a chat with Beth Graham

I recently chatted over email with Beth Graham, a phenomenal crochet teacher and designer. We spoke about the path Beth took that led her to where she is today, student mindset, and having fun.

I’ve been working through a few of Beth’s patterns, including several from her Craftsy class, Fun & Fantastic Textured Crochet Stitches, and her new e-book of Tunisian Crochet Washcloths. You’ll find out more about both of these projects in the coming weeks.

Without further ado, let’s jump in:

little acorn:
I start these conversations off with a basic get to know you question. Is it a surprise to you today you are a crochet teacher whose aim is to help newer crafters “be successful right from the start”?

Shadow & Cattus

Shadow & Cattus

beth:
The real “big picture question” is why the heck I’m doing what I’m doing.
I love to talk and I love to share what I learn with others. My elementary school teachers knew this about me from early on, making comments such as “Beth lacks self-control,” and having me write lines for punishment such as “My tongue flaps like a flag in the wind.”

Now that I reconsider my teachers’ reactions, I think they got it essentially wrong: My issue, mainly, was that I was SO enthusiastic about whatever I was doing and learning that I simply could not wait to share with others until what grownups thought was the appropriate time. Which got me into trouble. A lot of trouble. (And still does, every so often!)

As I’ve matured (and my brother insists that I’m aging like stinky cheese), I’ve learned to modulate my responses just a bit. I am still hugely enthusiastic about whatever my “flavor of the month” is, but I’m just a little bit more considered about how and when I present what I’m excited about with others.

At the heart of things, I aim to convey my enthusiasm through good communication. I love to write (scratch that: I love to have written), and the most important job I have, as I see it, in whatever I do, is to communicate clearly and simply. It’s not enough to be excited about a new idea; one has to be able to break it down into logical, discrete steps so that someone else can replicate it – and also have a good result.

Monkey see, monkey do, as it were.

If I do my job right, new crocheters can be successful right from the start because information is fed to them in bite-sized chunks that they can easily digest. After all, a little bit of stinky cheese goes a long way.
When I think about my patterns, I think about the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: My designs are not too hard, not too soft, but just right. And here, my own professional background has been a huge help. As a children’s librarian and later, as an elementary school teacher, I learned the importance of clear, deliberate speech – and logical, sequential instructions.

My Craftsy class, Fun & Fantastic Textured Crochet Stitches, was a great way for me to take what I’ve learned in other areas and apply it to teaching a specific topic for adults – and I just loved everything about the process of planning and filming the course. In the class, I guide students through stitch patterns both easy and more complex they begin to build their own personal stitch dictionary. Students learn what they love (and what they hate!) as they explore texture in my carefully thought out class projects.

One of the things I love most about the Craftsy class is that, even though I filmed it late last year, it continues to be an active class. Students can ask whatever questions they want of me, and I’ll do my best to answer them. As well, other students can chime in to give encouragement and tips. I love my classroom community!

little acorn:
When a student steps into your classroom or opens up one of your patterns, what do you wish for? What drives you the most nuts?
beth:
I was reading your recent interview with Jill Wolcott, and practically nodded my head off my shoulders as I read:

Those that come in with a surety that I cannot teach them anything make me irritable because it ends up being true, but I don’t think it is because I’m not a skilled teacher.
~ Jill Wolcott interview, 06 September 2016

Until recently, I always said to myself that I never met a crochet student I couldn’t teach. A while ago, I had two students who came to me for a private class. They had a specific project that they wanted make – but they needed to learn crochet first in order to make it. The one student had crocheted a bit when she was a child, but her friend had absolutely no experience. What was remarkable was how open the friend, who had never lifted a hook in her life, was to trying new things, while the other student, who said she had crocheted before, was completely resistant to trying anything. Her mindset was “I tried that before, and that won’t work.”

I completely failed with this student – and in the process, failed to give her friend, who was keen to learn, all that she deserved too. The problem was ultimately, that the student came to the class with a resistant, negative attitude: I’m not even sure that she really was that interested in learning, but was only there for the friend’s sake.

I would like to get better at disarming that sort of adult student conditioning. But maybe I can’t, and maybe that’s an unrealistic expectation on my part.

little acorn:
I’ve noticed this mindset more frequently with my technology clients, they want the googled solution to be The One. I don’t have a good answer.
When not crocheting, you can be found…
beth:
Travelling with my husband: going to art museums (portraiture for me, thank you very much!) and eating as much local food as I can. We recently returned from a trip to England and Belgium, where my husband had conferences. You can read about a few of my favorite things at my blog post.

I also love to read (mostly biography) and knit socks.

little acorn:
I confess, I love to tag along on business trips. I find them the best of both worlds. I get a short break and to see the things I want to. He has an excuse to break away from the business and we have nice dinners that I don’t have to cook! We need to have another conversation about biographies… and sock knitting.

What drives your creative process? Is there any part of it that isn’t fun?

beth:
I’m in this to have fun. Seriously. If there ever comes a time that I no longer enjoy what I do, I’ll hang up my crochet hook and move on to something new.

In a way, I write and design for selfish motives: I like the creative process, and I like to have a good time. I get a kick out of writing a good sentence and out of getting a simple design just right. I make things that I enjoy – things that amuse me – and then I try to discover if there’s a market for what I’ve done.

Shadow & Swirly Blanket

Swirly Blanket & Shadow

I’ve been pretty lucky so far. Whatever it is I do seems to work – and I’ve had some pretty incredible opportunities in a relatively short time!

I know that goes against good business practice; conventional wisdom says to find your audience and then create for them. I create for myself, and then seek out an audience for my work.

little acorn:
I prefer this mindset and it’s what drives my businesses. It’s not easy – but I think overall it keeps us as happier and healthier individuals. Especially when the answer to my favourite question is:
Kitten or Puppy snuggles?
beth:
When you have a face like this on your lap most mornings, would you ever think to defect to the other side?!
purr & cattus

Purr & Cattus

little acorn:
Thank you Beth (and Purr)!

You can find more of Beth at www.zagraham.com and peruse her entire ravelry catalog of patterns. You can enjoy 50% off class enrollment by using this special link: Fun & Fantastic Textured Crochet Stitches.

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