The Year I became a Hooker: My Crochet Journey

How it started.

Last year, as part of my Year of Restore, I decided to try something new. I taught myself how to crochet. This was not the first time I tried to crochet. About 10 years ago when the kiddos were small, I bought some yarn, a hook and gave it a go. You can see my first masterpiece in the pic. No, I have no idea what the hell it was supposed to be. I do know that it was kind of a disaster. Looking back I can tell you what I did wrong…. everything. That yarn is definitely NOT a beginner yarn. I would bet money that I was using the wrong hook size and I had no pattern. This was an aimless attempt at learning a new skill. As you can guess, after this monstrosity, I hung my head in shame, set down my hook, and gave up learning how to crochet.

I was not going to be a fiber artist. For years to come, I would still find myself wandering through the yarn aisle wishing I could do something with all of that beautiful yarn. This went on for years. Me looking at yarn and wanting to create something beautiful and then remembering the pink and blue eyelash yarn abomination. I would then leave the yarn aisle and head to the bead aisle feeling defeated. I would even see cool projects like temperature blankets and think, “That would be so cool to do if only I knew how to crochet.” Knowing, that I would probably never learn. Such quitter talk, I know.

The Pom-Pom Project

Holiday Pom-Pom Décor

In the winter of 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, something changed. I finally gave in to my yarn yearnings, bought some plain old yarn, and started to make pom-poms. I don’t know why. It was something to do I guess. I made them for all the windows. For the manel. For picture frames. I made a black and red one for our tree at work. I even sent some to friends and colleagues. There were pom-poms everywhere!! It was delightful! It also reignited my desire to give crochet another try.

I had befriended yarn again so it was time to pick up a hook and make something. But as the disaster danced in the back of my brain, reminding me of my failure, I knew that this time I had take a different approach.

Try Again

Learning from my past mistake of jumping in blindly with no direction or plan, or clue, I decided that if I wanted to learn this for real, I needed to start with the basics. So I found a pattern labeled easy and gave it a try. It was not too bad. The pattern was easy to follow. I successfully made a hat but I still made many mistakes. I used yarn that was a little hard to work with and did not use the right sized hook. But, despite that, I did create a hat. A too big, lopsided hat. Still basking in the afterglow of a semi-success, I turned to YouTube and found a video tutorial for a “simple” octopus. The tutorial was good. After a bit of struggle and some rewatching over and over, I made an an octopus! Like the hat, it was a little wonky and filled with mistakes but, it was were what it was supposed to be. It was at that moment I decided, I could crochet! I was now a hooker! OK, not really but I had made it further than I ever had before. I had some confidence and more yarn!

Taking the Big Step

After my two successful projects I wanted more. Since it was the holiday break in the middle of a pandemic, we could not really go anywhere, I started playing around with a few more simple projects. I made three more octopi and a few gauge swatches. The day after Christmas I decided that if I really wanted to do this, I needed to go big. My mind drifted back to those temperature blankets I had admired so many years ago. I decided that having a year long project to focus on would be a great way for me to practice my skills and get better. I was right. (If you want to learn more about the blanket project, you can read about it here.) Long story short – I kept with it over the course of 2021 and completed the blanket! The coolest thing was to see how my skill changed during the year. The beginning of the blanket was a hot mess. The edges were terrible and there were so many dropped stitches. But, I got better and better the more I did it every day. Seeing my skills improve gave me the confidence to try other things and keep learning!

How its Going

Over that past year, I have gone from the creator of wonky things to the creator of slightly less wonky yet beautiful in their own way things. Since that first hat twelve months ago I have made five blankets, one pillow, three pairs of fingerless gloves, a cardigan, (yes, a cardigan!! Who would have thought?) two wraps, six scarves, three hats, a dog snood, twenty mug cozies, a dice bag, a fox, a sting ray, a water molecule, some stars, some skulls, some Christmas trees and a hyperbolic pseudosphere. Whew. It has been a busy year. I do not even want to know how many hours of video tutorials I have watched or patterns I have tried to decipher. It has all been worth it. This time was different. I approached it like like an educator. I identified my objective, found the resources that would support my goal and I made things. Over and over again.

How its Going

It Ain’t Nothin’ Unless You Learn Something

I have learned so much and am really proud of how far I have come. It has been fun to challenge myself with different projects and techniques. With any new hobby or skills there are things you learn as you put in the time to move from beginner to…er… less of a beginner. Some of these lessons are specific to crocheting such as the difference between a signal crochet and a double or why it is important to write down which hook you used if you are going to pause a project. (Don’t ask me how I know. Just know that I know.) But, some of the lessons we learn along the way can be applied more broadly. So what did I learn as I hooked my way through 2021. Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are some of the things I have learned on this journey.

First and foremost, don’t let past failures, challenges, or mistakes stop you from trying again. I say that all the time. I’m surprised I let a failed attempt define me as a crafter. If you really want to do it, try again. Only this time find the resources and tools that will help you be successful. I could not have done this without all of the great YouTubers out there doing demo videos. Thank you, fellow crochet people!

Nest, don’t be afraid to start. Some time projects seem so big and overwhelming that you don’t even know how to start. Crochet a yearly temperature blanket. Wow – that is a lot of work. But not when you break it down into single days for about 15 minutes a day. That makes it much easier to attack! Make a cardigan. What? I never thought I would be able to make a cardigan. As I was working on rectangular blankets I could not even imagine making something wearable. But, I found a great pattern that broke it down into easy to follow steps and one week later, I had a wearable. (The pattern was the Kami Cardi by TL Yarn Crafts.Check out her stuff. It is amazing!) Breaking it down into pieces helped my get over the overwhelming idea of the finished project. Take it one step at a time.

Image from NASA.gov Hubble Space Telescope – https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/multimedia/index.html

Going back to failures – just because you made it, doesn’t mean you need to like it or keep it. Frogging is a crocheter’s best friend. Made a mistake? Frog it. Made something weird and ugly? Frog it. In the world of crochet, “frogging” means to rip out stitches. (Yes, I use crochet slang now.) Remember my first wonky hat? Well, it was kind of unwearable so, I frogged it. It is now art of a beautiful blanket in my office. It was hard to frog that first piece. All I could think about was how all the time I put into making it was wasted. But really, isn’t it wasted if the hat just sat there unloved? Frogging is not admitting failure but correcting a wrong or giving something new life. Speaking of past failures – that pink and blues eyelash monster might be just what I need to create a crochet version of the above Hubble Telescope image. I look forward to frogging that thing and using it to make something new and (hopefully) beautiful. Bit, if it doesn’t turn out, no worries, just frog it. This is becoming my second favorite F word.

It was a Crochet Christmas this year!

And finally, it is ok to pause a project and start something new. Blame my weird brain but I get bored with big projects. As soon as something becomes repetitive my brain finds something shinny to focus on instead. I found that taking a break from a big project to complete a small quick project gives me the break I need to continue. It’s ok to have multiple projects going at a time. Give yourself permission to project hop. (Just remember to write down your hook size before you move on. Again, trust me on that one.)

The End?

Well, that post is way longer than I expected. But, I guess I was trying to reflect on 365+ days of my crochet journey. There was a lot to cover. Big thank you to all my IRL and social media friends who have suffered through the MANY pictures of the various projects and all of my talk about yarn. I appreciate all of the support this past year as I tried something new. This is not the end of my journey but the start. I have so many projects I want to try (and so much yarn)!!

Resources

If you are thinking about taking your own crochet journey, I support you. Do it! It’s a fun hobby. Oh – and my fitness app counts my hand movements as exercise. So, bonus!! As one newbie to another, here are some of my favorite resources for learning.

  • TL Yarn Crafts – patters and tips. Her videos are what really helped my with technique. She also has great Tunisian Crochet tutorials.
  • Ravelry – Join this free community for so many patterns and to connect with others who are just as passionate for the craft.
  • Bag-O-Day Crochet – Watch her videos for tutorials and yarn reviews.
  • Alt Knots – Do you need you dark soul but still want to crochet? Try Alt Knots. She puts the spooky in spooktacular crochet videos.
  • Jonah’s Hands – This kid is amazing! He has great tutorials and is a joy to watch.

Have fun hooking!

Taking the Bite Out of Failure

Epic Fail

I have failed. I have totally failed at my goal to start 2019 off right by blogging twice a week. Here we are three months in and I’m writing my first blog post of the year. Fail.

So, I thought it fitting that I recover from my failure with a blog post about failure. Part of the reason for my radio silence is because some new projects have been brewing. The first quarter of the year has been filled with new initiatives, new ideas, and new experiences. (Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on some of them in future blog posts.) My favorite new project is a podcast about failure. Failure Bites.

Failure Bites

The Failure Bites Podcast, our latest NIU STEAM podcast, features successful people telling their stories of a difficult experience that helped them grown and learn. This podcast was the brainchild of my colleague, Kim Likier. Our team had been talking about the role of failure in learning from some time. We incorporate Failure-Based Learning into much of what we do. Kim suggested that we create a podcast that highlights personal stories of failure and success. A few collaborative meetings later and voila! Failure Bites was born.

We all have a failure story to tell. I told mine a year or so ago in a blog post for Coaching for Geeks. (You can read my failure story here.)  I found the process very therapeutic. It was actually interesting to look at that experience through a lens of growth instead of failure. Our goal with this project is to celebrate the role that failure plays in success. We want to change the mindset that failing at something means you are a failure. It is the exact opposite. Failure and reflection are how we learn and grow. You can’t grow if you don’t take risks. When you take risks, you could fail. In this podcast, we are exploring the connection between failure and growth through personal stories.

We are four episodes in and so far I am loving this project. It has been truly inspiring to hear people from all over and from so many different backgrounds and fields talk about personal triumphs and the failures or challenges that got them there.

Listen to the most recent episode featuring filmmaker Tom Gustafson from Speak Productions.  Tom tells his story of the challenges he faced making his first feature film. It was great to talk to Tom. He is my younger brother and I am truly inspired by all he and his partner have accomplished. I know that it has not been an easy road.

Fail Forward

This whole project was a risk. We could have (and still could) fail. But that’s OK. Even if we get one person to think about failure differently, we have succeeded.

We have some great upcoming episodes in the queue. We’ll hear from a hugely successful author and an award-winning teacher. There are other new episodes in the works featuring some very exciting guests. We will also weave in some psychology experts to help us understand the effects of failure on our brain.

You can find Failure Bites on all of your favorite podcast platforms including iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

Please subscribe and leave a comment. We would love to hear if one of the stories resonated with you or inspired you to keep going or take a risk. We would also love to hear your story.

So, take the bite out of failure. Take a risk and make a mistake. You might learn something new.

 

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 3 UL XPLORLABS

Day 3: UL Xplorlabs

Today’s feature is not really a tool but rather a set of online learning models centered on safety engineering and problem solving.

Many of us already know UL or Underwriter’s Laboratory as  global leader in safety science. Pick up any electronic device laying around you right now and chances are there is a UL certification mark. What many of you might not know is that UL is now creating free online learning modules around safety science and problem solving through UL Xplorlabs. These multi-media, highly interactive modules are designed to help middle school students understand how engineers use science and inquiry to help make the world a safer place.

I was first introduced to UL Xplorlabs at ISTE 2017 in San Antonio.  You can read about my first reaction to these learning resources in my ISTE 2017 – Recap blog post. At that time they had released their first module on Portable Electric Power. In the last month or so, they have released their second module on Fire Forensics: Claims and Evidence. Both combine videos, simulations, and hands-on activities that teachers can use in their classrooms.

Presentation done!
Me and members of the UL Xplorlabs Team at STEM Summit

Full disclosure before I go any further. Today, I had the pleasure of presenting with three members of the UL Xplorlabs team at a STEM Summit in the Chicago area. We had about 20 teachers in the session to see an overview of these resources. Preparing for the presentation gave me an excellent opportunity to explore the two modules in depth. Needless to say, I’m a fan!

As I mentioned before, both modules include a mix of videos, simulations, and hands-on extensions. Each video features UL scientists/engineers who introduce topics and explain the concepts. This is extremely helpful, especially for those teachers who are hesitant to tackle these topics in their classroom because they are not experts on the content. You don’t have to be. UL has you covered. The short videos are interspersed throughout the module to provide information in a just-in-time fashion. There are also videos that demonstrate some of the more dangerous experiments that you might not (or should not) do at home or in a classroom.

DistanceTest
Screen shot of the Xtreme Drop Test Simulation.

In between the videos are interactive animations and simulations. For example, in the Portable Electric Power module, you can use the Drop Zone simulator to see what happen if you drop a hoverboard from up to 11 feet. The simulation lets you control the drop, see the visual effects of the fall and run a speed/distance test to see if there will be any dangerous thermal runaway (= exploded battery). The screen shot to the left shows my failed trail during an Xtreme Drop Test. In short, don’t drop your hoverboard and then try to run it at full speed. Bad things will happen.

In addition to the online videos and simulations, UL Xplorlabs has several experiments for each module that you can do in your classroom as well as collaborative challenges for your students to participate in and share results. There are also lots of videos and additional resources on their Xtensions page. All of the materials in the modules are aligned to Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards.

Each module is designed to fit a few class periods but can also be extended or condensed as needed. I could also see them being used in a flipped learning environment or for independent study. There are many ways these resources could fit into a middle school classroom.

Did I mention that everything is available on the website for FREE!! Yes. The materials are free.

Bottom line…these are some well done resources that address a side of engineering that we tend to overlook. We focus a lot of our time talking about how engineers build and design things but we don’t spend as much time talking about the important ways engineers keep us safe. I highly recommend checking these resources out, even if you are not a middle school teacher. You might just learning something new.

 

 

The F-Word #IMMOOC

Failure is soo hot right now…kind of.

I am excited to finally be participating in the #IMMOOC based on the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. This book has been on my reading list all summer and I’m finally getting to it. Yay!

Here are some of my thoughts after reading the Forward and the Intro and watching the fantastic live session with Dr. Jo Boaler, from YouCubed.org at Stanford University and whose book, Mathematical Mindset is now on my reading list.

Failure is so hot right now…kind of.

It seems like every conference I’ve been to lately or article I’ve read in the last few months has talked about the importance of failure. It must be this year’s hot topic in education. Mantras such as Fail Fast, Fail Often or Fail: First Attempt In Learning are everywhere. And for good reason. Research supports the idea that we learn from failure. We learn when we make mistakes, think about what went wrong, and try again. However, when I tell my educator friends that my colleagues and I are working on Failure-Based Learning, I get some very strong reactions.

“Do you have to call it THAT?”

“Why would you use the F-word?”

“Can’t you call it something more positive, like Grit?”

Apparently, the F-word, Failure, makes some uncomfortable. Especially when we are talking about letting students fail. It makes them even more uncomfortable when we say that many of the challenges we create set students up to fail…on purpose. No, this is not because my colleagues and I are mean-spirited people who want to dash the hopes and dreams of young minds. Quite the opposite. We set them up to fail in small challenges so they can learn and grow and not fail in the big challenge – life.

Our goal is to create learning experiences that allow students to ask questions, try new things, think about things differently, connect ideas, make mistakes, and try again in a safe, supportive environment. In this environment, failure is not the end judgment of how you performed but just one step in the learning process. When students stop seeing failure as the end of learning but rather just part of the process, they feel more comfortable trying new ideas that might not work. They take risks. They begin to innovate. I love the idea of Steven Johnson’s “adjacent possible,” boundaries that grow as you explore and push past your comfort zone. If students know they can take risks in a safe learning environment and that failure does not mean that they FAIL, they are more likely to push outside of their comfort zone and try new things.

As Dr. Boaler said in the Live Session for Week 1, “new learning experiences, change people.” We want our students to grow and be innovators. We want our students to be comfortable with being uncomfortable so they have new learning experiences and push outside of their boundaries. If that is true, we need to be comfortable with uncomfortable language such as failure.

So, embrace the F-word. Failure is not a bad word. It is essential to innovation and learning.