Sunday, December 4, 2011

What I did with my Friday

Or: The Things I Get Out of Knitting Classes That I Can't Get Out of a Book

What did I do with my Friday?  Briefly, this:
And why I was I dancing on the tabletops, you ask?  It was not just an example of my ever-present joie de vivre (at least, not in this case).  Rather, I was letting people get a closer look at this:
So that everyone in the class would know to finish turning their heels when they'd gotten as far as this (if you embiggen, you'll see that there's a piece of yarn being held across my foot at the sweet spot for heel finishing):
(I admit that when the building manager happened to peek in at this moment, he looked a bit worried; I'm sure he was wondering just what kinds of knitting-related accidents were covered under his insurance policy.)  The good news is that no knitters were harmed in the making of these photos, even though I'd climbed up there with not one but two Signature dpns in the top of that sock.  (Notice how wisely I'm balancing myself with a hand on the ceiling?  I was trying to behave like a grown-up.)

So there you go.  My Friday was spent taking a class with Cat Bordhi at my favorite LYS in the whole world (as you all know): Yarning For You (thanks, Deb!).  I can't tell you how grateful I am to have an LYS in my backyard that creates learning opportunities like this (and others; her class schedule is always busy).
 And I loved every minute of it.

People sometimes ask whether a knitting class (or retreat, or...) like this is worth the money and the time it takes to do the homework and come to the class.  The question is usually asked along with something like, "but couldn't you just learn that from the book/pattern/website/YouTube video?"  And the answer to that part is yes, of course.  I'm a pretty smart chicken, all things considered (and you are, too), so there's almost no technique that I (or you) couldn't learn from one of those places, if we put our minds to it.  That said, I don't think I've ever been to a class that I didn't think was worth it in the end, and I've been trying all weekend to articulate the reasons for that in my own head, so that maybe I'll have a chance at coming up with something vaguely intelligent when asked that question in the future.  Since you are always so patient with my musings, I'm using you as guinea pigs for my potential answer(s) - lucky you.

My thoughts keep circling around - there are so many reasons - but I think that the heart of the matter, the place they're centering on, is this: knitting is a practical craft, like cooking, but it can also be, at its best, a practical art.  I am a huge fan of the Arts and Crafts movement, and of its essential, foundational philosophy that things which are practical can and should also be beautiful in ways that derive directly from, and enhance, their practical purposes.  Knitting is uniquely suited to fulfilling that vision.  But in order to at least attempt, some of the time, to make my craft into art, I need to understand the fundamental building blocks of that craft.  I need to know how knitted garments are put together; I need to know the way that knitted stitches are formed on the needles; I need to understand what yarn is and how yarn interacts with the knitted stitch to create garments, and how those things together can work to cover the human body (or whatever else we're covering at any given moment) both usefully and beautifully.  The more I know about those things, the better my knitting is.

Knitting classes serve my desire to learn in so many ways.  For one thing, if they do nothing else, they create time.  They say that I believe that my learning and the eventual products of that learning are worthy of the effort involved in carving out space to focus.  Once I go to an all-day class like this one, I'm essentially saying that my knitting is worth the commitment of that whole day.  I realize that non-knitters may not understand this, but I think it's critical.  It is so easy to say that we'll spend a whole day at home knitting, only to find that any one of a myriad of other important concerns have eaten into our time.  I have the urge sometimes to go out to the garage and turn on power tools to protect my knitting time - people so rarely interrupt someone who's working with a table saw, have you noticed?

Then, there are also the techniques that are the most obvious purpose of the class (the stuff on the syllabus, as it were) - in this case, it was to learn about Cat Bordhi's Sweet Tomato Heel (that link is for the ebook, which I will be buying; I like almost every sock in there, and this heel fits like a glove).
In itself, that's worth the price of admission (especially since I immediately absconded with it and used it for the toe of my sock as well).  In the end, even if a class ends up presenting a technique that I will never, ever use again, it's still something in my toolbox, a skill that has taught me more about how knitting (or maybe Knitting) works.  If I were a painter, it seems to me that even if I thought that pastels were the total bomb - the only way to paint, EVER - I would still need to have at least tried oils.  If nothing else, painting with oils might teach me something about canvas, about how it absorbs and reacts with paint - it might give me more reasons to love pastels, and more ideas about how to exploit the properties of pastels to make even better art.  I'm not a painter, so maybe what I just said is a bunch of hooey.  But I bet you get my point.

And then there's the pleasure of spending time with people, both the teacher and my fellow students, who are in and of themselves founts of knowledge about knitting.  People who also find knitting to be interesting and compelling, and who have maybe thought of techniques, or thought about knitting, in ways that I haven't. 
Cat and I had one of those conversations. 
 It turns out that she had to take a linguistics class when she was training to be a teacher, and she loved it.  (As any sensible person would.)  And she has had some seriously amazing thoughts about the ways in which the tools that linguists use to analyze language could be applied to thinking analytically about knitting.  That is worth an entire post on its own, and believe me, there will be one.

Often, those conversations are what I think about the longest after the class is over.

So there you have it.  At least some of the reasons why I spend my time and money on knitting classes, when I can afford to do it.  How about you?


Nana Sadie said...

I come here, not just because you and I are friends, but because I learn so much from the way you think, and I marvel at the way you are able to present it!
I agree. I get a great deal more out of teaching in a classroom setting than using either a book or a YouTube video, but at least a portion of that is learning by doing, which is truly my favorite way to learn. In many classes, tho', I've had the problem of too many people and too little time with the teacher. Hence the reason I cannot fathom spindle spinning, tho' I did take a 1/2 day course with the "best of the best" spinning teachers at Sock Summit. It was just a case of too many students for a person to assist in the process, IMHO.

But it appears that the class you attended wasn't that way, and I'm delighted...I'm also glad to know that you didn't fall on your Signatures when the Building Manager peaked in!

lori said...

What an excellent post, because I've wondered about this question. I've never taken a knitting class of any kind, because I always thought I could just learn it myself. Plus I'm so shy. There are usually some very good opportunities right here in NYC -- at Knitty City, in particular -- so maybe I'll woman up and take the next one that fits. Thank you for articulating this, and for answering the question you didn't know I had! :)

Gwen said...


Also, feedback. Alone, we mire ourselves in doubt (sometimes we're right to doubt).

But the time of a class - oh yes!

Willow said...

I'm normally a solitary knitter but I completely agree with you on the serendipity of being with other knitters. So much more happens than just the knitting (although the knitting is, as you say, completely worth the time). Lately, I've been on the teaching end of the needles and that is really fun too.

Wanderingcatstudio said...

Before I read the story - at first I thought you were doing and impromptu highland fling!

Lynne said...

I know people, as I'm sure you do too, who call themselves knitters because they knit. But all they need is the pattern to be well written and following a standard formula, and the ability to read and follow instructions! They care about the craft but have no idea that knitting can be an art!
About fifteen years ago I realised that there was something deep inside of me that was yearning to be released; that couldn't be satisfied with following the patterns and designs of other artists -- whether they were knitters, crocheters, quilters, embroiderers, cross stitchers or folk artists -- and so I took classes in landscape painting. Although I rarely paint these days, quilting having absorbed my interest for now, I learnt heaps about colour and design and they can be applied to any art/craft endeavour.
Learning about how knitting works is almost more important to me than being able to perform a certain technique. I have always taught my D: learn to read your knitting, not the pattern - that way you will be able to say "This is where I have gone wrong and this is why" rather than "What’s wrong with my knitting?"

Allison said...

"And she has had some seriously amazing thoughts about the ways in which the tools that linguists use to analyze language could be applied to thinking analytically about knitting. That is worth an entire post on its own, and believe me, there will be one."

Oh, good! I heard about this conversation from Pam and was instantly envious...

Jane said...

Looks like fun, and a class you're not likely to forget in a hurry.

Robin said...

Excellent post. It would be great if you could follow up with your thoughts on the "ideal" knitting class: size, topics, length, etc. Large, lecture size classes (e.g. Sock Summit) versus intimate LYS settings, etc.
Thanks for "thinking" about knitting.

Carrie#K said...

The far fetched excuses one will dream up to explain away one's dancing on the tabletops..... :)

The class sounds wonderful! Cat Bordhi! /swoons.

I agree with you that any classes or retreats I've gone on are well worth the time and money. There's something about being taught person to person, in person that videos and not even (gasp/sob) books can touch and the camaraderie, surrounded by a group of fellow knitters is hard to describe or surpass.

Oooh. I'm really looking forward to your linguistic/knitting post.

jo said...

Your analysis of why a knitting class is so articulate. Mine is much more simplistic. In every class I've ever taken, I've come away with at least one gem that has made my knitting better (in terms of product quality), more efficient, or more interesting. this includes a couple of classes I took with my sister when she began knitting a few years ago. They were classes about topics that I had already studied, but still very worthwhile. Like you, the process of dedicating time to improve my knitting and the delightful people who share my obsession make taking classes bpth worthwhile and fun.


P.S. I will look forward to the post on linguistics and knitting.

Mary Lou said...

Great post - thanks for taking the time to write it. And I recognize Deb from your LYS - I had dinner with her at TNNA last year, and we had a blast. I've taken a took a class with Cat at TNNA once, on a subject I knew I would probably not use a great deal - a moebius basket, but I wanted to experience her teaching. Well worth it. I always think there is so much to learn from fellow students, as well. When I was teaching myself to go beyond basic knitting, it never occurred to me to go to a yarn shop and ask for help. I don't think there were lots of classes around, but I could have progressed much more quickly with company, I'm sure.

EGunn said...

I'm glad you had a good class! Honestly, I don't take a lot of knitting classes. I've had a few mediocre experiences, where the teacher was tired or distracted by needy students. It wasn't necessarily their fault, but I came out feeling that the money (and time!) could have been much better spent elsewhere. I've usually taken these classes at bigger fiber events, though, and I wonder if that has something to do with it. Dunno, but you're right that there is always something new to be learned, and it's often something unexpected!

Alwen said...

I am very much an introvert and easily pick things up from books, BUT I have twice been lucky enough to take lace-knitting classes from Galina Khmeleva.

Two of the things you mentioned that really resonate with me are time and the company of other knitters who value the skill enough to want to polish a particular facet of it.

I recently was able to get back to a lace group I helped co-found years ago, and one of the things I always valued about that group was the wonderful cross-pollination that happened. Different people do the same things differently. It's so fascinating to see and handle and go home with new ideas fizzing in my head!

(Verification word tonight is "aingual", made by bashing "ain't" and "lingual" into one another.)

twinsetjan said...

I trust Cat told you about the institute for forensic knitting!? You could be the staff linguist. I'm the staff strategist.

Your strategy of taking classes from the masters works for me!

twinsetellen said...

It's jazz, that's what it is. You study the fundamentals and you get together with other musicians to play and trade riffs. And I am in total agreement on the comment that it makes the statement that your craft is worthy of a day's investment, and it would be so hard to devote a day to it otherwise.

I'm so glad it was great. I am a bit disillusioned to learn that the hand in the air was not a wild flourish but was really a brace. I am going to continue to believe it was a vibrant gesture, despite your statement to the contrary.

Stell said...

I agree - even when I attend a class that is on something I know a lot about there is always a new approach or a wee trick or tip that makes being in a group of knitters so much better than learning in isolation. A little envious that there was a class with CB ..... that is a great fibre shop to organise that.