Converting A Newbie To The Dark And Crafty Side…

Everything I learned about teaching, I learned in child care.

Learning a new skill can be intimidating. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh I couldn’t do that, I’m not creative?” Not to worry, there are things you can do that help the nervous new crafter blossom into a happy, healthy, and helpless yarn fiend, like moi. 😉

Anxiety sucks!

Everyone has anxieties. I get nervous entering new groups of people, starting this blog has been extremely anxiety producing and I really get freaked out having to leave my cozy apartment sometimes. Everyone has at least some anxiety. One very common anxiety is fear of being bad at creativity and making art.

I’m not quite sure when people start to seize up, because I can attest to children’s utter fearlessness when confronted with art materials. However, by the time we make it out of grade school, most of us have become convinced that only the special few, the artists, can make beautiful things. Not ordinary shmoes like you and I.

That is nonsense and I can prove it! Once again, string can come to the rescue.

Through trial and error I have amassed a few reliable and effective concepts and tips to calm a newbie’s fears. Granted, I learned most of this teaching preschoolers for 20+ years, but believe me, it works on grown-ups too.

Children Finger Painting Without Fear, Homi Craft.
Children Finger Painting Without Fear.

It’s a lot easier then it looks.

One: The very first thing to tell a new crafter is that the definition of a good craft is that it should look much more complicated then it is. Art is quite different in that respect. A crafter just needs to master a handful of basic movements and then just do them over and over until eventually they enter that blissful state of timeless time that is so soothing and focused. That is the Zen of String. Pure mindfulness.

Creativity is not needed, or it’s needed mostly in short bursts. The rest of the time you can gab or catch a movie, while crafting, all without missing a stitch.

Great Beginner String Things

Two: Pick a craft to start with that has very easy movements. I never start a new crafter on crochet or knitting. Once you are used to the movements they are both wonderful crafts but getting the motions from your brain to your hands is frustrating at first. We need to have success in order to gain enough confidence to tolerate the awkwardness and discomfort of mastering a brand new skill.

I have two tried and true crafts that I always start people on, redwork outline embroidery (see picture below) and kumihimo (Japanese multi-strand braiding, see the picture above). I will most likely go over teaching tips for these two exceptionally enjoyable, inexpensive, and welcoming crafts in my future posts. If you can’t wait until then check out the links at the bottom of this post for a quick overview.

Redwork doodle embroidery by Cloud CouCou Crafts

Redwork doodle embroidery by Cloud CouCou Crafts.

Teach a skill, step by step

Three: Break the skills down into their discrete movements and teach them in order. It takes a bit of concentration to take a skill that feels effortless and figure out exactly what you are doing, bit by bit.

For example, when I start someone on embroidery I usually get them to draw their most common doodle on a scrap of cotton, then I teach them how to put the fabric in the hoop, how tight the fabric should feel, how to thread a needle with embroidery floss which is not obvious! How to use a needle threader, how to pick an appropriate needle, how to make a waste knot, and what a good length of thread is. And only then I finally teach them how to do an outline stitch, the only stitch one needs to create an utterly personal and unique piece of redwork embroidery. It sounds more complicated then it is.

Usually I have a happy and confidant new embroiderer up and running and ready to try more complicated stitches within one or two hours. But if you miss any of those steps there will be unnecessary frustration, which might scare the timid newbie away from the Dark Side Of The String, which would really be a pity.

And lots and lots of admiration and encouragement never go amiss either!

Forget Perfection!

Four: And lastly (for now), repeat this message often, “Perfect is the enemy of creativity; avoid it like the plague!”  It sounds counter-intuitive I know, but it is very true.

My weaving teacher, a Goddess Of String named Roberta, once gave me a compliment that I absolutely treasure. As I was weaving she stopped at my loom to examine the edges of my weaving, the selvages. Weavers always look at the selvages first. She told me that they were imperfect enough to show that a human wove the cloth by hand and perfect enough to show that it was woven well. Thank you Roberta!

Interestingly imperfect selvage on my Rose-Coloured Rosepath. (Renata Bursten, 2016)

She was right to admire the imperfection. Machines make perfect things with no variation, that is their strength. Humans are imperfect, there is room for ‘happy accidents’, flaws that become features if the crafter can just let go of harsh self-criticism and perfectionism. Learn to appreciate the process more then the product. The process is where the Zen of String is, the finished crafts are just the cool by-products.

If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?’

Think of learning a new craft as a great opportunity to practice being kind to your creative crafty self. Encourage the new crafter to be as nice to themselves as they would be to a beloved friend. After all, as the great modern philosopher, RuPaul says, ‘If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?’

Can I get an Amen up in here?

Hoping you find your Stringy Bliss,

Baba StringThings (aka Renata from Winnipeg)

Great Links to Crafts I Mentioned:

Nordic Needle’s Excellent Guide To Redwork

Quick Intro To Kumihimo

Author: Baba StringThings

I am a middle-aged mother of three grown-up sons, a thrifty, creative, and dedicated born-again spinster, and I have a serious string addiction. I teach crochet, knitting, bobbin lacemaking, hand-embroidery, weaving, spinning, kumihimo, darning, mending, and how to upcycle clothing. When I'm not doing that I pretty much play with string. All. The. Time. And I have an unholy love of Pinterest.

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