Friday, August 20, 2010

Define "Skill Level"

Don't you just love it when an article or class or anyone anywhere declares that one should "know your skill level" before jumping into a project or class... and doesn't bother to define what those levels are or the criteria with which you qualify for that skill level???

A question came up elsewhere, and I've spent at least an hour on the internet attempting to track down some basic list to answer the question, "what skill level am I?"

My experience is that most people short-change themselves in terms of what they can do or learn to do, so I'm not really a fan of these sorts of boxes, personally. But I respect the fact that other people like the safety of a "nest" that lets them know "which box to check." Such knowledge can function as a kind of "training wheels" while they test the waters and venture forth. Once they realize that all crochet, and all knitting... and all of most everything else in life, for that matter... is just one step after the other, they'll unscrew the training wheels and head for the nearest high hill, down which they'll careen with squeals of delight. But, until that "secret" is revealed to them in a meaningful way, they like to know to which pleasant nest they belong.

AdesinaCat, for example, doesn't know that as a "new knitter" she ought to be intimidated by a cabled purse pattern. Nor does she know that everyone is a "new knitter" when they come to some skill they've not tried before... no matter how many months/decades/years they've been knitting or crocheting or sewing... or whatever they come across in life. She is fortunate to have a knitting companion, her beloved mother, who knows the secret. :-) She showed me the pattern for a KAL (knit-a-long) on Ravelry and asked if she could make it. Of course she could make it. Cable knitting is nothing more complex than knitting a few stitches out of order, right? It was a simple, basic, cable... just follow the directions carefully until you get the hang of it... or test it out in some other yarn first and then start the project.

As a result, her second finished project following a pattern is a perfectly lovely cabled purse, which she finished without incident, and which you can view on Ravelry. (If you don't have a Ravelry account yet, it is free for the asking, and seriously important to have for all sorts of awesome reasons. See links at bottom of page.) She is about to embark on an Entrelac purse. I love it when people don't realize they "aren't supposed to be able to do" something, and just go and do it!

So far, the best succinct list I've found regarding Skill Level is this one from the Patternworks site:

Here is a basic description of the different skill levels:
Beginner: knit and purl, minimal or no shaping
Easy: basic stitches, repetitive patterns and color changes, simple shaping and finishing
Intermediate: variety of stitches, knitting in the round, mid-level shaping and finishing
Experienced: advanced techniques (cables, lace, Fair Isle, short rows) and color changes, refined finishing

I don't know about you, but I find this very unsatisfying and confusing. First of all, there are quite a few terms here still undefined: "basic stitches," "simple shaping," "mid-level shaping," and "refined finishing"... what does that mean? My second issue is, by this definition, AdesinaCat is an "Experienced" knitter having completed only two entire projects from someone else's patterns? Huh?

But my biggest issue is the fact that not one thing listed here is beyond the reach of anyone who has mastered at least one successful way to cast on and bind off, who can knit and purl without talking themselves through each step, can slip a stitch from the left needle to the right needle and wrap the yarn around the working needle. No one. I do concede that one must feel comfortable with these most basic of skills but only by virtue of having some degree of confidence so as not feel too overwhelmed to do something "extra" or "new." That puts anyone who has made a potholder, scarf, or baby blanket well within reach of "Experienced" crafting skills. They just don't know it yet. And if the rest of us will keep our traps shut and not tell them we are about to teach them an "advanced" skill, they'll do it and never know they've just done something they "aren't supposed to know how to do because they haven't been knitting long enough."

Here is my personal wish list for all designers:
  • provide a list of the skills a given design will require to create, and when possible, provide links to tutorials or the name of a basic reference text wherein the poor soul who gets their hands on your pattern can figure out how to do each of the skills. Your "not experienced" crafters will adore you! With so many patterns being made available as PDF downloads, links make a lot of sense to include, but even printed patterns could include a few links or reference books.
  • provide an actual, separate, swatch pattern if the pattern uses a stitch pattern &/or "not basic" technique. Meaning, anything beyond basic knit/purl, empower the knitter to play with the elements of your design before they cast on for the project.
  • in addition to the name brand yarn for which the pattern is written, provide a basic description of the yarn in the materials list: fingering weight sock yarn; any worsted yarn with which you can obtain gauge on this needle size; etc. We can't always afford the yarn in the pattern, or can't wear or work with the yarn in the pattern. Make it just a little easier to find something that might work instead... pretty please?
  • needle &/or hook sizes in MM, please, for the love of Mike. Why the industry continues to support archaic, arbitrary "sizes" rather than actual measurements of the tools that directly translate into gauge is one of my major pet peeves.
If you struggle with confidence about your knitting skill level, permit me to recommend a few reference books that will be of great help when you come across a technique with which you are unfamiliar or cannot recall how to perform.

"The Knitting Answer Book: Solutions to Every Problem You'll Ever Face; Answers to Every Question You'll Ever Ask" by Margaret Radcliffe... and she's not kidding.

"Teach Yourself Visually Knitting" ... great for visual learners

"Donna Kooler's Encyclopedia of Knitting" ... a virtual knitting course in a book but also a great reference book

"The Knitters Book of Finishing Techniques" by Nancie M. Wiseman

Want a fast, almost entirely painfree course to "Experienced Knitter"? Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Jacqueline Fee's book, "The Sweater Workshop," and if you do nothing else, make The Sampler. It will transform your knitting if you will fully complete that ONE project! Your confidence to knit almost anything will be all but limitless, you'll most likely want to take at least one run at one of the Basic Sweater patterns too, but even if you don't, you'll be far less intimidated by other patterns that catch your eye! I know it sounds like hyperbole, but I do not exaggerate about the difference it can make in your skill set and confidence as a knitter.

We continue to expand the library of books in our Book~Shop, but there are already a good list of references for a Core Library, in both knitting and crochet. (I can't tell you how wonderful it is to finally have ONE place to "gather" all my favorite books and resources to share! Blogs are wonderful things for that reason alone!)

In the meantime, do not let anyone put you into a box you do not belong. If you've successfully made anything, you can learn to do everything that interests you as a crafter... (or human being). There is almost always more than one way to do almost anything. All you need are the right resources. Here at Roving StarPoints, that is our "Prime Directive." :-) Let us know if we can help you in any way. If we don't know the answer, and most likely even if we do, we'll direct you to any support resources we can find to help you achieve your goals.

Additional comments viewable @ "Comments on 'Skill Levels'?" from the Knit Picks Community

No comments:

Post a Comment