ANNOUNCEMENT: Knitting Classes are on hold temporarily, but they will return! Follow @aknitica on Instagram or Amanda Schwabe Art & Design on Facebook for the latest updates.
I really believe that you can knit anything. All it takes is a knowledgeable guide to give your skills a boost.
I teach classes in the Ottawa area and over Zoom. Keep scrolling to sign up!
You can also find my video tutorials on YouTube (and in the “Videos” menu at the top) and written tips and tricks here. I sell knitting patterns here and on Ravelry.com. You can find me on Instagram and Facebook as well for up-to-date pics of the latest things I’m knitting and painting. Thanks for visiting!
Hello, my knitting friends! My fall knitting classes are right around the corner. How was your summer?
I’m enjoying the last of our summer weather, but I have to confess: I’m starting to think about autumn and all the coziness it brings. My yearly urge to watch You’ve Got Mail (“Don’t you just love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies.”) is getting stronger and stronger. I’m holding off until at least Labour Day weekend. Probably.
I’ve already been back-to-school shopping, hunting for uniform pieces for my kids and making lists of who needs how many pencils and shoes. My oldest has graduated high school (!!!!), and my youngest will be starting in junior high. I’m freaking out. Those years when it seemed like they’d be small forever have gone by waaaay more quickly than my own childhood felt. Now I have a house full of tall, muscular man-children and a pre-teen girl. We buy a lot of groceries, but their wittiness and hilarity has only increased with age, so I’m having a great time in general.
In knitting news, I’ve been working on two brioche pieces, a shawl and a scarf, using a swirly pattern that I find really addicting. I’m working on writing up the patterns. I’ve taken such a long hiatus from pattern writing! Right after the stay-at-home orders first started, my computer crashed, and I lost a lot of things, including the patterns I’d been writing at the time. It was just too much for my brain and heart to handle, so I decided not to think about it. And then I took a long break from creative knitting; I kept teaching my classes (over Zoom), but my own knitting projects were of the comfort-knitting variety: plain socks, tiny birds (from Arne & Carlos’ book Field Guide to Knitted Birds), happy mittens.
I turned all my creative energy, at that time, to practicing my painting and drawing skills. I’d been longing for more painting time, and suddenly I had only time on my hands! Since I was lucky enough to have the safety and space, I really focused on developing my paint-handling skills. I decided to systematically experiment with various acrylic painting skills, colour mixing, and anatomy drawing.
You know what? All the things I’d learned from knitting and teaching were enormously helpful. And the books I’ve been reading lately (see below) have amplified and explained a lot of what worked and why. (I love reading about brains and learning; it helps me with my knitting classes, but also with my own life.)
What I Learned About Learning from Knitting
Mistakes are part of the process
First tries are never perfect, and sometimes they’re even hideous, but they’re necessary projects to make before you can get to the good stuff
There are tips and tricks out there for any new skill, and sometimes I struggle with things that I could have found better advice for; so now, I search for the advice
Trial and error are great teachers
A good teacher can tell you things you didn’t even know you needed to search for
When I’m struggling to understand something, that doesn’t mean I’m bad at it and should stop; it means I’m in the process of learning how to be good at it
There’s no such thing as failure. A mess is a potential learning experience, a necessary piece of information on the road to mastery. The only way to “fail” is to stop trying in new ways.
We all learn and assimilate information and muscle-memory skills in slightly different ways. Being proactive about finding the right-for-you sources of learning makes things a lot easier. (Personally, I like a good diagram, and I need to try something myself before I really understand it.)
The more mental models we have in our brains, the easier it is to understand new information. But it takes time to build the mental models.
Skills take time to acquire and settle in. I need to give myself time before lamenting that I’m terrible at anything. (Weird example: I don’t kill house plants anymore! I killed an ivy plant once and then called myself a plant killer for years. It turns out that I just needed to look up a few tips, keep the plants in the kitchen where I’d see them every day, and stop drowning them.)
I’d been wanting to paint for years, but two big things were stopping me: I had undiagnosed ADHD, and I had terrible self talk. I thought that if my natural talent couldn’t make a good painting, then maybe I wasn’t that good, after all. And my brain kept changing channels away from painting, so when the negative thoughts started, I had no internal resources to carry me through. I had zero grit. I gave up on things when they got hard. And I didn’t understand how my own brain worked.
Mastery, Deliberate Practice, and Grit
In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth writes about her research into high achievers and what sets them apart. It turns out that the predictive element wasn’t talent or aptitude or intelligence, or any of the things most of us would assume. It was (surprise!) their grittiness. They were dogged in their pursuit of their goals.
“They were the opposite of complacent. And yet, in a very real sense, they were satisfied being unsatisfied. Each was chasing something of unparalleled interest and importance, and it was the chase — as much as the capture — that was gratifying.” ~ Angela Duckworth
In the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, the authors delve into the adaptability of our brains. It turns out — and you’ve probably noticed this already — that our abilities are not fixed, that “the brain — even the adult brain — is far more adaptable than anyone ever imagined and this gives us tremendous control over what our brains are able to to. In particular, the brain responds to the right sorts of triggers by rewiring itself in various ways.” New connections can be made in our brains, and existing pathways can be weakened or strengthened. Our brains physically change as we learn new things and acquire new skills.
“Why are some people so amazingly good at what they do? Over my years of studying experts in various fields, I have found that they all develop their abilities in much the same way… — through dedicated training that drives changes in the brain (and sometimes, depending on the ability, in the body) that make it possible for them to do things that they otherwise could not.” ~ Anders Ericsson
Talent (how quickly we acquire new skills) and genetics play a small part, but effort and perseverance win in the end.
I love this. I love telling my kids that if they can find just one thing that sparks their interest enough to drive and sustain them through a life of effort and deliberate practice, they can become masterful at it. They don’t need to start with special talent or be the best at it in their class. Those things won’t help them in the long run.
As a recovering giver-upper, I’m also relieved to know that grit is another skill that can be built into the brain through deliberate practice. I don’t need to be good at everything (and that’s impossible anyway), and I don’t need to see instant results. All I need to do is keep showing up and practicing, keep making messes and learning to troubleshoot, and keep experimenting.
Mastery isn’t an end point, it’s a lifestyle. Sarah Lewis writes in The Rise, “The pursuit of mastery is an ever onward almost.” “Masters are not experts because they take a subject to its conceptual end. They are masters because they realize that there isn’t one. On utterly smooth ground, the path from aim to attainment is in the permanent future.”
She gives so many examples of high achievers who won awards and gained “success” (recognition, money, fame, etc.) and traced their paths backward in time to find what came first. Their paths toward Nobel prizes or great discoveries or incredible novels were littered with spectacular failures. The difference was, they kept going. Instead of becoming stopping points, those moments were waypoints and learning experiences.
Sometimes the mistakes themselves became literal breakthroughs. You just don’t know until you give yourself the freedom to experiment in ridiculous ways. Until you allow your projects to be risky and imperfect.
Creativity and innovation can only exist in spaces free from judgment. “During improvisation, areas of a musician’s brain involved in self expression lit up and parts that control self-judgment were suppressed, freeing up all generative impulses. Neuroscientists describe this permissive state where the mind allows for failure without self-condemnation as disassociation in the frontal lobe. The rest of us call it the basic tenet of improvisation in jazz — not to negate, but to accept all that comes and add to it, the foibles, the mistakes, the exquisite beauty and joy.” ~ Sarah Lewis
You Can Knit Anything
This is why I really believe that you can knit anything. It might not be literally true today, but with deliberate practice and a lot of fun, there’s no reason why we can’t each build up whatever new skills we choose to put on our lists.
Of course, there are only so many hours in a day, and our unique interests are really what drive us onward in our obsessions (ahem) passions. I will never become a master at auto repair or doing my laundry. I’m happy to be good enough at baking, and I don’t feel the need to become a pastry chef. It’s okay to keep knitting as a fun hobby without turning it into a big thing. We each get to choose our own things.
Anyway, whatever your thing is, I’m here to help you with your knitting.
These classes are friendly, welcoming spaces for knitters of all skill levels. The students choose the subject each day with their current projects and questions. I often find myself revitalizing projects that have been stuck in time-out for a long time, matching the knitting to the lost pattern row, interpreting sweater fitting instructions, teaching finishing techniques, explaining how to work special techniques like two-handed colourwork or brioche, fitting socks, starting someone on their knitting journey with their first project… I love to be surprised! And on days when the knitting is going smoothly for everyone, the class becomes a show-and-tell and knitting club.
So grab your knitting friends and bring your yarn and needles, and let’s have some fun!
To my regular students: you’ll notice a few changes. There will be a strict four-person minimum of monthly students for a class to run. Two days before the start of each class, I’ll send an email to confirm that the class is on. I’ll open up the drop-in class option once I know the class will be running.
There will be one class on Sunday afternoons from 2-4 pm, and a class on Tuesday mornings from 10-noon.
And, like everything else lately, the prices have gone up. I feel big feelings about this, but it’s a necessary evil to keep the classes sustainable.
And now, I’m off to daydream about cozy, cabled sweaters and cute fall mittens. I can’t wait to see you and your projects in September!
I have missed my students so much. I’m so happy to announce that I’ve booked my previous space, and I’m ready to resume teaching knitting while in the same room as other people!!!
So, if you’ve been missing that hands-on instruction and help, I really hope you’ll join me. I can’t wait to dive in and get my (sanitized) hands all over your knitting projects! Some problems really do get solved more easily in person, when I can see them up close. (Although, I’m really pleased with how much turned out to be possible over Zoom.)
I think our knitting-together reunion is going to be so great. I’ve been thinking of all of you, wondering how you’re doing (and what you’ve been knitting, of course!), and missing your faces and stories and personalities. I get to meet the coolest people at my knitting classes.
To ease us back in to meeting in person, let’s acknowledge that it’s going to be weird. It’s been awkward and a bit unnerving to re-emerge from my home cocoon. I think we’re all feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety, especially since COVID isn’t gone. So let’s lean in to the weirdness together and make space for each others’ discomfort. It’s a normal feeling, and I expect everyone to have varying levels of comfort with their personal space and health concerns.
I will have a mask with me, and I’m happy to wear it, especially when you need hands-on help. You may choose to wear a mask or not, and you won’t have to explain your decision to any of us. Do what feels best for your own health and peace of mind. I’ll also bring my hand sanitizer to use between projects. (I splurged and got a lovely moisturizing one from Rocky Mountain Soap Company after the first year of dry and irritated skin, so my hands can now handle frequent sanitizing.) We’ll be able to open a window in our knitting space to bring in fresh air, and if anyone wants to sit apart or hide away in a corner, no one will bat an eye. We’re all figuring this out as we go.
New and returning students are all very welcome! I really hope everyone will pop in for at least one class just to say hi. 🙂 And please bring your pandemic projects for some show and tell. I’d love to see what you made at home. I made a lot of really plain, soothing, low-concentration things. I designed zero new things over the last 2 years. But I sure knit a ton of stripey socks and Musselburgh hats! And I did practice my painting a lot. I suppose all my creative brain power went into the paintings instead of the knitting.
Thank you all for being part of my knitting circle. The best thing about knitting together is how much I end up learning from you — the incredible range of personalities, professions, interests, favourite colours, and, of course, book recommendations. My life is so much bigger because of all of you.
I hope you’re well, and I can’t wait to see you.
We start back in person April 24th. In the meantime, happy knitting!
To celebrate my fortieth birthday, I think a pattern sale is in order!
If you hop on over to Ravelry, this link will take you right to my patterns, and anything you put in your cart will automatically have 40% of its price taken off. There are no limits, no minimum purchases, just a pure 40% discount. (Except on Sugarblaze because it’s still only available from Knit Picks.)
It’s really fun to go back through some of my older designs! A lot has happened since I published my first pattern.
I actually like getting older. I feel more and more comfortable in my own skin. It’s wonderful to be growing up. (My kids think I’m a grown-up by default, but we all know better. Being “grown up” is more of a process than a destination. I hope.)
So, because I’m feeling celebratory and forty years is a big thing, here are my favourite things about getting older:
I’m letting go of more and more fear. Life is just too short to give one moment of it to being afraid.
So I’m doing more of what I like, for me. I cut my hair short, and it feels amazing. I wear what I want. (Secret pajamas for the win! Bright tunic tops and leggings for me, please. With pockets.)
I know my strengths and talents now, and it’s not boasting to acknowledge them to myself. I owe it to myself to develop them and let them grow into something.
I know my weaknesses, too, and I’m over them. They’re there, we’re friends, and everybody’s got them anyway. None of us are perfect at everything we try, and I’m okay with that. I will always be late for most of my appointments because time doesn’t make sense to me, but I can paint an accurate portrait, and I can live with that.
I know which weaknesses can be improved upon, shored up, or accepted and worked around. I don’t need as much reassurance from others that I’m okay, and I just smile and nod now when people give me tips. I know the tips. I’ve read the books. But I spent so many years trying to be better at what I hate instead of mastering the things I’m great at. Onward to better things!
I know that what I KNEW to be true ten years ago is different from what I KNOW right now. So I hold my opinions more loosely and look to learn more.
I know that the opposite of love is fear. To love well means to let go of the fear — of being a bad parent, or a goofy teacher, or whatever. Any time I’ve operated out of fear, I’ve been harsh with my kids, nitpicked about details instead of seeing the whole person in front of me. If I teach out of fear, I don’t learn new things myself. When I’m afraid of what people think of me, I can’t be myself.
Fear is a tool for reading a situation, but not for long-term decisions. I listen to my instincts and trust them more and more, and that’s useful. So I don’t want to live in a vacuum free of fear, but I want to be mindful that I listen to its message, take it into account, and then act bravely from my values instead.
I’m more patient with others. If I can grow, so can anyone. When I say a dumb thing, I usually regret it and learn from it. Allowing others room for that same growth is essential. I choose to hope for and expect the best, to leave room for growth, to wait patiently while others walk their own paths. To cheer them on along the way. Life is hard enough without having people pick apart your every mistake.
I give myself more of a break. Bad days don’t last. Nothing lasts forever. Seasons pass, winter turns into spring, and depression lifts eventually. Sometimes, life is a bit of a waiting game, and now I can accept that more.
My body affects my moods, and I’ve learned to baby it. Give it naps, make sure it drinks enough water and gets good food. Give it down time. I refuse to live on the brink of a constant nervous breakdown. I take care of this squishy vehicle I drive through life. (I do feed it too much ice cream lately, but whatever.)
I love saying no. I build empty space into my schedule because I have lived without margins, and let me tell you, it was not life. It was overwhelm, stress, exhaustion, irritability, and loss of creativity. The blank spaces are essential components of a kind, creative life.
Every hour devoted to playing the piano, painting, drawing, or reading, is an hour that feeds the hard-work, slogging hours of productivity. They are absolutely essential. Feeding the creative soul is never a waste of time.
Art IS math and science. Music, colour, proportion, pattern — it’s math, electromagnetic radiation, wavelengths, rhythm, algebra. The language of the universe is instinctually known by artists and painstakingly calculated by mathematicians and interpreted and investigated by scientists. They are different sides of the same coin.
The opposite of fear is love. Love is patient and kind. Choosing to love means to decide not to act out of fear: no boasting (fear that you’re not enough), no rudeness (fear that you won’t get what you need so you rush in to get what’s yours, disregarding the humanity of those around you), no envy (fear of scarcity), no pride (fear of not being the best), no keeping records of everything anyone has ever done that harmed you (fear of injustice). And the good news is that loving frees us from the fear that holds us back from being ourselves.
Best books I’ve read so far: Daring Greatly, Braving the Wilderness, and Rising Strong (all 3 by Brene Brown); The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron; Superparenting for ADHD by Edward Hallowell; anything by Rachel Held Evans, Jen Hatmaker, Glennon Doyle. The Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker. Norman Doidge’s books on neuroplasticity.
Favourite quotes from the past few years: “I belong to myself” ~ from Maya Angelou, but I found it in Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, I think. I belong everywhere, I belong nowhere: I belong to myself. I move freely throughout the world, in any setting, because I belong.
“We can do hard things.” ~ Glennon Doyle
Thing I said so many times to my kids that I started to believe it and say it to myself: “Of course you’re not good at that yet! This is the first time you’ve tried it. You won’t get any good at all until you’ve tried it at least ten times. You have to make a million mistakes before you get really good at things.”
Things Knitting Taught Me About Life
Making mistakes is inevitable. The important thing isn’t avoiding making them, it’s learning to fix them or live with them.
Ripping out is part of knitting. Making mistakes is part of life. Moving backwards isn’t a thing — every fall, failure, setback, is part of the path. Carry on.
You can’t judge a project by its beginning. You need at least a few inches, a gauge swatch, and sometimes blocking before you can get a good view.
The first step of learning a new skill is: awkwardness. Incredible, tangly, confusing awkwardness. Messes. Feeling like you’re all thumbs, like your brain is exhausted and maybe even melted. This is normal. Push through and carry on.
Every knitter has a different level of experience and skill. Comparing yourself to others is like comparing a first dishcloth to a masterful Fair Isle sweater. It’s unfair to compare first steps to 400th ones. You’re on different paths with different rates of learning. Just keep knitting; you’ll get there, too.
Stop and look. Notice details. It helps.
Counting is hard. Seriously, be kind to yourself and use stitch markers. Sometimes it’s the simple things that are the easiest to mess up. It means nothing other than: Counting Is Hard.
Trying to fix mistakes when you’re tired makes them worse. Go to sleep and reset your brain. Things will be clearer in the morning.