First, the background. Sara Lamb is a self-described teacher of “esoteric weaving skills”, with a penchant for low-tech and simple equipment. Unsurprisingly, I admire her work, being rather fond of that sort of thing myself. Our specific paths are rather different – she has gone the color route, and I’m more about structure – but the underlying philosophy seems much the same. Sara is a professional weaver and well-respected teacher. Recently she had a post on her blog about teaching, and the different receptions that new teachers and established teachers can receive (note me carefully not using the word “old”), and the importance of a mix of both. Sara discussed teaching styles, and the teaching of techniques versus the teaching of projects. All in all, it was very thought-provoking. I left a comment, and there were many other interesting discussion points brought up. (Go read it. I’ll wait here until you get back.)
Sara found all the comments thought-provoking herself, and wrote a follow-up post. (Go read that one too.) She suggested that experienced teachers are what beginners want, because such teachers have a strong grasp of teaching the basics, and know where beginners struggle, and how to help them. Veterans, though, are interested in new teachers. Experienced fiber artists already have a solid grasp of the basics, and of the learning process, and are looking for something new, a spark or insight, even if that may not be wrapped in perfect poise and practiced style.
Sara went on to say, “I would take a class from Phiala, or Abby, or Michael, in a heartbeat. You can read the excitement they have in their work through their web presence, whether it is thoroughly answering questions in an online forum, or presenting their process on their personal websites. They have done their homework, and while their work is rooted in tradition, it is not bound by tradition. They know the back story of the work that they are doing, and they are exploring.”
I take it as a great compliment to have someone I respect say such things, and to group me with other fiber artists I respect, and who are more involved in the fiber arts community than I am. More challenged, than anything. Sara knows that I’m considering teaching classes, and this public affirmation suddenly takes it from “something I might try to figure out how to do someday” to “something I actually can and maybe should be thinking about now“. Different, and intimidating, and challenging.
Moving into the fiber world as an artist, participant, vendor, and especially teacher, presents two challenges for me. The first is that it requires me to move out of my comfort zone. I’m at home in the small world of medieval reenactment, especially within my own organization. I’m respected as an expert, and as a teacher. Outside that world, I’m a newcomer, and inexperienced, and that is intimidating. There’s overlap, with my website, and with the mailing lists I participate in, but my focus has been narrow, aimed at the medieval, and not looking to the wider world.
The second challenge for me is learning what I know. I know an awful lot of stuff – the history of things, how to do things, how things work. I take great delight in figuring things out, learning how they work, understanding them, and then using that understanding to make something. (As a reenactor, my greatest achievements are when I can make something that would look perfectly correct in a Viking household, and yet does not duplicate any particular extant item, because that means I understand the item and how it is made and the culture surrounding it. As a fiber artist, my goals are not so well defined.) I will admit to starting many more things than I finish, because once I understand the process actually doing it loses some of its allure. This is great for the SCA, where classes are short, and free, and expectations aren’t necessarily so high. But to teach a professional class, I need to take what I know, organize it, synthesize it, and craft it into something that I can legitimately ask people to pay for, and from which my students will take away both technique and inspiration.
This process of constructing and organizing a class is familiar, as I’ve taught before in more formal settings, but doing applying those skills to this setting is new. I’m sure that my hard-won (if a bit rusty) teaching skills will transfer, though certainly with some initial friction as I adapt them to a different audience with different expectations.
Starting this blog a year ago was my first move toward the wider world of string. Attending Complex Weavers and SOAR is the next step. I have many thoughts about what comes after, and I greatly appreciate the encouragement (and push!) as I move toward those farther-off ideas (which may not be as far-off as I’d been thinking). And I’m very, very much looking forward to meeting Sara, and Abby, and Michael at SOAR. Sparks? Yes, I expect so!