It has been a year since I wrote a blog post. It has been a year of reinventing my business and a bit of reinventing me. I am learning to teach in a new way. I have been deciding what our business should look like at it’s best. I have spent time with Finn (my adorable Miniature Australian Shepherd), thinking about raising dogs and kids and the intersection thereof. I’ve been outside more. And inside my head more. This pandemic has caused much change in so many ways. Winners bend but don’t break. They learn to move with the waves and not simply ride out the storm, but be better for it. As we have seen in the Olympics, sometimes winning means letting go for long-term health.
This year I “let go” of Knit Michigan. I co-founded the non-profit that serves cancer patients in 2006 and remained it’s president and executive director until this spring. I knew it was time to pass the hat, bring in new blood and allow the organization to be revitalized. Under the guiding hands of Sam and Mike (owners of the Yarn Stop in Clawson), this is happening. It was exactly the right thing to do. This year has become a transition year as I serve in an advisory capacity as immediate past-president. Already things are getting done that will make Knit Michigan an even more vibrant organization for years to come. Knit Michigan solicits, gathers and distributes hand-crafted comfort items for cancer patients, such as chemo caps, various types of pillows, blankets and breast prostheses. Read about it and how you can help at knitmichigan.org.
Finn came to me almost exactly a year ago, just as my cancer treatment was ending and I was starting to get energy back. He was nearly five months old, a bundle of energy, and a joyful distraction as the first Covid restrictions were being lifted. A beautiful dog with a heart bigger than his body, he needed additional training to be able to come to the shop and be around customers.
On our walks, Finn has learned that he can stop and smell the flowers when I stop and photograph the flowers. He always sits patiently when the camera comes out. Quite amazing, really. We are currently working on his AKC Canine Good Citizenship certificate which is requiring a LOT of work. It is exactly what we both need. Obedience classes are really to train the human. The dogs catch on pretty quickly.
I think that is what kids are good at, too. To train the parents. I recently had my grandkids, age 10 and 13, for a week. They reminded me so much of raising my children. My father told my husband that I raised myself. Not in a bad way, but in a single-minded way. I knew what I wanted. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I know it was a challenge to be my parent.
So, what does all this have to do with reinvention. Well, teaching adults has similarities with raising children, training dogs and growing up. All in a good way, mind you! These are all puzzles to be figured out. Learning should be fun, effective, energizing, skill-building and thought provoking. I need to be clear with Finn or we won’t reach our goal. Children need to understand what the boundaries and expectations are. Adults are more challenging than pets or kids. They often have bad habits and preconceptions that they bring to the table with them.
I remember a learning situation in boot camp. The range officers preferred having females on the range because they seldom had prior experience with rifles and 45 caliber hand guns. We were a clean slate, ready to receive knowledge. The men, on the other hand, seldom had a clean slate — or wouldn’t admit to it if they did — and were more resistant to receiving new information. I think of this situation often when I meet resistance in classes. Flipping that one switch can make all the difference in the world.
To this day, educators rely on the VARK model: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic (hands on) learning styles. When I design classes I always take these styles into consideration. Most people learn using a combination of all these styles, but most have one style that is dominant. Figuring this out in classes by observing students is imperative. Figuring it out long-distance via Zoom puts everything into a different orbit.
Our new video studio
In October, 2020, I learned that we had received a grant through the National Mainstreet Program from The Hartford, called the Hartbeat of Mainstreet Grant. We were one of only 67 companies in the US to receive the funding that was intended to help companies survive the brutal economic effects of the pandemic. Our projects were to build a video studio at the shop to deliver content for classes over the internet and to recreate our webstore and take it to the next level. Either one alone would have been a tall order, but both together has been an immense and time-consuming undertaking.
Since receiving the equipment for our studio, we have made educational videos for public consumption (see my YouTube channel here) and videos to support our classes (both online and in the shop). So far, we have made entire video sets for our introductory weaving class THREE times. We are getting better at the process, but there is definitely a learning curve. The next big step will be going from a simple Windows editing program to Adobe’s Premiere Pro. That will take total immersion to figure it out — it is similar to learning a new language. I know what I want to do, but figuring out what it is called is an entirely different matter!
I am very, very pleased with the impact using prepared video has in our classes. The Michigan League of Handweavers (MLH) really stretched me when they switched to a Zoom conference format from an in-person format. I was challenged to teach two loom-based classes remotely. Oh boy! Hyperventilating time, for sure. But, once I stepped back, broke it down into smaller pieces, we did it! Not only was teaching successful that way, I enjoyed it and the students did, too. There’s something to be said about working at home, on your own equipment, in your own comfy chair and sleeping in your own bed at night. The Learn to Weave class was so well received, that I have been asked to teach it again for MLH in an effort to encourage to new weavers to join the craft.
Bringing a modern webstore on-line has forced me to examine our stock. What do we do well? What do you come to us for? What suits the brick and mortar store as well as the webstore? Lots of soul searching. Where I ended up is that we do best with family and traditional yarns. The kind of yarns that tie families together and you use to create heirlooms. So, you will see more of them. We are not the store to come to when searching for bulky or super-bulky yarns or yarn that you will make a trendy sweater from. That just isn’t us. You can come to us for the staples in garment quantities. You can also find help to support patterns like that.
We specialize in what we like to call North Sea yarns. Those that come from Shetland and Norway. We now have 325 different choices in Shetland jumper weight yarn–the kind of yarn traditionally used for Fair Isle knitting. We are expanding our Rauma Norwegian line of Finullgarn as well. I also ordered much more Berroco Vintage in multiple weights to beef up our “family” yarn. Vintage is a favorite because it washes, wears, and knits well thanks to a partial wool content. Changes like this don’t happen overnight, but slowly you will see shifts in our stocking. Meanwhile, the Sale Bin is an exciting place to visit!
I haven’t really reinvented me, but I have come to honor myself more. After 21 years of owning a yarn shop and never having knit a sweater for myself because I wanted to lose weight, I cast on a sweater for myself. Nearly 400 stitches around on size 3 needles, I’m almost to the underarms. I decided that I deserved to have a sweater and now was the time. This coincided with wrapping my head around being the on-camera instructor for our videos. Now, that was not easy. Not one bit. I wish I was at my fighting weight, but I’m not. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have good stuff to share. Do you know how odd it is to edit yourself on the screen? To watch yourself for hours on end? Really weird! With so many screen hours, I had to get over me!
Over the next weeks, we will be focusing on our webstore and should have it live in September. What a relief that will be! Something I have looked forward to for 20 years. As we gain experience, our videos will come along in quality. Already, our sound is better and camera work more precise. Our content is good, as our YouTube numbers confirm.
Covid has provided opportunities to learn and grow. It forced us to look at the core of our business and exploit what we do best: family and traditional yarns, exceptional instruction, and sharing the love of our arts. We hope to be here to serve you for many years to come and appreciate your 21 years of support.