How to get badass at pretty much anything- part one

In a former life, before I moved to New Zealand, I was a teacher. I was pretty good, too. I still love learning, and showing others who are keen to learn something how to do it- and I believe that if you have the passion to give something a try, you can get pretty good at it, with practice.  It’s not always easy, lets face it we all have different areas that we’re good at, and others that are a struggle. You may have seen that picture being shared around social media of a blue pill and a red pill- one makes you fluent in every language in the world, the other makes you able to play any musical instrument. I’m good at learning languages (I started young), but learning instruments, while I love music, is hard for me- so I’d pick the one that made me automatically able to play all the musical instruments (and then I’d go get my Bill Bailey/Tim Minchin on at the nearest piano)  But even without magical learning pills (or that bit in the Matrix where they upload knowledge to their brains) there are ways to make the process less of a slog. I want, over at least a couple of posts, to share some of what I’ve learned about learning, starting with…

Learning styles

Knowing how you learn best is damn useful if you want to pick up a new skill. There are a few different theories out there about it, but the one I’ve found rings the most true for me is the VARK theory. It breaks learning down into four styles- Visual, Aural, Reading/writing and Kinaesthetic.

A visual learner learns best through images/watching (unsurprisingly). An aural learner likes to listen to an explanation- so they would, for example, be far more likely to pay attention throughout a lecture with no slides where the lecturer talks for an hour. Reading/writing learners learn best from words on a page. Kinaesthetic learners (who tend to find concentrating a challenge) learn best by doing something while they learn- whether that’s taking notes, practicing what they’re learning about, or doing something with their hands while they listen to the teacher.

You can take a quiz to find out which ones you’re strongest in- and it’s such a good thing to know about yourself, because it means you can do your best to cater to it when you’re trying something- as well as asking teachers and others to help you by providing input in the way that fits you. For me, as a mainly visual and kinaesthetic learner (most people are a blend), doing mind maps in lots of different colours in class (and when taking minutes in meetings) helped me retain much more information than taking linear notes. I also knit in meetings when I can to help me pay attention to what’s being said- if I don’t have something to do with my hands I lose concentration VERY quickly.

When it comes to crafts, there are lots of tutorials out there- and if you want to master a particular new skill, and know your learning style, then pick ones that suit your style.

If you’re a visual learner, then looking at diagrams or a video on Youtube/Vimeo will help as you can see what you need to do. A tutorial with photo illustrations may also help you.

An aural learner would definitely benefit from videos with commentary (I’ve seen a few video tutorials which are silent, just demonstrating the technique without talking about it).

Read/write? Then blogs are a great place to start. There are plenty of written step-by-steps out there that explain neatly how to do something, and if you learn best from words on a page they’ll be the best way for you to get your head around things.

For kinaesthetic learners, the best tip I have is to combine using one of the tutorials above with physically doing the steps as you see, listen to, or read about them. As most people have a blend of styles, pick the style you’re second-strongest in, and combine that with the kinaesthetic element.

And let me know how you get on! Finding out the styles that work for you really does take some of the work out of learning, whether it’s craft or anything else- but of course I’m especially keen to hear if you’re learning a new craft technique at the moment, and how you’re going about it. What works best for you?

Tues-torials: Three craft tutorials you never knew you needed

One of the things I love about craft is that it’s always developing and changing. People come up with new techniques all the time, often by accident- in fact in some cases it may happen without you even realising that nobody else does something that way- not until you do some social crafting and you’re asked ‘how are you DOING that?’ (which along with ‘where did you buy that?’ when you made something yourself is one of those moments of Ultimate Crafting Smugness which are precious and golden). Thanks to the internet, it is of course super-easy for people who’ve realised that they’re doing something new, weird, or different to share that. For today’s Tues-torials, I present three of my favourites.

A small caveat- the knitting tutorial is not for the faint-hearted, but it IS worth trying out if you’ve gotten the hang of the basics. After all, the great thing about knitting, crochet and sewing is that if you get it wrong with the stitches, you can (usually) undo what you did and start again.

First up, though, we have a set of tips and tricks for hand sewing from the Dreamstress. Why did you not know you need it? Simple- an awful lot of sewing peeps (sorry, I just can’t bring myself to use ‘sewist’) rely heavily on their machine and avoid hand-sewing like the plague. But as the Dreamstress points out, hand sewing can add something very special to a garment. In the post, she talks about how to make it easy and even pleasurable (beeswax and silk thread, and really good needles- oh no, you’ll have to go to the craft store…). Thanks to her I’ve started added hand-done elements to the things I make, and it does make a difference to the finish.

Next, for those who have a passionate affair with their sewing machine, is a little-known fact about one particular possibility from Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing (vintage style? Check. Gorgeous blogger with paintbox-coloured hair that I’d love to have toooo? Check. Fantastic projects and tutorials? Checkity check check!)- in this case, it’s about a stitch on your machine which acts like a serger. Yes really. You’d better believe I rushed out to the local Bernina stockist to get an overcast foot when I read this! Not having an overlocker (and lets face it, if you’re just starting out then just getting a sewing machine is a big step), this tutorial shows you how to add a nice finish to raw edges of fabric before seaming/hemming. Sure it takes more thread and time, but it’s definitely worth the extra effort.

Finally, this is an oldie but a real doozie. Do you knit? Do you, more specifically, knit things that require you to make two of the same thing? Socks, mittens, sleeves on jumpers… Did you know that you can knit BOTH AT ONCE ON ONE SET OF NEEDLES? If you can get your head around that (take a moment to get your head around it. I can wait…), you can find out how in Knitty‘s article Extreme Knitting: 2 Socks in 1. I also absolutely encourage you to occasionally exclaim “EXTREME!” at the top of your voice if you attempt this technique. Maybe don’t pump your fist in the air though, if you’re still holding the needles. I’ve used it to make arm warmers and I can attest that it works- and as long as you relax (yes, that is indeed an excuse to have a glass of wine or some chocolate on hand while you try this) it’s not too hard to master.

What are your favourite little tricks that you’ve learned? Let me know in the comments- I love hearing about new things to try out!