Learning by Experience

I’m hoping to post something about learning by experience each Wednesday. Its an opportunity to talk about the new things I’ve learned this week, answer some questions from Wooly Wednesday over on Facebook and share some perspectives about teachers learning from students!

The last statement might seem a bit strange so I’m planning to start there – what can teachers learn from their students?

I’ve had a variety of teaching roles over the years, from on the job training for student nurses, through formal classroom teaching, to training and developing volunteers and people with long term illnesses  to my current role of teaching knitting, crochet and kids crafts to individuals and groups. I love teaching, its a great way to keep information current, relevant and alive and in the craft world it stops skills dying out too. Learning a craft also gives students the opportunity to develop their confidence and practice using maths, english and problem solving skills in a meaningful way. In school we all got bored of working out numbers for mythical car journeys but in knitting, solving a problem with tension gives a real confidence boost and helps us own our work and develop our own creative and design skills!

So lets move along to the things I’ve learned this week!

1. Never Underestimate Small Children!

I ran a crochet taster session at Southampton Adult Learning Festival, run by TWICS – a great local organisation who promote community learning. I went along expecting to teach adults and spent most of the day teaching children or families. It was great fun and I soon realised that even little ones could manage to produce something. So I’ve come to the conclusion that once a child is of school age, there is no reason why they can’t join in and have a go. Its possible to adapt activities to make sure they achieve and get something out of their “lesson”.



2.  Be Careful What You Leave Out for Inspiration!

I’d gone along to run a “crochet taster” in a sheltered housing complex and decided to put out a range of books and magazines for the group to read, as I had no idea what level I was meant to be pitching the lesson at. I’d also taken along some beginners material and patterns for granny squares. 3 adies duly pitched up, 2 decided they wanted to learn and proceeded to have a look through the books. I asked them whether they would like to learn a square or do something else – they both said they would love to do butterflies. And proceeded to choose a complex pattern – I asked them if they could crochet and they both smiled and said “oh yes, we can do chain stitch”!!!! I persuaded them towards the smallest and least complex of the butterfly patterns and taught on a stitch by stitch basis. We all made a butterfly and the ladies were very pleased with their finished pieces and have kindly agreed to try squares next time….

3. Learn from the Group

I’ve also been teaching people with head injuries to knit this week and it was a really good session. However 2 guys only have the use of 1 hand and I was a bit stuck on casting on as every method I could think of needed 2 hands, including the thumb method. I got a few people started but one lad said I didn’t cast on like his Mum did, so I asked him to show me how. Its a technique I’ve seen and used before  – the wrap cast on – but had completely overlooked as its not something I use very often as I find the tension can be uneven and I often struggle working into the front of the stitch on the first row. However we switched methods and it meant everyone had the opportunity to cast on their own work.

4. Practice What You Teach

Cartoon Elephant Clip ArtIn a previous life as mentioned I used to deliver training to people with long term illnesses. A key skill was Action Planning – essentially taking a large goal and breaking it down into manageable sections that you could achieve – otherwise known as eating your elephant in small chunks (or trunks as I managed to say once 🙂 )

My personal elephant is a huge storage issue! Basically I have far too much filing, yarn and fabric for the space in my flat. I can’t afford a studio yet so it has to be accomodated. I also have far too many books and I teach in a free book shop on a regular basis – bit like popping a chocoholic into a Cadbury’s (subsistute your favourite chocolate) distribution centre and expecting to find leftovers the following day!  I’d been offered a free one to one with Tarryn, owner of Mum’s Who Care, as part of my “Mummy of the Month Award” from Networking Mummies. I went along totally unaware of what this would involve and found out that we have a shared passion for helping people make small but meaningful changes in their lives. Tarryn asked me to fill in a wheel of life, working out what I was happy with and what needed to change. As is typcial, the biggest problem was the one I identified last but was also the one that had a big impact on all other areas. As we worked on the problem, Tarryn suggested I write down some goals for sorting out the worst 3 issues and then break them down into manageable action plans! I sat there with pennies dropping like a fruit machine on overdrive as I suddenly and somewhat sheepishly realised that I knew this stuff and could easily sort out the storage. So by a week on Sunday I pledge that I will have:

  • Sorted out the surplus books and taken them to Books for Free – hence salving my conscience and creating shelf space
  • Sorted and got rid of any unneccessary paper work, restoring my lounge shelving to the “Office” purpose its meant to have
  • With the assistance of any stray teenage potential slave that comes to visit the teenage with undeveloped potential slavess that lives here, have wound skeins to balls and packaged all my yarn into the containers I’ve been begging, stealing and borrowing from all and sundry and adding to the clutter!
  • Repacked the now liberated bookcase with yarn, fabrics and other materials
  • Have created myself a “mini studio” based around my dining and picnic tables

I’ve just about finished knitting  and crocheting a circular shawl. I downloaded a vintage pattern from the internet to provide a crochet edging for it. Once its complete I have washing and blocking to do….. somehow I think I have a working title for next week’s “What I’ve Learned” already!

The Value of Networking

I used to be really negative about networking do’s – I could never see the point of going and used to feel it was a necessary, if unpleasant part of the job in my former employed life. But over time I began to see benefits from networking, it really helped to build contacts, get people talking and explore ways of working together to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

So when I started Bits and Bobs I knew I needed to find a way to network with other crafters and find out more about the world I was entering. I started off online over at Folksy, by joining in with the forums. I learned that to make sales online I had to learn to promote online and so a facebook page became needed, swiftly followed by accounts with twitter, craftjuice and creative connections. I found the networks were useful for learning about how people work, but sometimes felt they were quite competitive and found it hard that despite all the work I felt I was putting in, I didn’t seem to be getting much of a return on my investment.

I started talking to people about what I was doing in a small way offline and that started to bring in the odd sale here and there but it was still pretty sporadic. The Taste of Enterprise course offered a ready made network as part of the progression and whilst this was interesting and I learned alot from people about the practicalities of business, I wasn’t really getting the leads and contacts I needed.

So I dipped my toe into the world of Craft fairs and that was great, I found lots of encouragement and positive feedback about what I did and got to meet lots of lovely people. But again it didn’t really lead to where I’d hoped – which was finding opportunities to work with people collaboratively. Or so it seemed at the time. But now the work with Taste of Enterprise and Craft Fairs is really taking off and is promising to lead onto some really positive opportunities around running craft fairs and specialist wedding “learn  to make” events.

I then found out about the CHAOS network, a local organisation that brings artists, crafters and people from the worlds of music, film and theatre together and that did start to open a few doors. Around the same time I met up with Steve and Ross from Third Age Centre and the local Age Concern group. This lead onto joining SIGN, which is a local network of people and agencies who work across the generations. I made some great contacts there which has lead on to my developing courses and is now leading to work and commissions. I also made some connections with Networking Mummies and Mums and Business and this is now starting to lead to collaboratives and work.

I have to admit though that I’ve been feeling that my information is dropping into a black hole sometimes and that I’ve had strong misgivings at times about whether I’m doing the right thing with marketing and letting people know about who I am and what I want to do.And that’s another positive about networking – people come and approach you and want to meet you, based on the information you’ve sent out to them at some point. That’s happened today and I attended a really positive networking lunch at Third Age Centre and have got 2 leads and a commission. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk to some Mum’s at Sure Start who are getting to the point of needing to return to work and share a bit about me and my journey and also hear about other women who’ve faced and overcome multiple barriers to working.

I’ve drawn up a series of little post-it type notes that you are welcome to download as a result of my reflections on networking which you are more than welcome to download and print off  if you find them useful:

Mummy of the Month

are a national organisation supporting a variety of networking activities for Mum’s in business, whether you run a stand alone operation or are a network marketer for a National or International Business. I was introduced to the group by a lady who came along to a crochet workshop and have found it invaluable for making contacts and meeting new people in the world of work.

I belong to the Hampshire branch which is run by Tarryn Hunt, who as well as being a Mum, also runs Mum’s that Care and has published a beautiful book of quotes to support Mothers. Each month Tarryn has a 10min showcase at a networking meeting and nominates a member as Mummy of the Month – and the reason for this post, which you are now probably wondering about – is that I’ve been chosen for May. So I have been tasked with writing a bio, so this is my readers’ opportunity to get to know a little bit about me!

My name is Bev Newman, I live in Hampshire and am a single Mum to 1 daughter of 18, Lucy. Lucy has special needs but is making fantastic progress at college and on work placements and I’m really proud of her. She’s also great at going out and talking to people so is the “legs” of my marketing strategy, going out and delivering leaflets and posters here, there and everywhere. I’m physically disabled due to a spinal condition that causes chronic pain, muscle spasms and fatigue amongst other things, some of which are a bit too personal for a blog! I’ve always crafted and after taking medical retirement 5 years ago, found that crafting kept me same whilst I went through the processes of diagnosis, setting up care, fighting the school for support for Lucy and adapting to a very different lifestyle. Previously I’d worked full time, managed a small staff team and a large volunteer scheme and travelled extensively around Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and neighbouring counties. I trained people to pass their skills on to others, was part of NHS boards and goodness knows what else. Then one morning I tried to get out of bed  – my back had been playing up for a while and the Drs were trying to get me seen by specialists – and found I could barely stand. Fortunately due to previous episodes I had some basic equipment to help, so I got a GP appointment and settled in for the 2 – 3 month standard recovery period to kick in! But this time it didn’t, I got worse instead of better, my feet stopped functioning and my Dad arrived on a train after 3 months and dragged me forcibly off to get an electric wheelchair – it was a huge shock! Having been a nurse I was there to make people better – and although I applied all I knew and all the hints and tips I could glean from others with a similar condition nothing worked. I was desperate to get back to work but with a sitting tolerance of 1 – 2 hours and not being able to drive I was well and truly stuffed, the Occ Health team at work and the DWP Dr duly agreed with each other and pensioned me off to a life on benefits.

I’d been brought up by grandparents and parents who had lived through the 30’s with no welfare state. Dad remembers his parents being told to sell their furniture and when they’d run out of that money there might be help! So I didn’t feel right about “lingering on them forever”. I started experimenting with making things to sell, did some reearch and opened a now slightly neglected shop on Folksy. I also did some knitting and crochet for a church group and picked up more tips and ideas. I also loved teaching and with no idea of what I wanted to teach went on an Adult teacher training course and passed. That gave me some confidence back that I could do stuff and be useful. It also helped me to realise that my disability was something I could easily work round. From there I did some free workshops as a volunteer for the Art House Southampton then picked up the odd paid workshop here and there. I also booked myself on a course aimed at those thinking of starting a business and got lots out of that.

In September I registered for tax and finally got into running some workshops in December for myself and soon realised that my mobility problems would not make it impossible to teach. But as well as loving knitting and crochet I also love to help others unlock their potential and I wanted to find a way to make that happen. And eventually the idea of a social enterprise was born. The aims of the company are a bit diverse but the ethos is to reach people who are socially isolated or experiencing a lack of confidence or huge change in circumstances and offer them some hope through learning a new skill and unleashing some creativity. Its amazing to see people who come along telling me they’ve been told they’ll never learn anything mastering the basics and asking to move on to the next challenge.  I suppose its my chance to give something back for the support and encouragement I’ve had along the way and an opportunity to say to others – “Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t!”

I also love to work with community groups and help them with reaching out into the community and rebuilding links through events and opportunities to get people together. Through this I now work regularly with The Third Age Centre, Southampton.  I’m also about to start some work with sheltered housing providers, running groups for older people and I’m really excited about the possibilities that might open up around memory and reminiscence. Meeting other crafters is also great as I’m now involved with a collaborative group, Inspire, Create, Celebrate. We’re looking to pass on our passion for handmade to Brides and organisers of all sorts of special events through running specialist workshops and events!

And for anyone reading who thinks this all sounds wonderful but…. yes there are low spots too – times when its really hard to keep going but writing reviews like this, working with others and having the opportunity to create are just fantastic. So if you are considering something like this, I would say do some homework and go for it!