When I first learned how to knit as a child, I did so mostly on my own. I recall studying that black and white booklet with illustrations of knit stitches and needles while sitting on the floor of my basement in Toronto. When I talk about learning to knit, I think I make it sound like I did it all by myself… which is, of course, untrue. As a kid wandering the yarn aisle of K-mart with my parents, my mother noticed and supported my obsession for knitting by purchasing my first-ever sweater quantity of yarn. And then again, her set of crafty friends showed me how to knit cables and donated their leftover yarn stashes to me when I was in high school so I could play with all new textures and try to make colour combinations for fair isle. My learning how to knit was made better by these other knitters around me.
Similarly, when I learned to spin, I describe it as teaching myself from yet another black and white pamphlet and a video of Judith Mackenzie. But again, this is a simplification. Because I really, really learned to spin when I took a local spinning class with a longtime spinning and weaving teacher, Irene Weisner. She encouraged me to join the local spinners and weavers’ guild and then eventually (not so) subtly nudged me towards learning to weave.
When I think about learning new things, there are plenty of experiences we need to have on our own. The sensory feel of fibre passing through your fingers… The indescribable understanding of how much tension with which to hold your yarn when you make those knit stitches… Observing and knowing exactly when to add another layer of dye or when to swish the yarn around… There are lots of things you need to figure out on your own, in your own time, and in your own space. However, I believe simply helping others accelerates and enhances learning.
Both my kids are starting school this September. Russell is entering kindergarten and Nina begins preschool. I’m sure that Russell could have picked up many things from just hanging out with me from ages 0 to 5, but being part of a preschool for the past couple years has accelerated his learning and exposed him to a variety of experiences that I could not (or didn’t have the energy to) expose him to. There’s only so much we can do on our own.
Being a part of a knitting community or spinning guild and attending their meetings in the past (when I had more free time in the evenings) absolutely inspired new project ideas and new learning goals. Just being surrounded by people who are passionate about the same things as you can drive you to do more with your craft.
I think a great deal about learning and communities these days as I’m in the thick of re-launching our School of SweetGeorgia. Since May 2017, I’ve been focused on building an online school where knitters, spinners, dyers, weavers, and more can learn colour theory and fibre arts techniques in a very indepth video-based format. Last year, I launched two lengthy courses to teach the fundamentals of hand-dyeing yarns and creating complex colourways. Looking back, I recognize that it was a ton of content; a lot for someone to absorb, process, and put into practice… especially if that someone is doing it all alone.
This is the crux of the reason for re-designing the School of SweetGeorgia from scratch. We learn better when we learn together. We learn better when we learn in community with each other.
The new School of SweetGeorgia (I’m calling it SOS 2.0) is being built gradually, month-by-month, with new content planned for release regularly. But in addition to the library of courses, tutorials, and content, one of the main features of the School will be the Community. The Community forums are where we can connect and share about the things we’ve made and dyed, but more than that, I want it to become a place where we share and track our learning progress while encouraging other members on their own learning journeys. I want it to become THE place where all the members of the School of SweetGeorgia come to chat and connect.
Sure, there is no shortage of the way we can connect these days. The ubiquitous presence of Facebook and Instagram and the never-ending stream of finished object photos and beautiful handmade projects will likely never cease. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like Instagram is a portfolio platform to showcase your best work, but it’s not a community. The community exists within the comments and messages that flow back and forth on Instagram. Similarly, Facebook has hundreds of thousands of people who are self-identified knitters or spinners… and Ravelry has more than 6 million knitters registered, but they are not all my community. There are the like-minded, kindred spirits that I have met in my years (online and in-person) that have become, for me, what feels like community.
My dream is for our School of SweetGeorgia to become a true place of learning for the fibre arts.
That means content as well as community. I’m working on creating and writing about those deep explorations of colour and how it applies to spinning, weaving, dyeing, and knitting and I’m doing my best to make it accessible and understandable for someone studying the material on its own. But tell me, how much better would it be to learn and experiment in a circle with trusted friends? How much better would it be to get encouragement and support for what you’re wrestling with? And how much better would it be to celebrate your successes with a community of fibre-loving friends who are there to cheer you on, rather than to compete with you?
We learn better when we learn in community with each other and I’m looking forward to learning together with you. See you inside the School!