Craft and the art of goal-setting

A couple of posts back, I mentioned that I was learning to crochet. This might seem odd since I’ve posted a lot about my somewhat manageable yarn obsession. You’d think that by now I’d have this particular craft under my belt or (like many other knitters) just refuse to learn it out of stubborn solidarity. Really, knitting is just a really satisfying creative outlet. That doesn’t mean I haven’t used it to learn new things, though.

Almost ten years ago, I became frustrated at my knitting speed, or lack thereof, and taught myself to lever knit. Also known as Irish Cottage Knitting, lever knitting is a variant on the English method of holding one’s yarn and needles. It gained new popularity with the current crop of yarn enthusiasts through blogger Stephanie Pearl McPhee, who learned the method from her own grandmother. 

As far as learning new techniques go, lever knitting wasn’t terribly difficult. I figured out how to hold the yarn and wrap it through my fingers for the amount of tension I required, and started slowly. I’d knit that way for about five or ten minutes every time I picked up my knitting until it just became second nature. Learning to knit two-handed for stranded knitting was an added layer of difficulty.

I left my long-term employer this past September, and started looking at courses of study. I’ve had people suggest that I complete my network training or go into security or development. Development is an area where I have a bit of interest and some small experience. I fell in love with web design back in the 90’s, and reluctantly left it behind when my career started leading into network operations. At the time, web developers weren’t really valued unless they lucked into a career in a design house. I’m really happy to see that’s changed, and it’s a direction I’d like to head towards. 

Blue Crocheted Afghan
Granny Stripes afghan. Yarn is Caron Cakes Faerie Cake.

How does this tie into learning crochet? When I’m learning new crafts and crafting techniques, I generally teach myself. I’ve had to learn to set small, achievable goals, and make them interesting enough to want to complete them. I try to build off areas where I already have some competency and proficiency. The payoffs for me are awesome in scope: I’ve learned patience and focus. I’ve gained dexterity in fingers that currently have trouble performing a simple scale on the piano. I also have some warm socks, hats, mittens and shawls. I’m not really seeing a down-side to this.

It doesn’t escape my notice that I’ve just described something called a S.M.A.R.T. goal. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Related. I’ve found that management makes a lot of noise about this method, but rarely gives you a real-world application for it. Having SMART goals sounds awesome. Being engaged enough to actually accomplish anything is another matter. Usually my interpretation of a SMART goal set by management translates to “How can we offload this thing we don’t want to do onto someone else so we can find something we like better.”

This attitude is probably why I tend to stick to crafts (at least for the time being).

When I’m teaching myself new crafts, I gain another side-benefit that I haven’t really talked about yet: an increase in self-confidence. I gain satisfaction in knowing that I’m not stupid, and that I can learn new things. I came out of my last job feeling pretty defeated. It’s taken me the better part of five months to start feeling like my old self again. I’m rediscovering a person who hasn’t seen the light of day in over a decade. I’m writing fiction again. I’m dusting off Photoshop and Illustrator. I’m digging further into WordPress and HTML and trying to teach myself Javascript. I have a lot of pans in the fire, and if learning how to crochet a shawl is the thing that helps me complete some of those tasks? Well then the extra acrylic yarn was well worth it in my estimation.

I’m not the only one who sees multiple mental health benefits to craftwork. Neuroscientists are studying people who craft and finding some really interesting observations about the meditative and social benefits. Even Lifehack has picked up the story.

The styling’ outfit my buddy Ollie is wearing was made by my Mum.

Crafts were a big thing when I was a kid. Growing up, there were always books on sewing, cross-stitch, macramé and knitting on the shelves in the family den. They were usually tucked willy-nilly between books on art history and the latest Stephen King or Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novel, but they were a natural part of my daily landscape.

My baby dolls had custom clothing and their own quilt. Mum made designer dresses for my Barbie dolls that were prettier and more durable than anything bought in a store. Cross-stitch and embroidered samplers were hung tastefully in certain rooms of the house, and crocheted snowflakes became a treasured part of the tree-trimming process.

I talk a lot about my Grandmother’s guidance on my love of craft, but I really can’t discount my own mother’s influence. By the time I was an adult, my mother had added Dene beadwork and moose hair tufting to her list of accomplishments, as well as leatherworked moccasins and mukluks. The parka I took with me to college was made and hand-embroidered by my Mum.

My mother also became an Amateur Radio Operator (HAM) in the early 1980’s, at a time when you needed to be fluent in Morse code as well as have an extensive knowledge of electronics to gain a license. Without that license, you were unable to participate in talks on various frequencies or attend meetings with other similarly-inclined persons. I can tell you from personal experience that learning Morse isn’t easy. I’ve given up on it a few times now, and I speak two languages (poorly, I grant you) in addition to English. Being able to draw on that background and meld it into the projects I’m currently working on? You have no idea how much this pleases me.