Friday, August 11, 2017

The Teacher/Student Relationship

Much can be gleaned from knitting together, side by side with a fellow crafter.  In past posts, Kate and I have explained projects and processes of our collaborative yarn bombing efforts but have not touched on the mutual relationship that has transpired. 

Typically, our projects start with an idea, followed by a meeting then quick communications back and forth to answer questions or status updates on the work we’re creating.  Up until our most recent project, we have been quite successful working together in this manner.

We are currently working on a more complicated design for our next public install.  I created a pattern template, described it in person to Kate, sent photos and descriptions of the pattern via email and so forth.  We thought we were on the same page but variations in our work confused us.  What was happening in our knitting that was different from one another? 

The Social aspect of learning in a group

As Kate outlined in her previous post, Knitting Circles and KAL’s provide an environment with social and educational merit.  Knitters gather to show off projects, socialize and help one another with their projects.  This setting allows for advanced knitters to offer advice and encouragement to novice knitters – or to anyone who just can’t figure out what’s happening in their knitting process.  (Sometimes it takes an extra set of eyes to determine what is happening spatially when knitting.)  Kate and I determined a KAL was in order. Kate and I are colleagues but we quickly noticed that our relationship at this moment was teacher/student.  I put down my knitting, watched her work, recognized the problem and began to teach her through hands on method where the problem lay.  It was only through this shared experience were we able to solve the problem. 

By teaching and working with Kate, I gleaned a deeper understanding of the knit stitch and Kate recognized that simple maneuvers really do make a difference.  Also during this process I began to think of our re-crafting math lab in a bigger context.  Is there something to the knitting circle environment (and the social engagement) that breaks down the barriers of worry, anxiety, frustration and feelings of “not knowing” from a classroom setting and allows for a more healthy learning environment – one in which sets the stage for confident learners?  What is the thin line that creates a trusting and non-threatening relationship of the shared environment of a knitting circle – where one sometimes doesn’t even realize they’re learning? 

A knitting circle evolves and is constantly changing.  The teacher/student relationship isn’t static. Is there something to be learned from that alone?

Yarn bomb banner front, two color knitting

Back, where Kate and I realized there was a problem

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Traditional practices today

In past posts, we have unpacked descriptions of the traditional crafting practices of female crafting groups. These practices were and are inherently social and collaborative in nature and comprise countless word-of-mouth inheritances by younger crafters from older crafters with more expertise. Though the production of crafting materials has become commercialized, traditional collaborative norms have persisted in knitting circles and other fiber art craft groups. 

Social craft leads to skill development

Knitters often knit together. Groups of mostly-female crafters are in yarn shops daily, knitting together through KALs and showing each other how to fix mistakes. When newer knitters drop stitches,  a knitter with more experience is able to take the wool into her own hands and show the novice how to pick up each stitch. Much of this learning seems to happen on an unplanned and as-needed basis. 

Conversations extend far beyond the craft-chat. Through previous ethnographic work, we have observed and engaged in the more personal and emotional aspects of this so-called 'social craft'. While knitting together, crafters often open up about relationship challenges, familial issues, and disagreements with galpals. In many instances, the knitters do not know each other well or even outside of the yarn shop at all, but the outpouring of social and emotional engagement is seemingly effortless and comfortable. 

Yarn bombing - a present manifestations of past practices

For decades (maybe even centuries), crafting norms have been shared and passed through the female lineage and percolate in the communities today. Angela and I experience the continuation of these behaviors and norms in our own collaborative yarn bomb work.

Throughout the design process for the ongoing yarn bomb project, Angela and I met often to talk through the parameters of the pieces and compare knits. Angela created the final project pattern template for the knitted pieces for our bombs. We chose to delegate pieces of the bomb. Over weeks of knitting separately, we realized that our pieces looked different, even though we both referenced the same pattern. Though these variations were not undesirable, we were puzzled by what could be happening differently for each of us in our processes of making. We also realized that we had not spent much time knitting side by side, even with all of our previous observations of other women knitting together! 

We aligned our stockinette stitch patterns by knitting together.

We changed our practice with a return to traditional knitting norms: we got together to work through the pattern side by side. This type of collaborative crafting is quite different than solo knitting. Through we each had our own materials and needles, we were able to see the progress and process of the other in real time. We were also able to uncover the missing pieces to our variance mystery. 

Angela noticed that my technique for purling was not quite right. (I had recently switched to continental knitting, but had not normalized the technique for myself yet). My purl technique was essentially inside out, causing the stitch to look slightly different and take up a little less space on the needle than the correct form. 

Over time and space, this small sizing discrepancy led to a larger overall difference. Since we were together, Angela was able to use both language and motion to help me visualize my mistake and correct the technique. Similarly to the events we previously observed in yarn shops, she took my needles and yarn out of my hands and tinked then re-knitted some of my stitches herself. 

When purling continental, the working yarn must come over the top of the needle.

I am not sure how I would have unlearned and relearned this knitting technique in the absence of another knitter. Further, it seems that it was essential for Angela and I to knit together, for texted descriptions and images of our work were not allowing us to solve the puzzling case of variation across our work. The critical clue was in the spatial elements of the movement.

We intend to highlight traditional female crafts and mathematics through our yarn bombs.

There is value in crafting together. These experiences allow us to connect experientially to knitters and crafters of the past. Those women carried a deep understanding of the significance of creating together, which have transcended generational boundaries across female crafters and allow us to Make together today.