Monday, May 28, 2012

Stretching Your Boundaries and Building Your Skill Set

I belong to a fantastic knit group on Ravelry that emulates the Hogwart's House Cup from the beloved Harry Potter series in which we have "classes" and "homework" that earns our "houses" points in an imaginary world.  Often our homework assignments prompt us to push our boundaries and try techniques we've never attempted or have been reluctant to try.  This, and my willing participation, have been an incredible learning opportunity for me.  I've been energized to stretch my boundaries and build my skill set.  Not only does this give me more techniques to draw from when I design, but broadens my fundamental understanding of the craft, making me a better teacher.  I HIGHLY recommend participation in this or like groups.  Learning new skills in this manner isn't a chore... it's creative fun.  I never expected to gain so much from a game.

So, what skills have I learned because of my participation?

Yarn dyeing.  LOVE IT! Probably one of my all time favorite activities.  Am I opening my own shop of hand dyed fibers?  Not yet, but I dream of offering a line someday.  I still have a lot to learn and lots of experimenting to do yet and I'm excited.  Please, go out, buy a inexpensive skein of wool and a couple packets of koolaid or food coloring and some vinegar.  Do a craft project with your kids or take some private time for yourself and revel in the magic!

Steeking - the SCARIEST knitting technique ever wasn't really anything to be scared of at all.  Granted, I don't do a lot of it, but I'm not afraid of it anymore and encourage everyone to give it a try.  It can be the most amazing time saver and opens up millions of possibilities.

Illusion knitting.  Cute and fun, I like this technique for fun little home projects.  I've only made a couple of simple washcloths, but I've seen gorgeous scarfs and shawls done with this technique and I think an afghan done with a monogram would be an amazing gift.

I've learned to felt, both by machine and hand.  Am I proficient?  No, not in my book, but each project makes me more confident.  Learning to felt by hand was a huge eye-opener.  I used to be really afraid of accidentally felting yarn whilst dyeing or washing a project.  Not anymore.  Accidental felting takes an amazing mistake like unknowingly throwing a garment in the washing machine or not paying attention to your actions.  It actually takes a LOT to felt yarn.  Seriously.  Knit a swatch and hand felt it in your sink and tell me if I lie.

And, most recently, I've learned Shibori - a Japanese dimensional felting technique.  Oh the possibilities.  Suddenly I have thousands of ideas for fun children's and high-fashion accessories, and the technique is so easy and fun, I'm even considering teaching this!

And how have I grown?

Oh so many ways!  My yarn tension has improved.  My gauge is more accurate and consistent throughout my projects.  I'm less fearful and more willing to try new patterns and techniques.  I'm more capable of bringing my design ideas to fruition.  I have more hands on experience with mistakes to relate to my students - which sounds stupid, but you can only teach what you know and being able to say "Oh yeah, I've done that.  I fixed it by..." goes a LONG way.

Have you stretched your boundaries or built your knitting skills through an unexpected outlet?  Tell me about  it.  Share your experience here.