Happy New Year peeps! I don’t know about you, but in the cold, grey doldrums of January my mind naturally does turn to the year ahead and the sort of goals I want to set for myself. Perhaps it’s just a way of cheering myself up after the Christmas season has ended, and I’ll freely admit some of these goals never get met, but even thinking about them helps to energise me. I don’t do resolutions per se, but I do like to have some ambitions in mind for the year, and one or two of those will always involve either learning new crafts or new techniques for existing crafts.

The Knitting Lesson by Eugene von Blaas

The Knitting Lesson by Eugene von Blaas

Which brings me neatly on to my topic for this month: learning a new craft. Much as I might want to be able to master a new craft technique instantly, there’s usually a steep learning curve involved and sometimes the patterns I choose are beyond my level of ability. However, I love a good challenge and attempting the (nearly) impossible is always fun.

But what about getting started in the first place? Do you remember your first time?

Picking up the baton:

I’ll always remember how I was introduced to my favourite textile crafts. Sewing was very much learned at my mother’s knee, and I have fond memories of sitting embroidering with her when I was off school ill (she never made me go in when I felt poorly). Likewise, knitting was taught to me by her mother, my Nanny Moya. To be honest, she wasn’t much of a knitter and preferred smoking, drinking, betting on the horses and oil painting (which she was pretty talented at). However, when I was about eight she sat me and my sisters down with some plastic knitting needles and horrible pastel pink acrylic yarn, then proceeded to teach us the basics of garter stitch.

While the sewing stuck with me and is something I’ve dabbled with all my life, knitting fell by the wayside as soon as my favourite doll had a scarf. I didn’t bother with it again until about five years ago, when a lovely woman who ran a children’s craft group I took my daughter to decided to teach me all over again. This time it stuck, and I’ve been knitting ever since.

The Colour Book of Crochet

The book that got me started

Beret

The beret that turned into a Rasta hat

Crochet, on the other hand, is something I’ve had to teach myself using books. Back in the mid-nineties I was

lucky enough to find myself a second-hand book on crochet with some fantastic line drawings and explanations of the basic stitches (something a lot of modern books don’t seem to be able to equal). Of course, the patterns were very 70s and as I didn’t pay any attention to the concept of tension or gauge, the hat I crocheted looked absolutely ridiculous. It might have been big enough to fit over my mass of dreadlocks, but the wannabee Rasta look really wasn’t working for me!

Passing it on:

To my mind, one of the most rewarding things about learning a craft is in passing that knowledge on to someone else. Of course, it can be ever so slightly galling when they really devote themselves to it and their skills quickly surpass yours, but I’m also really proud of all the people I’ve got started who’ve then gone on to greater things. I just remind myself that I’m too much of a craft omnivore to attain true mastery of any one craft—a Jo of all trades, perhaps 🙂

Paula's scarf

Paula’s very first knitting project

Over the years I’ve taught many different crafts—some professionally in a workshop setting, like mosaic making, furniture painting, trompe l’oeil painting—and many others to friends who’ve expressed an interest and were willing to sit still long enough for me to show them. It’s my latest student I’m most proud of, however. My good friend Paula has always told herself she didn’t have the patience to learn to knit, but over the last few months she’s made herself a gorgeous, oversized garter stitch scarf using chunky yarn. It looks amazing on her, and best of all, after a few early panicked “fix-it” sessions with me, she gained so much confidence that she was able to diagnose a lot of her own mistakes and fix them all by herself. I’m hoping to teach her a few more stitches this next year, and I’m going to really enjoy having a close friend to go yarn shopping with!

Options for learning a new craft:

  • Find a good book. Stitch ’N Bitch by Debbie Stoller is a classic for learning the basics of knitting and I still refer to it occasionally. Ask other experienced crafters which books they’d recommend to a beginner.
  • Find a crafty friend and bribe them to teach you all their arcane secrets. It helps if they’re the patient sort who aren’t going to make you feel silly when you make all those mistakes that are bound to happen. If you don’t have a crafty friend, you might be able to join a local group of crafters who meet up and persuade one of them to teach you. It’s been my experience that the vast majority of crafters are really keen to pass on their skills to newbies.

    cary_grant_knitting-thumb-430x322-119215

    Cary Grant learning to knit

  • Search for local classes and workshops. These days many yarn shops and haberdasheries make ends meet by offering short crafting courses. I’m spoiled for choice even in my rural Somerset town!
  • Search online. Not only are there thousands of wonderful free tutorials out there for almost any craft you can imagine (in text and photo or in video, depending on your preference), but you can also sign up for more advanced, paid for classes at venues like Craftsy.com. I’ve only just started my Craftsy adventure but I can see that it’s excellent value for money and will definitely be signing up for more in the future. You can work at your own pace through the video tutorials, interact with your teacher, chat to other students and download all kinds of helpful materials.

My personal crafting goals for 2013:

This year I aim to make a new item of clothing every month. Many of these will be dressmaking projects as that’s much quicker than knit or crochet, but by the end of the year I do want to own at least two more cardigans made by my own fair hands (one of which will be my Craftsy project, Jennifer Hansen’s Rebel Lace Cardi), along with a couple of more luxurious items for wearing out to cabaret evenings, such as some lacy opera gloves and a filigree shawl. I also want to have made a few macramé items (a belt and a bracelet), and to have fully mastered the skills of broomstick lace and hairpin lace.

I’d also like to introduce at least one more person to the joys of knitting or crochet. So many of my friends say they’d love to but they don’t have the time. I’m just going to have to help them find it!

How did you learn your favourite crafts? Have you passed those skills on to anyone else yet? And do you have any specific crafting goals for 2013? Do share! I’m terribly nosey like that ;D

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Josephine Myles first learnt to crochet when she was eighteen. After making one beret that turned into a teacosy and frustrated at the crappy choice of yarn in her local shops, she decided the craft just wasn’t for her. Fast forward ten years, and having a bun in the oven prompted Jo to pick up her hook again to crochet some teeny-tiny baby things. Fortunately, by this time the world had caught up with her and there were all kinds of sexy yarns out there to indulge in. A few years later she taught herself knitting and dressmaking, and she hasn’t looked back since.

When she’s not busy with yarn or sewing machine, Jo can be found with her head in a book, pottering in the garden or running around after her daughter. She should probably get back to writing the steamy manlove novels, shouldn’t she?

Jo’s website and blog: http://josephinemyles.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/JosephineMyles
Facebook author page: http://www.facebook.com/josephine.myles.authorpage
Ravelry profile: http://www.ravelry.com/people/Anna-Jo

All photographs either the author’s own, or now out of copyright.