What I Learned about Social Learning came from….Knitters

Many of us have interests and hobbies that make us use our hands and inspire creativity and satisfaction from having made something from scratch.  Whether it’s cooking, woodwork or painting, there’s a feeling that cannot be replicated by any office job.  For me, it’s knitting.  I’ve been knitting for over 35 years having started the hobby during primary school and mainly self taught.  I was one of the unfortunate ones who didn’t have a mother or grandmother who knitted (but were talented in other crafts) and when I learned to pick up the needles and knit and purl during a Friday craft class in Grade 4 of primary school, I was hooked (pardon the pun).

When you’re the only person who has an interest in this craft and before the days of You Tube and the internet, I bumbled my way through knitting by reading lots of books and tried to make sense of the photos and the sketches in these books.  It was very much continual practice and many years had passed and I didn’t feel as if I had progressed my knitting in any way.  Sure, I could read patterns, I could knit scarves, hats, shawls, jumpers but my knitting didn’t get past the ‘advanced basic’ stage and incorporate some more intricate designs such as colourwork, sock knitting, intarsia or cables.  I felt as if I was missing a mentor, someone who I could sit down, observe, discuss and someone who could demonstrate what I was doing wrong.

Thinking back over the last few years though, my knitting has reached an exponential growth (okay, I feel that it has).  It all happened in 2010 when someone mentioned to me about ‘Ravelry’.

“Are you on Ravelry?” they’d ask.

“Ravelry? No never heard of it. What’s that?” I’d respond.

“You have GOT to get on Ravelry,” they say, “It’s just THE knitters site – all your problems will be answered!”

So out of curiosity, I went onto www.ravelry.com and found out that the site was the first of its kind – like Facebook for knitters and in fact, social collaboration around a common interest was the theme of this site.  It was set up in the kitchen of couple, Casey and Jessica Forbes in 2007 as a place where fibre artists could get together and keep track of their yarn, patterns, tools, projects as well as network with other knitters.

I logged on and lo and behold, a magical world of yarn goodness opened up to me and my world has never been the same.

In the first screen, you see your ‘dashboard’ where there are various announcements, you can see how many Ravelers are on online at the moment; access to a wiki; some guided tips and there are tabs along the top of the screen that take you to vairous parts of the site.

You have a section called ‘My Notebook’ where you can upload the projects you are working on, access your blog, access your Library or just check out what your friends are working on.   For example, in the screen above, this is my Project page.  Here you can see what projects I am currently knitting or those that I have finished.  People can view my page and ‘Like’ their favourite projects.  You can see from the above that I don’t have many ‘likes’ or hearts under my projects but that’s because I don’t openly advertise or promote my finished projects to the discussion forums because I’m a tad shy of my skill – I simply don’t believe that I’m a good enough knitter to promote.

From this screen on the left, I can access my ‘Stash’ – I can upload photos of balls or skeins of yarn that are left over from my projects; I  can access the ‘queue’ where I can log future project I want to knit; I can view my ‘Favourites’ which are patterns that I have come across and want to knit.  I can also access many Groups and Events that are happening

globally and log in my attendance to these so I can network with the people also attending these events.  I can also access something like an RSS feed of all my friends blog sites so I can read what they are knitting.

I can access my Friends pages and see what they are working on; as well as access a section called ‘Message Box’ which are emails.  I have linked my personal blog (yes, I’m one of these people who have both a professional and personal blog where my interests are separated) simply because I don’t want to mix my hobby with my professional work (although in this case, I make an exception simply because strangely, knitters were one of the first groups of people who created an online social space around their interest).  The site also has a shopping centre where you can purchase yarn off each other or other knitting accessories or even sell your knitted projects!

One of the best highlights of the site is the Groups section where you can join any Group around the world – and there are hundreds!  You can filter the group search to locate groups in your own area.  For example, if you had an interest in Underwater Spinning of Natural Fibres – you can surely find it here where you can connect with a global group who share your interest and where you can discuss and share photos and information about your interest.

You c an see here that I’m a member of 22 groups – many of which I simply join just to lurk and become envious of the wonderful knits that people promote and show each other in these forums. However there are a few standard ones that I always contribute and indeed have melded with face-to-face meetings.  For example, I stumbled upon what’s known as “Stitch and Bitches” – these are gatherings of knitters that occur all around the world at various places.  Knitters gather at one place, for example, at cafes, restaurants or community centres and as well as having an online relationship through the forums, they meet in person to chat, drink tea and coffee, share a laugh, eat cakes and knit.  It’s the perfect example of how knitters have beautifully blended both the online with the face to face.  I look forward to these monthly events with my Stitch and Bitch Group and have made a group of new friends who share my interest.

The above screen shows an example of the Groups I joined and their discussion forums.  Whenever I have an issue or a problem, I simply post my query into the relevant group and wait for a response.  Almost instantly, I can expect an answer (along with the response being emailed to me).

At certain times of the night, these discussion boards also indicate which groups are also having a synchronous online chat at that moment in time indicated by an icon next to the title of the group.  When this is the case, our Stitch and Bitchers happen to be online at the same time and can tap into their keyboard (while knitting of course) to share tidbits.

Knitters to me have always been the leaders in social media. In fact, you can say that my interest in social media was inspired by knitters.  Go to any knitting group nowadays and you will see a group of fairly young men and women, knitting needles in hand, wrapped in glorious yarn, chatting about their latest yarn purchase while using their iPads to access their patterns, take photos of their projects, blog their projects and chat online with other knitters who may be in another country.

It’s hard to believe that I kept this hobby to myself.  Admittedly some years ago, I didn’t tell people I knitted because it came with a stigma.  People who knit are over 80 years old and who knit and crochet doilies for toilet rolls.  However, from what I have seen, this is so far from the truth.  Knitters not only have an active online collaborative community – they back it up with informal gatherings where they can share information and learn from each other.  They are up to speed with the technology and use the tools and media at their disposal to learn more about their craft.  I have to thank Ravelry for my exponential interest in the craft and now the active promotion of my hobby through my professional website – who would have thought?

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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