Knitting, sewing, and the relay race of knowledge

My Mom tried to teach me how to knit. In a way, she did. She taught me how to knit insofar as she taught me how to move the needles so that I added to the piece.

But she only taught me the fun part of knitting. She didn’t teach me how to cast on (to get started) and she didn’t teach me how to fix the problem when I dropped a stitch or picked up another one. Most of the time I didn’t even know I had a problem. I certainly didn’t learn how to prevent it.

Part of being a good teacher is making sure your student can do everything on her own. If she still needs you around then she hasn’t really learned anything at all. The goal is independence.

I had the same problem with her and sewing. We had an old Singer sewing machine that was in a standalone cabinet. It was a huge piece of furniture. While it was cool how the machine folded up inside this thing that served as a sideboard when it wasn’t in use, it wasn’t cool how it worked as a sewing machine.

Of course, I didn’t know that the problems I was having were the machine’s fault and not mine. I thought that when it would jam up it was because I did something wrong, and not because it had a faulty design.

The problems were that my Mom didn’t tell me this, and that every time there was a problem she would fix it for me, rather than teaching me how to do it myself.

After she died, the sewing machine became my nemesis. A friend had taught me a little bit more about how to sew but I still was having a problem loading the bobbin or with having the top thread get stuck and jammed up with the bottom thread. It seemed like I spent more time fixing problems than sewing.

Somehow I came up with the idea of buying a used, portable sewing machine rather than getting that one fixed. It think it was cheaper to get a used one that works than fix the one I had. The new (-ish) one came with a manual. With pictures. I read it and understood how a sewing machine worked for a change. Somehow in time I learned that the Singer sewing machines were known for bobbin and thread problems. If you have bobbin and thread problems, you don’t really have a sewing machine.

I learned that my problems with that machine were not because of me. I learned how to work my new machine. I learned how to sew, for real.

To be a good teacher, you have to teach the good and the bad. You have to show the student the fun parts of the subject to get her interest, sure, but you also have to show her everything else. She has to be able to do it all on her own. Ideally, you’ll teach her everything you know, all your tricks and tips, all your hard earned knowledge, so that she will then be able to learn even more and pass that on.

It is the only form of immortality we have.

We can’t live forever. Our lives are far shorter than we realize. But our knowledge can last far beyond our bodies. If we pass it on well, then we have improved the lives of everyone who lives past us.

It is like a relay race. Every person does her best so that the next person can do her best. The team gets further along with each person who pushes herself. But if we are stingy with our knowledge or are just inept, we might as well not have been in the race at all.