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From where I sit at my loom with a view

The sky is grey and I am learning something new…..

Over the past two days we have had rain!!! Now, that might be the opposite of exciting for most people, but where we live it is cause for celebration. Over the course of the past ten days we have had approx 140mm, which is put into perspective when I tell you that for the past three years our annual rainfall has been well below 400mm in total. So, if you hear loud music and a strange tapping in the background as you read this, it will be me dancing on the table in delight.

Even the muddy craters caused by a passing Giraffe can’t discourage the appearance of tiny green shoots in the bare ground

First rains in the bushveld are always special, as the depleted veld suddenly comes alive again. Within hours of the rain starting to fall, the trees start to show signs of life and a faint green haze appears over the ground and by the end of the week our surroundings will look like a parkland and Michael will be servicing the brush-cutter in anticipation of taming the jungle around the house. A whole day of rain yesterday gave me the opportunity to sit inside and do not very much at all, so I took the gap and focused on something that has fascinated me for a while now – I started knitting a sock! Actually it should be KNITTING!!!!! a sock….

Those of you who know me best will know that knitting is not something in which I willingly indulge. I can knit, in fact i can actually knit quite well and can cable with the best of them, but the addiction which grabs so many people just isn’t there. The odd ( usually very odd) scarf is probably as far as I have been with a pair of knitting needles in years, although I have to admit that it is quite nice to have something to keep my hands busy in front of the TV in the evening, but it still doesn’t inspire me to any great heights. The idea of knitting socks though, has long been intriguing, and so, finally I have taken the plunge – on a rainy Sunday in Hoedspruit – and I have learnt a lot, not necessarily about knitting socks, but rather about learning.

When I teach a weaving workshop I try and encourage my students to allow themselves to learn from experience. “If it’s not perfect it’s not the end of the world, because the next one will be better ” kind of experience. Starting off on my sock knitting experiment yesterday, I realized that this is really hard to do! I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist, nor as OCD, and of course I’ve always believed that I practice what I preach as far learning from experience is concerned. Well, my sock knitting day yesterday showed me that I don’t actually do any of the above.

I set out with the best of good intentions and after my first noticeably glaring mistake, pulled it all out and started again. Got a bit further along the second time around and then made another whoopsie. Too fr along this time to pull the whole thing out I tried undoing a small section. Bad light, dirty specs and fine wool and needles turned this into a disaster and out came the whole lot to begin for a third time. By this stage I was beginning to get a bit tetchy you understand, so I walked around the house for a while in a bit of a fog, and made myself a mid-morning cup of coffee. I don’t like it when things don’t go according to plan – I find it unsettling, but in any event I decided to practice some self-discipline and pick the wretched thing up and persevere.

As I went to deposit my coffee mug in the sink I caught sight of a cushion cover on my sofa. Made right at the beginning of my weaving life, donkey’s years ago, it is quite an attractive piece of olive green and dusty brown chevrons on a cream background. People who come to visit often comment on it – it is, after all striking and attractive – and CHOCK A BLOCK full of errors. I remember making it actually, and figuring things out as I went along without much of a clue what I was doing. I finished it off and made it up as a reminder to myself that I was a beginner and nothing was going to be perfect.

Suddenly, my sock-knitting light went on in my head, and I gave myself to be a beginner again. As a beginner sock knitter, my sock was not going to be perfect – in fact it is way off the mark, but when I look at it I will know where the mistakes are, and next time around I will know where I went wrong and what I can do to make it better. But, most of all, I recognized myself in my beginner students – wanting so badly to produce something wonderful without having the know-how to do so . With this little pearl of wisdom lodged in my frustrated brain, suddenly everything settled down and I picked up the project once again, and gave myself permission to learn and to make mistakes, because this is how we learn.

So, apart from learning a few basic principles of sock knitting I learned more than a few much more valuable lessons: that we all want to do it magnificently first time round, that I don’t recognize myself when I see myself in my students, and that by suggesting that they embrace their mistakes and leave them in their work, I am asking them to do something that is almost impossible.

My sock is progressing well, and it is far from perfect, rather like my teaching methods I think. There are a bevy of new mistakes and wrong bits and pieces, but it will, in the end look like a sock, and next time around the territory will be a little more familiar and it’s mate will be a bit better, and eventually, one day, I might produce a decent looking sock. The teacher in me is trying to learn to understand the student who believes that they will produce a first time masterpiece, and if the first attempt isn’t as great as they would like I would like to learn to encourage them to try again and look past the mistakes to the possibilities instead. I like to think that I will no longer discourage them from going back and doing it better before they carry on anymore though, because my sock has taught me that we all want to do it perfectly the first time round.

As a sock its a long way from perfect, but I couldn’t have asked for a better lesson in teaching on a rainy day in Hoedspruit!