ongoing class where participants make a series of 12 inch squares, each one from a different quilting pattern. It was social and inspiring to see what others had achieved. I started with log cabin that I had done many years ago. Prior to the class, I had chosen fabrics to use for this square and subsequent ones in my quilt.
Something I have learned from my recent baby quilt projects that are all about colour and fabric, was to be bold in choosing fabrics to go next to each other. Other people at the class commented on the strong colours I had chosen and liked the finished effect.
I brought my own sewing machine and bits and pieces to class but I did encounter some new technology – a square transparent ruler that helped me measure what I had done, a sewing machine foot that helped me make 1/4 inch seams and flat-headed pins to mark places where I had gone wrong. But what I really learned from dear Edna, the teacher, was how to make a perfect 12 inch square by measuring and correction. So I measured and cut the fabric pieces and sewed the seams as accurately as I could, and then Edna showed me how to press and measure at each second round so that errors could be marked with a flat headed pin and corrected on the next seam.
The measuring was under my control, for improvement not for a final judgement, and Edna was around for advice. That gave me the confidence to achieve a 12 inch square, knowing that I can also apply the measuring/correction technique to other projects. And I was delighted with the finished effect of the fabric combination. So checking, measuring and correcting are all part of learning, with a teacher to support learners’ development of confidence and resilience in a social setting with other learners. Even things that can’t be measured such as choosing fabric combinations are learned by individuals in social settings.
I am a fairly unprolific knitter who loves knitting. I do knit repeats of things I have knitted before, like the berry hat and Saartje bootees that I have knitted for many babies of those connected to me.
But what I really like in a new knitting project is a challenge, that it pushes me to learn new things. My most recently completed project is a the very lovely “I’m a little Teapot” tea cosy designed by June Dickinson of Simply Shetland. Here is the finished article in use today.
I discovered the pattern through my Twitter friend, a great knitter, @glittrgirl who tweeted her finished teacosy last year. I was also attracted by the promise from the pattern that it’s “a good small project for learning Fair Isle knitting and steeking”. Steeking – what a fabulous word – I wanted some of that even though I didn’t know what it was. Having had a slightly disastrous Fair Isle experience earlier, I wanted to make a fresh start and learn to do it better with the authentic yarn .
Steeking is a scary knitting concept as it involves cutting vertically through knitting – I can imagine knitters wincing if this is the first time they have heard of it – I know I did. Steeking is the strange twin of knitting in the round, a wonderful technique done using circular or sets of double-pointed needles that enables you to knit a tube with no seams. That works well for hats and socks but in sweaters, we need slits for our arms to go through, or in tea cosies, slits for the spout and handle of the tea pot. Here’s how Eunny Jang explains it:
In practice, setting, knitting, and slicing a steek is just a handy way to knit an entire sweater in the round by creating a bridge of waste stitches wherever a separation would be, i.e. between front and back for an armhole, or between the right and left sides of the neck, or all the way up the front of a cardigan.
I started the project in December, and it’s fair to say there have been ups and downs. I made several mistakes with the Fair Isle for the lettering. Eventually, after many froggings (ripping back to the error) I completed the basic knitting. I added the corrugated rib to the bottom of the cosy, and the Shale lace to the top, then I knitted the iCord drawstring. Now there was nothing left to do but to steek – I had to cut this knitting that had taken me months – it was terrifying! I had knitted the cosy in the recommended Shetland Spindrift, a ‘sticky’ yarn that I was promised would not unravel when I cut it.
Here is my unsteeked teacosy.
Fortunately @glittrgirl was at hand, she gave me a Skype tutorial in seeking that was one part technical information to nine parts confidence-building. I didn’t follow the pattern exactly – I just went with a cobbled together approach that we came up with. And then we had a nice juicy gossip about ed tech stuff.
So now, there was nothing else for it – I had to steek. I did ….. and all went well. The last steps were to knit around the turned back and stitched steeks; to finish off the lettering, as per the pattern; and also to correct my errors that I only spotted later. Can you spot them?
So how do I feel now that it’s finished?
First, I feel a massive sense of achievement – despite all of the mistakes and ripping back, I have produced a thing of beauty and no-one except me will be aware of the mistakes and recoveries. They will see, as I do, a delightful tea cosy, that will be used in lovely social situations involving tea, and possibly cakes and biscuits.
So that’s one product but what about learning?
I have learned to do Fair Isle knitting better than I could do before. I have learned to steek. I have learned to do knitting in the round with the two-circulars method.
But the more important learning for me is the possibility of recovery from mistakes; that doing the knitting and making mistakes can be pleasurable; that the learning in a project can hinge on mistakes; that the fragile and imperfect beauty of the end product can eclipse the mistakes; and that those enjoying the tea and admiring the cosy that kept it warm for the second cup won’t be a bit bothered about the mistakes.
What does that have to tell us about the experiences of learners in formal educational contexts? Can they call on more experienced others to help them through scary challenges? Do they feel safe to embrace mistakes and believe that they can recover from them? Are they proud of what they produce?
This story is dedicated to Heli Nurmi whom I have known since we worked together on the CCK08 MOOC in 2008. Heli blogs about open learning, and regularly participates in MOOCs. She has extensive experience of research and practice in education, brings much insight to discussions at blogs and on forums.
I have visited Finland twice- the first time in 1999 was to meet up with educators using digital technologies and the second time was to attend a conference in Turku in 2004.
On the first trip, with a colleague I travelled by train from Helsinki to a college in Kouvola, then on to the University of Tampere and back to Helsinki. Train journeys are a great way to see a country and I remember the landscape of lakes and forest we saw, though checking the map reveals how little of Finland I saw.
On one of our train journeys, we sat in a pair of seats facing two women, one old, one young. The older woman was very keen to speak to us though she spoke no English and we spoke no Finnish. She soon established that the younger Finnish woman spoke English and so she persuaded her to translate. We struck up a conversation about where we were going and where we came from.The translator seemed to become increasingly bored and uncomfortable until the older lady launched into an animated story that lasted about 5 minutes. Our translator turned to us, shrugged her shoulders, and said “Shit happens”. We smiled and got off the train at the station where we needed to change trains.
In writing this story, I struggled to remember details (apart from the memorable ending) and it occurs to me if either of the other women remembered the meeting they would very likely tell the story differently, as would my colleague.