Further notes on Creativity

A few years ago when I was in the middle of the editing process of my novel (http://www.dancingwithsilence.blogspot.com/) my sister sent me 2 framed pieces of Chinese calligraphy. The one I have positioned on top in my study is in the "portrait" direction and says DREAM, and the second, on the "landscape" horizontal plane says PERSEVERANCE. What a perfect message to send to anyone who is in the middle of a creative endeavour, where the perseverance needs to be supported by the memory that it all started with such an all consuming dream.

This was, to a great extent, much of Sally Melville's presentation on creativity at the Perth Manor on Monday. She reminded us how the dominant the bossy left brain is for most of us, always putting up the roadblocks to the fun that we might get out of trying new things, and seeing the world in creative ways.

With the help of some exhilarating hands-on practical exercises, we all got a chance to shake up our sleepy artistic right brains, and called upon them to see possibilities.

But Sally, wonderful teacher that she is, was careful to provide the balance that the message of my sister's calligraphy brought forth: there is only so far that you can get with inspiration without the perspiration.
A terrific idea for a sweater can only succeed with slavish devotion to planning, trying, checking, and sometimes starting over.

So a balanced brain would perhaps have the following conversation:
Righty: "Wow, how wonderful. I LOVE that pattern and I NEED to try it."

Lefty: "You think so, do you? And just what do you think your going to need to give up in order to knit this latest knitting seduction?"

Righty: "Whatever! I just have to try it. I could use this colour, and that texture, and I'm sure that I have something in my stash that I can add to it."

Lefty: "That may be so, but did it occur to you that I'm not at all sure that we need a 15th handpainted lace shawl? Uh, and by the way, don't you have a report that needs to get in before the end of the week."

Righty: "You always want to spoil the fun. I can do it. I have to make it. And besides, creative outlets are essential to life."

Lefty: " Yeah? I'm only looking out for the balance in your life. And I don't want to be the 1/2 brain that has to be looking for the new job when you get fired".

All that to say that no one has both sides of their brain in perfect balance. We all need to be aware of the gifts that the less-called-upon side can provide.

(Like how my creative problem solving right brain came to the rescue the other day when I accidentally added 2 tbsps of dried mint to my soup instead of 2 tsps of Italian seasoning. I scooped up as much as I could from the top of the pot and added lemon juice and called it Greek soup, featuring those wonderful flavours of mint and lemon that I've had combined in so many dishes at Greco's on Princess. Who could possibly argue that a creative mind isn't a darn handy thing to have around?)


HELP! I'm being stalked by CREATIVITY.

I'm not sure if it's all the lovely new yarns coming in, or a return to my more normal life after the summer, but I've had this overwhelming urge to stop and take time to look at anything that catches my eye these days. I'm like a crow attracted to anything shiny and colourful. It's got me thinking about how much creativity means in my life.

My first creative encounter with knitting was (as it was for so many knitters) in the works of Kaffe Fassett, but soon after that I discovered Debbie New's knitted teacups. Really, how amazingly beautiful they are in their total absurdness. But Debbie was just getting started back in those days. Since then her art has stretched the boundaries in so many ways, and she has reinvented knitting as a totally ecclectic medium for her artistic expression. Who else would think to knit a lace boat? (I'm serious.) And look at this beautiful wall piece to the left called "Living Cave".

Check out the Philosopher's wool site to see more of her beautiful and thought provoking work. http://www.philosopherswool.com/Pages/DebbieNewCards.htm

On Labour Day, I found myself downtown looking for some birthday presents. My little ADD-crow brain took over and I couldn't pry myself away from the gorgeous array of 2010 calendars at Novel Idea Bookshop on Princess St. I came away with a collection called "Arts and Crafts Tiles" and at least a dozen ideas for rug hooking projects. (I'm still thrilled that I bought it, but really, who needs a 2010 calendar on Sept 7th?)

A few weeks ago, I saw a write up in one of the knitting magazines for Henry Moore's Sheep Sketchbook. I didn't even read the article, I just knew that I wanted to have it. I like the idea of sheep and I love wool, but I'm usually not a compulsive art collector. Before I knew it, my fingers were flying to the Amazon.ca site and the book was on its way from Britain.
It arrived a couple of days ago and at first I was amused by my atypical enthusiasm and I wondered at paying nearly $20 for what amounted to a little sketchpad with a bunch of line drawings.

Then I had time to sit with it.

The notes at the back by Henry Moore explain so much of the delight that he took in a 3 week exile to a smaller studio next to a sheep field. He invites us to look at what he saw of the wooly masses and their shorn bodies later in the season. But the most amazing discovery is that the book is a true reproduction of the actual sketchbook given to Moore's daughter, Mary, with black marker bleeding through the paper to the other side and ink squiggles of different colour intensity, presumably where Henry was trying out the different effects that he was wanting to achieve. It's always so interesting, spending some time in other worlds (I mean the world of an artist, not outer space.)
Then I got an e-mail from Janie Hickman from Janie H Knits in Perth telling me that she will be hosting Sally Melville for a workshop on Monday, Sept 21st if I knew anyone who might be interested.

Now Sally is the woman who shares on her website that she got into designing knitwear in the following way: As a young woman, I made a truly weird sweater that, when fixed, was oddly appealing . . . enough that I could begin selling my work. Now that's a creative soul.

And I'm always up for an interesting day with creative people. And furthermore, Sally is a great knitting designer who shows such respect for the people who read and follow her patterns as to write them well while still leaving room for the knitting artist in each of us. Sally is a real teacher in the truest sense of the word. I'm so looking forward to the day.
Anyway, I'll let you know what creative bits and bobs that I come home with next week. Meanwhile, I'm off to whip up some crazy (no, I mean creative) omelette concoction for supper. Wish me luck.


Teaching Anyone To Knit.

I'm often asked by people who knew of my former life as a teacher if I miss the classroom. And the honest answer is that I just switched classrooms. My new life affords me all the wonderful experiences that teachers have in learning new things in order to share them with others, yet in this new knitting classroom no one yells at me if they're angry at their Mom because she didn't pack the right lunch and I don't have to do yard duty. What is there to miss???

The on going classes that we have offered at WOOL-TYME Kingston over the past 12 years reflect the idea that we grow into our knitting persona, that everyone should be able to work at their own speed, on their own project that they have committed to with same encouragement no matter if it takes them 2 weeks or 2 years to accomplish the task. See the link above to our Never Ending Knitting Class for more information about how we differ from many other knitting classes.

In Interweave KNITS newest magazine publication: Weekend Knits, there is an article about teaching kids to knit. I was struck by how applicable all of these tips are to teaching anyone anything. Here are a few examples:
-Focus on process, not product. And I would go even further than that and say that even the process should never be expected to be perfect from the beginning. I so often hear people say: :I can't knit because I can't hold the yarn like my mother told me to." I say: "Whatever..." I will often not tell people how to hold anything. I'll show them what I do and direct what the yarn and needles should do, but I don't tell them how to do it. They've had years of experience holding all sorts of implements; their bodies have their own knowledge of what is comfortable for them. I watch and if I see someone struggling with the stitches because their "technique" is not firm enough, I'll suggest a few tips that may make life easier and the knitting more satisfying for them. All that to say that there is no wrong or right way to knit (or do most things, for that matter). When you're starting out, it's all about what works for you. There will be plenty of time for perfecting technique later on.
-Quality materials matter. I would say that this is perhaps even more important for adult learners. Not only do quality materials feel better when we use them, and usually provide a more satisfactory finished product, but if an individual has invested time and money into their new skill, they are more likely to stick to it than if they've taken on as a task a $3. dishcloth.
-Choice is key. When beginners come for instruction, one of the first questions I ask is: What do you want to learn to make ultimately? We all know that they aren't going to pick up a set of needles and make a sock in the first class if they've never knit before, but it helps us all to keep the actual goal in mind right from the beginning. By the 3rd class, we can often get them started on some simple form of their dream knitting project.
The article has a few other tips but my favourite is the last: Show pleasure in what's accomplished. Sometimes our new knitters look at me skeptically when I say how well they've done, even if the 1st swatch has a few "eyelets" and has changed shape while progressing to a more uniform tension. But truly, as a teacher, all I see is the progress that's been made. There are so many things to learn with any new skill, and heaven knows that we can all think of how new skill acquisition can keep us all very humble.

But the thing that most impresses me is knitters who come back to class over months to slog through a project that is presenting more challenges than they expected. How could anyone possibly criticize the product of such determination. There are no knitting police to inspect your finished projects!


The store is becoming a TEENAGER - ARGH!

For those of you who get the e-newsletter, you will have seen this lovely birthday cake that my
niece had to celebrate her 13th birthday, which coincides with the 13th anniversary of the WOOL-TYME Kingston later this month. (For those of you who didn't get the newsletter, sign up to the right).

It's funny to think that I've had the store longer than I've had any other job in my life. I guess there comes a time when we have so much of ourselves invested in a project, we can't imagine any other life.

I was a teacher who had moved with my family to Kingston 2 years before and was discouraged that although I could get a teaching job with my French qualifications, it was nearly impossible to establish oneself being at the bottom of the seniority pile, and at 42 years of age it just seemed way too much like scary work to be starting all over again as a new teacher every year. I wanted to leave that craziness to the 25 year-olds who would have the time to enjoy it once they got established.

So after being laid off yet again, I decided that I would take the advice that I had given my Grade 8 students for years: Look at your strengths and talents, and be flexible in what you can do with your life. I took a 6 week evening course in Entrepreneurship at St Lawrence College and found an ad in the Whig saying that WOOL-Mart in Ottawa was looking to offer a franchise here in Kingston.

Some of you may remember the WOOL-Mart vs Wall Mart situation, when Wall Mart first came to Canada and objected to the use of the name WOOL-Mart by this independently owned yarn store and its franchises. A legal battle ensued and it was all eventually settled - after some terrific publicity for WOOL-Mart- by changing the name of all 11 franchises to WOOL-TYME. And the name change just happened to coincide with the opening of our store at 751 Gardiners Rd (2 doors from Boston Pizza). This announcement made national news and put us on the front page of the Whig. You can't buy publicity like that.

Isabelle Turner was not a library in those days but was the Mayor of Kingston Township. She joined us for the ribbon cutting ceremony on our opening day, and Carlolyn Dunn, the reporter we frequently see reporting for CBC from Afghanistan, was there to tell the city about it through the CKWS. It was all very exciting.

My 19 year-old daughter was in grade 1 when the store opened. We were reminiscing the other day how she and her sister would take the school bus to the store and hang out in the back room where they could do their homework, crafts and watch TVO - I think that the kids felt that Polkaroo was one of the family, they watched him so much.

On our 5th anniversary, we had a big sale during that whole week which began on Sept. 11th (2001). It was a crazy day with people congregating around the 12" TV to get the latest news as the tragic events of that day unfolded.

Year 6 was the dawning of the eyelash yarn frenzy and the role of the Internet began to really show its value by providing information and support to knitters (and the rest of the world too, I guess.) The knitting world had changed forever.
Before the 7th anniversary, the location at 725 Gardiners Rd became available and with the help of wonderful friends and customers, the move went as smoothly as one can imagine.
A few years after I opened the store, I wrote a piece (which I can't find for the life of me) that likened the first few years of a business to the process of parenting a young child. It was published in a few locations and seemed to strike a chord with other shop owners who had lived through those first lean years of any business, where all acts of kindness and all words of encouragement from customers, friends, family and staff are about the only thing that helps you keep your head up. I think back to that piece now and can only hope that my store's teen years will be pleasant and gentle ones, where we get to enjoy each other and grow together.
I'm way to old to be wrestling with a headstrong teen at this stage of my life.