Once a week I post interviews with interesting knitting professionals about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every industry insider makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. Susanna identifies herself as primarily a teacher in the Knitting world.
How long have you been knitting and who taught you?
Like all girls growing up in Sweden in the early 1960s, I learned in the 5th grade. While we all became proficient technically, none of us enjoyed making those brown garter stitch slippers. I started knitting seriously in the mid-1980s.
Tell me how you got into teaching knitting classes?
I worked part-time in a yarn shop and enjoyed listening in on the classes. Then one of the teachers left and I asked if I could take over some of her classes. I’ve never looked back.
How long have you been teaching?
I’ve been teaching knitting since the early 1990s but when I was a graduate student in the 1980s, I taught introductory Swedish language classes and the training I went through then has certainly helped me with my knitting classes as well.
How do you develop teaching topics and class plans?
How long roughly does it take you to develop your teaching plan, samples and notes per instructional hour?
It took four years to develop the Lapland Hand Garments: the Mittens from Rovaniemi workshop. I learned the technique in Finland in the summer of 2003 and once I ‘recovered’ from the experience (I kept saying things to myself like “you can’t really knit like this”), it became a matter of doing research here and in Finland; trying to figure out how to present the material; working up samples; deciding what to include, and what not; and then developing the bibliography and class handout. The workshop debuted at the Madrona Fiber Arts retreat (www.madronafiberarts.com) in 2007. If I hadn’t forced the issue by scheduling the class for that event, I might still be doing R&D for it – I sometimes have a hard time letting go. Obviously some of my classes come together in less time but I am not a person who is able to put classes together quickly – it’s simply not how my brain works. Because of the relatively long time I spend on development and preparation, my goal is always to try and create classes with long shelf lives.
What do you find to be the optimum class size?
It varies with the topic and structure of the class, the venue, and the skill levels of the knitters. My classes range in size from 8 to 30+.
Do you prefer to work with beginners or advanced students?
I like to work with enthusiastic knitters at all levels.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned from your students?
I wish I had profound answer for this though I’m not sure there’s one thing I could single out. I do think classes are learning experiences for everyone in the room including the teacher, or at least they should be. And I try to be mindful of the fact that everyone in the class has chosen to spend their time and money to be in a room with me which means I have a responsibility to give everyone my very best effort, every time.
Do you belong to any knitting groups?
Yes. The Seattle Knitters Guild (www.seattleknittersguild.org) had a huge impact on my knitting life for many years after I joined (1989). One Sunday every month, I spend the day with a group of long-time knitting friends. I probably learn more about knitting in that group than I do anywhere else. Does Ravelry qualify? I’m a member of a few Ravelry groups, the primary one being the Bohus Stickning group.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Because I essentially sell myself, I don’t think the Internet has made as much of a difference for me as it might for someone who is selling products. What really made my business grow is when I began teaching at the national level, especially at the large Stitches conventions. Those events generated a level of exposure I never could have created on my own. People would take a class from me at Stitches and then go home and recommend me to their guild or LYS. Overall, word of mouth has been more important for me than the Internet. That said I hope my website is a good information tool. If someone is thinking about hiring me, they can browse the website at their convenience and hopefully get a feel for me and my classes. And my web based mailing list allows me to communicate directly with people who are interested in my work.
Do you take knitting classes from other instructors?
Absolutely! I don’t have all that many opportunities but it is always a treat to be a student and, regardless of the topic, I learn things that enrich my own teaching directly or indirectly; as well as me, the private knitter.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in teaching in the knitting world?
If you like being in front of people and also enjoy the alone time developing and preparing for classes (as well as revising your materials continually:), then you may find that teaching knitting can be almost as much fun as knitting itself! Though I have to admit that teaching has cut into my knitting time – probably in much the same way yarn shop owners find that they have little time knit because there is a shop to manage. I was very fortunate because every experienced knitting teacher I ever approached early on with questions or concerns – and I approached pretty
much everyone whose work I admired – was willing to share their expertise and experience.
Teaching hasn’t made me wealthy financially (I haven’t given up my day job), but it has enriched my life in more ways than I could possibly have imagined.