Welcome to Frances Bell – home at last for all the mes

How I got here

I started blogging in 2006 with Elgg and moved to my own hosted site at francesbell.com when elgg.net disappeared, but with enough warning for me to back up. All was well for 5 years, except that I wasn’t good at backing up and my ISP was a crook. One day, my blog disappeared and I felt bereaved – 5 years of blogging gone, and I still miss those posts.

I started again at francesbell.wordpress.com my temporary resting place where I felt my posts were safe and it’s been really difficult to pluck up the courage to return to francesbell.com. It’s only joining Reclaim Hosting that’s given me the confidence to make this step, and I have taken quite some time to make this site live.

The mes that are here

When I started blogging, my posts reflected my professional interests but since retiring, the balance of my life has changed.  For the first year of my retirement, I was not sure that I wanted to do anything more than spend time on knitting, sewing, gardening and visiting new places but since then and being treated for underactive thyroid, I have combined those with an identity that I saw once on a conference badge, itinerant scholar, that nicely captures my institution-free status. I was thinking about my changing identity in January 2013 before I retired and again in January 2015 when I asked my network for help in how to perform the multiple mes here at francesbell.com. So thanks to Catherine Cronin, Kate Bowles, Pat Thomson, Bon Stewart, Doug Belshaw and Donald Clark who helped me think through what to do in conversations like this one.

 

At last, with great help from Jim Groom and the crew at Reclaim Hosting, I have made a start (there is more to come). So you can have any or all of the mes: slices of the blog or the whole pie; knitting pictures or academic outputs.

All that I have learned from being and working in technology and education is still with me but what has changed is my perspective.  I am now looking at the education system from the outside while experiencing learning and technology from the inside.  What grabs my attention are the (im)possibilities of learning and being on the web in the whole of life. The change of perspective has been quite a revelation for me.

The tea cosy that taught me – a story about knitting and learning

Saartje bootees
Saartje bootees
8059202995_4ed5a6ae77_m
Berry hat

 

 

 

 

 

I am a fairly unprolific knitter who loves knitting. I do knit repeats of things I have knitted before, like the berry hat and Saartje bootees that I have knitted for many babies of those connected to me.

But what I really like in a new knitting project is a challenge, that it pushes me to learn new things. My most recently completed project is a the very lovely “I’m a little Teapot” tea cosy designed by June Dickinson of Simply Shetland. Here is the finished article in use today.

Cosied tea and biscuits
Cosied tea and biscuits

I discovered the pattern through my Twitter friend, a great knitter, @glittrgirl who tweeted her finished teacosy last year.   I was also attracted by the promise from the pattern that it’s “a good small project for learning Fair Isle knitting and steeking”.  Steeking – what a fabulous word – I wanted some of that even though I didn’t know what it was.  Having had a slightly disastrous Fair Isle experience earlier, I wanted to make a fresh start and learn to do it better with the authentic yarn .

Steeking is a scary knitting concept as it involves cutting vertically through knitting – I can imagine knitters wincing if this is the first time they have heard of it – I know I did. Steeking is the strange twin of knitting in the round, a wonderful technique done using circular or sets of double-pointed needles that enables you to knit a tube with no seams. That works well for hats and socks but in sweaters, we need slits for our arms to go through, or in tea cosies, slits for the spout and handle of the tea pot. Here’s how Eunny Jang explains it:

In practice, setting, knitting, and slicing a steek is just a handy way to knit an entire sweater in the round by creating a bridge of waste stitches wherever a separation would be, i.e. between front and back for an armhole, or between the right and left sides of the neck, or all the way up the front of a cardigan.

I started the project in December, and it’s fair to say there have been ups and downs. I made several mistakes with the Fair Isle for the lettering. Eventually, after many froggings (ripping back to the error) I completed the basic knitting. I added the corrugated rib to the bottom of the cosy, and the Shale lace to the top, then I knitted the iCord drawstring. Now there was nothing left to do but to steek – I had to cut this knitting that had taken me months – it was terrifying!  I had knitted the cosy in the recommended Shetland Spindrift, a ‘sticky’ yarn that I was promised would not unravel when I cut it.

Here is my unsteeked teacosy.

Teacosy - before steeking
Teacosy – before steeking

Fortunately @glittrgirl was at hand, she gave me a Skype tutorial in seeking that was one part technical information to nine parts confidence-building. I didn’t follow the pattern exactly – I just went with a cobbled together approach that we came up with.  And then we had a nice juicy gossip about ed tech stuff.

So now, there was nothing else for it – I had to steek. I did ….. and all went well. The last steps were to knit around the turned back and stitched steeks; to finish off the lettering, as per the pattern; and also to correct my errors that I only spotted  later. Can you spot them?

Where are the errors?
Where are the errors?

So how do I feel now that it’s finished?

First, I feel a massive sense of achievement – despite all of the mistakes and ripping back, I have produced a thing of beauty and no-one except me will be aware of the mistakes and recoveries.  They will see, as I do, a delightful tea cosy, that will be used in lovely social situations involving tea, and possibly cakes and biscuits.

So that’s one product but what about learning?

I have learned to do Fair Isle knitting better than I could do before. I have learned to steek. I have learned to do knitting in the round with the two-circulars method.

But the more important learning for me is the possibility of recovery from mistakes; that doing the knitting and making mistakes can be pleasurable; that the learning in a project can hinge on mistakes;  that the fragile and imperfect beauty of the end product can eclipse the mistakes; and that those enjoying the tea and admiring the cosy that kept it warm for the second cup won’t be a bit bothered about the mistakes.

What does that have to tell us about the experiences of learners in formal educational contexts?  Can they call on more experienced others to help them through scary challenges? Do they feel safe to embrace mistakes and believe that they can recover from them? Are they proud of what they produce?

Ravelry: a knitting community as a site of joy and learning

That lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne

The Parliament of Fowls by Geoffrey Chaucer

Evidence that learning starts in the womb is revealed when babies hear lullabies that they will respond to after birth; and learning continues throughout life, as Chaucer says of love. We can all remember from an early age the social nature of learning – learning from family, friends, and subsequently peers from study and work contexts.  This is a community perspective, in contrast with a more typical view of learning as being chiefly the outcome of formal education.

Social Technologies

Social technologies have focused attention on networks and online/virtual communities. Virtual communities can be traced back to 1985 (and probably earlier) when the WELL started as a dial-up bulletin board. Early adopters of virtual community needed dial-up and later Internet access for their largely text-based communication: initially this was available to a minority, even in the global north. Despite this, bulletin boards existed for a broad range of hobbies and interests.

A parallel stream of development in virtual communication was in formal education: bulletin boards, web pages, and then groupware, and virtual learning environments.  Provision of Internet access at universities and colleges meant that students had access in educational institutions before it was commonplace in their homes.  The use of digital technologies in education and learning has moved from being conducted by pioneers and enthusiasts to being standardised as part of institutional administration, such as institutional virtual learning environments, and registration and student records systems. Much research effort (some of it to good effect) has been focused on the use of technology within online/offline classrooms and according to approved curricula.  This is research that tends to focus on what is provided, rather than how and why learners learn.  Even less attention has been paid to ways in which people, who would not identify themselves as students, are learning to do things that interest them with the help of the Internet.

The current context in the global north is of more people, across demographics of age and gender (if not class), having access to the Internet via broadband and mobile services.  Simultaneously, the variety of devices that we use to access the Internet contributes to a broader demographic, more people having access, devices and software becoming easier to use – smartphones, tablets and laptops. The combination of faster Internet access and devices with digital still and video cameras has enabled more people to create and consume multimedia – images, videos, audio and text.  Internet access then becomes less of an end in itself and more of an adjunct to what we do.

Knitting – Interest-driven learning assisted by social media

People of all ages follow their interests via the Internet – learning cartooning, playing games, studying esoteric topics. Of all of these interests, let’s look at a craft that has material, knowledge and social implications – knitting.

moebius strip
Knitted Moebius Strip by Pat Knight CC BY-NC 2.0

 

In an era when the local wool shop is becoming rarer, the Internet offers opportunities for purchasing yarns, needles, and patterns but going beyond that, what do knitters do on the Internet? Like other makers, they enjoy the opportunities to celebrate the products of their creativity: garments, knitted moebius strips, artefacts for the home, and public works of art. Such celebrations are visible on photo sites and knitting blogs, often interlinked so that the blogs can facilitate networking of knitters (via commenting, blogrolls and links within posts).

 

Knitters share ‘how-to’ videos on Youtube and other video-sharing sites.  If we don’t have a grandmother to stand behind us, helping our hands learn a new technique, the next best thing is watching a video, and trying out the stitch at the same time.  Video- and image-sharing sites become knowledge repositories but not solely dedicated to knitting and crochet.

Mason Dixon washcloths
Mason-Dixon Washcloths by Frances Bell CC-by-NCSA

 

Knitters have adopted social media with enthusiasm,and experienced unexpected consequences.  Mason-Dixon Knitting comprises Kay Gardiner who lives in Manhattan and Ann Shayne who lives in Nashville.  They came together via blogging through their shared interest in knitting that has led to a successful book, an iconic dishcloth pattern and a very useful web site.

 

 

 

Saltburnolympics knitting
Knitted canoeist – Saltburn pier by Hove9 CC by 2.0

Knitters have taken their passion to the streets (and piers) by engaging in guerrilla knitting or yarn-bombing to create street art.  This may be for self-expression or just fun, or for a reason : often anonymous and cloaked in mystery. One of my favourites is a celebration of London 2012 Olympics at Saltburn pier. There is no obvious activist reason for creating this pier art but the result was joyous, enjoyed by pier visitors and became a tourist attraction in Saltburn, North Yorkshire. Craftivism ( a mix of craft and activism) is about connecting beyond the individual crafter, and acting for broader issues.

When we unpick these achievements, we see that they go beyond the stereotype of the lone, gifted knitter. Knitters, like others, engage in learning networks and communities.  One of the places that knitters congregate online is at the knitting and crochet community site http://www.ravelry.com .

 

Ravelry is free to members, funded mainly by advertising but also by merchandising, pattern sales, Amazon and other affiliate programs.  Ravelry also engaged in donation drives at an earlier stage of its community development.

saartjeravelryRavelry – individual view by Frances Bell

Ravelry offers interesting affordances for becoming and being a knitter, learning in an active form.  Members can find patterns and yarns with the help of Ravelry, and create projects to record ongoing and completed knitting projects Figure 4.  Ravelry has a highly connected architecture, automatically displaying links to other projects using the same pattern and yarn. This means I can easily click a link to find the pattern, or images from one of the other 13900 projects using that pattern (to give me ideas on other yarns or colourways). Project owners are encouraged to rate patterns and yarns for sharing with other community members; and errors are soon corrected in this open community.  Ravelry is an international community with over four million members, who not only volunteer to translate popular patterns into other languages, but also moderate forums and collate help pages on collaborative wikipages within Ravelry itself. The whole thing runs with only 4 staff, one programmer and three editor/moderator/merchandising staff.

The Ravelry shop showcases Ravelry merchandise such as t-shirts and bags; the Marketplace where members offer supplies and services for knitting and crochet; and a Pattern Store where members sell their patterns.

The strong social element to Ravelry goes beyond member profiles and display spaces. Members can organise into groups to have local meetings, swap yarns, engage in knit-alongs (all making the same item), or associate with a particular shop.  Other groups are organised around a common interest, say in machine knitting or spinning.  Less formal opportunities for conversation are offered by forums, where members can help each other to solve problems or engage in general chat about knitting or crochet.

In our comparison of Etsy.com with Ravelry.com, Gordon Fletcher and I found that Ravelry had strong community aspects and exhibited a permeable boundary compared with Etsy.  Ravelry seems to be a community that is happy to acknowledge activity and objects elsewhere, thus increasing its networking and social potential.

This openness and support for the community member makes it a source of good ideas for those wishing to support other learners in a community setting. Facebook, the very successful social networking site (SNS), would superficially seem to support the social aspects of learning, but a learner wishing to keep track of what they and others have created and learned might become frustrated with the ephemeral nature of sharing there. Ravelry exhibits a strong focus on the learning and doing of knitting, where social interaction becomes the glue that helps this happen.

Designers and implementers of learning environments aiming to promote learning community could learn a lot from studying Ravelry, especially if they are tempted to delegate the social aspects to a self-organised group on a general purpose SNS.

Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit, either. – Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitting without tears.

 

Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Suzanne Hardy (Ravelry id: glittrgirl) for improving my interpretation of Ravelry. All errors are mine.

 

This article, written by Frances Bell,  is used under Creative Commons license  BBy-BY-NC-ND  from ISSUE 10 JUNE 2014
Using Social Media in the Social Age of Learning
Guest Editors Chrissi Nerantzi and Sue Beckingham  http://www.lifewidemagazine.co.uk/