You wonder sometimes if opportunities seek you out, or if it’s the other way around.
Once upon a time I thought I would become a teacher, specifically a German language teacher. Although that never happened, at least not officially as I never obtained teacher certification, I discovered many opportunities over the years to provide instruction or training. As you know if you regularly read my blog posts, I love to write tutorials. Beyond that, however, I have had the privilege of providing German language lessons to elementary students as a volunteer, tutoring individuals in German at my kitchen table, and developing lesson plans and then teaching enrichment or extracurricular classes for gifted grade school students in fine arts, science, social studies and literature.
These photos represent National History Day projects for elementary students I taught.
I spent a dozen years developing and teaching young people and adults about creative problem-solving tools through the Destination Imagination program, which sometimes led to other opportunities for the students. For a couple of summers, I collaborated with the Des Moines Art Center and the Iowa Architectural Foundation, who offered several Destination Imagination teams the opportunity to participate in the Ideal Object Workshop. One summer four teams participated in three workshops as they explored the definition of art, learned how art, architecture and everyday objects can be combined, and were challenged to create “Ideal Objects” matching the spirit of artist Tom Sachs’ exhibition that was on display at the time at the Des Moines Art Center. Students worked as both designer/contractors and clients, creating objects designed to make their lives easier within the kitchen, bathroom, garage and bedroom. Each team built an object for a room in a house that addressed three requests of a client (which just happened to be another team in the workshop). Students were provided with funds and the guidance of an architect and a contractor to help them work toward their Ideal Objects. At the conclusion of the program, the students’ projects were displayed at the Des Moines Art Center and the Adrienne and Charles Herbert Galleries.
Designing the X-treme Clean Machine 2000 for its client, Ames Middle School, “Cakewaves,” a team from West Des Moines, created an Ideal Object for the kitchen that has the ability to clean, play music and store items.
Producing a unique bathroom chair for grooming and grooving for its client, “That Team From Grinnell,” Ames Middle School created an Ideal Object that can dry, weigh, play music and includes distinct primping areas for boys and girls.
Crafting a workbench for the garage with a ping-pong ball warning system for its client, Ames High School, was “That Team From Grinnell.” Their Ideal Object incorporates a workbench with built-in tools, has additional areas for tool storage, and has a means for stopping a car.
Ames High School team members built a multi-use station for the bedroom for its client, “Cakewaves,” that has the ability to store items, help the client fall asleep and includes a homework station
Before our son was born, when I was a software support specialist, I even taught adults how to use word processing programs. Let’s face it, with or without the certification, I’m a teacher at heart and in practice.
What has touched me the most personally, however, is the time I have spent with others, sharing my love for handmade crafts. It was wonderful to discover I have a niece who enjoys cross stitch as much as I do, and to discuss techniques with her. I was proud of and gratified by the growth displayed by a former neighbor, now a young lady in her 20s, to whom I taught basic sewing skills when she was a child. She eventually began sewing and selling period dresses. When I managed a Destination Imagination team, I taught six middle school boys how to thread a sewing machine, and stitch straight and curved lines so they could make their own costumes. By the time they were high school freshman, you couldn’t hold back their creativity!
During their freshman year of high school, my team solved a challenge called StranDId involving a team of archaeologists stranded in time, specifically in ancient Egypt.
With that kind of background, it’s probably no surprise that I enjoy sharing my passion for crochet with friends and family. I taught a left-handed friend to crochet while we sat on her living room couch, taught my mother and husband to crochet, and even our son.
Even though she was a beginning crocheter, my mother decided to tackle thread crochet. She kept herself busy during her bedridden days before she passed away by edging these handkerchiefs. “A lady,” she used to say,” always carries a hanky in her purse.” I treasure these last bits of my mother’s handiwork.
Not everyone enjoys the art of hooking to the same extent that I do, so I’m never offended when I discover later that they’ve forgotten how to crochet or that it has been years—perhaps decades—since they flipped a strand of yarn over the hook. The point is that the act of teaching someone to do something you love is simultaneously an act of sharing. You’re sharing your skill, true, but you’re also sharing your passion and your desire to connect on a deeper level. Although I never got a chance to know my German grandmother who crocheted the circular lace table cloth shown below, I’m sure we would have enjoyed each other’s company and our shared interest in needlecraft.
I suspect my left-handed friend and our son no longer crochet, but have fond memories of the time we spent exploring the craft together. My husband, however, has become hooked, if you’ll pardon the over-used pun. When he was between jobs decades ago, after he had retired his commission from the U.S. Navy and was interviewing for jobs, finances got a little tight and John went through some nail-biting episodes. One day I suggested that it might help him to relax a bit if he learned how to crochet. At first he was reluctant, but then he agreed and asked me to bring him a ball of yarn and a hook. Although I don’t have a photo of it, his first project (like my own) was a scarf. Since that time, he has become a specialist—he crochets afghans. A side benefit is that he’s my biggest supporter when I need to shop for yarn. A down side, perhaps, is that we both end up shopping and the bill is subsequently higher.
When our son was a baby, John crocheted the afghan draped over our son’s head, shown in the photo below.
We like to say this was David’s first smile, at five weeks old, as he poses for a portrait wearing the blanket his father crocheted.
Although I haven’t snapped photos of every project John has completed, I’m certain he has crocheted an afghan for every niece and nephew, our parents, and of course our own family, several times over.
For the last nine years, we have rented a cabin at Backbone State Park in northeastern Iowa. Especially when it rains, out come the yarn stash and crochet hooks.
I have discovered, over the years, that I am not the only one in the family who seeks opportunities to share her craft. John enjoys small woodworking projects, so when I needed a book press and a sewing frame for my bookbinding, he made them for me from scratch.
What about our son? He, too, shares his passion for handmade crafts with others. After he graduated from college with dual majors in literature and history, he became a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, an organization that specializes in researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. David not only practices period archery and fencing, but has taught basic bow skills to others, marshaled archery events, and taught fencing classes in the use of the rotella (a round concave shield). He fletches arrows by hand (attaches feathers to arrows), tools leather, and has even made his own period war bow—sharing these handmade passions with others through conversations, gifts or commissions. If you’re interested in contacting him, by the way, you can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ll want to click on this photo to see the details in the leatherwork and arrow fletching.
Although you can read a book or take a class in person or online to learn a new craft or improve your handmade skills, there is no substitute for a one-on-one demonstration. That demonstration inevitably strikes up a conversation that goes beyond the craft, leading to new friendships, new understandings, and an appreciation for both craft and person. When you share your craft with others, you forge links that cross generational gaps with ease and create memories that will last forever. What craft skill or passion have you shared lately with others?
© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.