A Work In Progress: Learning To Crochet

Practice makes perfect, right?

That’s the point I was trying to make to one of my classes recently. When you teach music, one of the most challenging parts is getting kids to realize that practicing on your own is what moves you forward as a musician. Time, effort, and patience are virtues.

I’ve been knitting for a while. I cringe when I think of the first scarf I finished and gave away as a gift, because it was evidence of my lack of experience and skill at the time. I kept working at it, though, and–as long as whatever I’m knitting is supposed to be a square or rectangle–it looks pretty good.

Crochet, on the other hand, continued to confuse me for some reason. Every time I would try to learn, I ended up with really colorful knots to throw in the trash.

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Umm…is my scarf supposed to look like this?

“Oh, but crochet is so much easier than knitting!”

Yeah, that was never exactly what I wanted to hear while I was tying yarn into the kinds of knots that would confuse an Eagle Scout. I couldn’t get the hang of it. So, I put it away for a while and decided that maybe crochet wasn’t for me.

Well, not too long ago, I opened my big mouth and told one of my classes that I was going to prove that you can learn anything you want to if you’ll just make up your mind to do it.

And then I heard myself say…

“By the end of this year, I’m going to crochet a scarf.”

Gasp.

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Wait a second…what did I just say? Great. Can’t back out now.

I asked myself some questions that afternoon.

Why did I say that?

Umm…you wanted to prove a point. Now you just have to–you know, prove it. Don’t worry. Setting that little deadline will help. Maybe.

Why is knitting so much easier for me than crochet if crochet is supposed to be easier?

My best answer for that one?

I like doing things the hard way.

(I’m stubborn. We’ve established that.)

Okay, so maybe the best way I can say that–to boost my self-esteem–is to say that I like a challenge. If everyone can crochet, well, by golly, I’ll take it a step further and knit instead. However, I’ve created a hole in my own argument here, because crochet apparently is a challenge for me, so now I guess I have no choice but to learn it. Darn. (Darn. Darning. Something else I need to learn. My socks have holes, too.)

Well, no going back now, so I got started with crochet…again.

Nope. That technique didn’t work. (I don’t think that is a technique, technically speaking.) This really is a ridiculous way to pass the t…
…wait a sec…this actually looks like something!

Is this perfect? No, not yet. But, if I keep working at it, I’m sure it’ll be some kind of scarf by May…when it’ll be a thousand degrees outside and no one in their right mind will need a scarf…but I digress.

However, I’m making my point.

If I can learn how to do this thing that frustrated me to no end by taking a little extra time to slow down the process, taking the advice in the videos and the articles, and practicing over and over and over…then perhaps learning other stuff is possible, too.

I’d stay to explain more, but I need to get back to work on this lovely orange scarf that I said I’d finish.

A Work In Progress: Ten Thousand Hours

Malcolm Gladwell is widely attributed to popularizing the so-called “10,000 Hour Rule.” (I’m a very big fan of his work; if you have the chance to read any of his books, I highly recommend them. He based the “10,000 Hour Rule” on a study by Anders Ericsson.) For those who are not familiar with the concept, the general idea is that mastery in any one particular field or discipline requires at least 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice.”

Of course, this “rule” is up for debate, as are many theories in the social sciences. Still, if I took it as an absolute rule, then it could get interesting for someone like me.

Why, you ask?

Well, as a self-proclaimed Meticulously Observant Observer, that title carries with it a (ridiculously impossible to fulfill) degree of perfectionism. Not only that, but I’m interested in lots of different subjects and activities. I don’t like doing anything halfway. I want to do things right.

I’m no math surgeon, but according to my (probably inaccurate) calculations, you obviously can’t achieve those hours in one year…unless you really can add hours to the day and you spend absolutely every waking hour devoted to one discipline. Not particularly practical.

I tried multitasking, but it wasn’t working for me.

Annnnnddddd…I’ve identified at least four disciplines that I pursue regularly outside of work.

If I want to be really serious about four of my specific pursuits, I figure I should start the mathematical breakdown with the disciplines I’ve been involved with the longest: writing and music.

Let’s start with writing.

According to my parents, I was able to read at the age of eighteen months. Writing followed soon thereafter. It was ugly, but it was writing. So, in factoring in my age and the number of hours I spent in classrooms throughout my formal education, I should probably be in good shape on that one.

However, was it all “deliberate practice?” Probably not. Passing notes to my classmates isn’t likely to fit the bill. Hitting every key on the typewriter just to see what it would look like on paper…nope. Besides, all writers know their work is never completely mastered, so this one is likely to be a lifelong pursuit without any kind of designated time frame.

So, moving on…

Let’s add music to the mix. I started playing the piano when I was five years old.

This was just a test run. I was still a couple of years away from my first lesson.

Once again, if I factor in my age, I should be well on my way. Not so fast, though. I didn’t just learn the piano, you see. I’ve spent some decades on the trumpet as well. And I had to learn other band instruments to a level of proficiency required to teach them in my current profession. Remembering that music is always a work in progress…yup, there’s another lifelong pursuit to add to the writing.

But wait…there’s more!

Say, I just happen to be selling this print in my Etsy shop! (Shameless plug? You bet. Marketing is also a work in progress, you know.) https://www.etsy.com/listing/557312440/landscape-photography-color-photography?ref=shop_home_feat_4

Photography. I started to get serious about photography about eight years ago. That would make it one of my later pursuits. Since I work, eat, sleep, write, and work on music as well…we’re starting to rack up some serious hours here.

Oh, and let’s not forget knitting. I really enjoy knitting. Another of my newer activities.

That makes four. Four disciplines, forty-thousand hours.

Assuming that I live at least as long as the average lifespan for an American woman, once I’ve totaled up all of these hours (carrying the one, multiplying by x, and accounting for sleep, laundry, work, channel surfing, reading, eating, proper grooming, staring into space, socializing, being placed on hold with the cable company, family obligations, waiting at the DMV, sitting at stoplights, travel, home maintenance, airport delays, the occasional illness, and other unforeseen circumstances), I think I can expect to be an expert on all four of these disciplines approximately thirty minutes after my funeral service is completed.

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What are some disciplines you would like to master, and how long would you think you’ve been working on them? Do you think that any of this kind of work is ever done? I think there’s always room for improvement, but that could just be my perfectionism speaking. In any event, I should probably be working on something…

A Tangible Hobby: Knitting

Several years ago, I decided I needed to take up some kind of hobby that would result in actual products being…produced.

Thinking, a lifelong hobby that has given me years of satisfaction, doesn’t have the luxury of creating anything other than pure abstraction. Thoughts are well and good, but you can’t really show them off at the family Christmas party. Besides, it seemed like everyone I knew could make something. Wreaths, pies, children…you know, stuff.

I had tried knitting in college and it didn’t quite stick. Part of the problem was the process by which I was learning. I bought knitting kits and tried to read the instructions, most of which were highlighted by illustrations of a particular motion with the needles. Trying to follow the pictures did nothing for me. I needed to see the actual motion. YouTube didn’t exist then, and knitting was still an “old lady” hobby, so I refused to sign up for classes or suffer the indignity of renting an instructional video.

After a few years, the passage of time clarified a few things for me and I decided to give the hobby another try. For starters, it had begun to become a “hip” and “trendy” way to pass the time instead of the stereotypical mark of a spinster sitting at home on a Friday night with her sixteen cats. Also, any number of instructors on the internet had begun to make videos for everything, and I could sit in front of my laptop and slowly begin to learn–step-by-step–the process of creating pretty knots from a ball of yarn.

The first video I watched was about how to make a scarf using a basic garter stitch. First, however, you had to learn something called “casting on,” a process that frustrated me more in the beginning than the actual knit stitch itself. In time, my determination saw me through the rocky start, and by Christmas, I had created a scarf that ended up in my mom’s stocking. It was a little crooked in places…after all, I had dropped and added a few stitches here and there, but I was able to give away something tangible as a gift.

I started to perfect my abilities with different stitches. Purl? No problem. Rib stitch patterns? Stretchy. I can handle that.

Squares and rectangles were no problem.

A whole blanket. Very geometrically sound.
A whole blanket. Very geometrically sound.

When I began the process of knitting in the round, that’s where the trouble started.

Seeing as how you can only do so much with squares and rectangles, I thought it would be wise to learn how to make something round, like a hat. In my first attempts, I decided to search for any kind of pattern that would keep me from having to join in the round, because I just knew that was beyond my abilities. After a while, though, it was limiting, and the top of my head was getting cold.

My first attempt at knitting a hat in the round didn’t turn out like I had hoped. I thought I had done everything I was supposed to do. I followed the pattern, I managed to successfully join everything together, and I didn’t drop any stitches.

The hat looked great.

All was well and good until I went to try it on.

But, I read the instructions!
But, I read the instructions!

This was the day I learned about gauge, something I still struggle with due to my marginal math skills. (I’m a musician; therefore, counting to four was all I thought I needed to know.)

Alas, I’m still better at squares and rectangles, but I did start to learn more about gauge the more I worked at it.

There. That's better.
There. That’s better.

While I still have many more scarves and blankets in my stockpile than hats, I suppose the moral of the story is that perseverance eventually pays off…and, if it doesn’t, I have some interesting tangible abstract art to go along with that intangible abstract thought hobby I once thought was useless.