The crochet and knitting course here at Gartmore House has been a firm favourite for many years. It’s fair to say that tutor Samira is a familiar face around the house these days! Since we love talking all things crafty, we caught up with her for a wee chat about life as a maker.
How did you first get into knitting?
I learned to knit when I was seven or eight years old. My mum worked in a sewing factory and made most of our clothes. She didn’t have much time for a “slow” craft like knitting! I used to sit down with her sometimes and watch her sew. So, one day she dug up some wool and needles to occupy me (probably so I would leave her in peace!) and taught me the knit stitch. She used to cast on for me, then I would knit a few rows, then she would cast off and turn my rectangles into miniskirts for my dolls.
Although I liked it, I didn’t knit at all as a teenager. I picked it up again when sharing a flat with a Swedish flatmate who knitted regularly. It was only then that I got the bug again and restarted. She showed me how to cast on and a friend taught me to purl, and I was off!
After that I’m completely self-taught. I borrowed books from the library or bought them at charity shops, then “freestyled” to make accessories and presents. I taught myself how to crochet the same way a few years later. At first, I only crocheted borders and embellishments for my knitting, then for the love of crochet on its own. I was hooked!
Has there been one particular project that taught you something unexpected?
It’s very hard to narrow it down, I think somehow you learn with every project! I am quite good at twisting, changing, and turning one thing into something else halfway through if I am not happy with it or have changed my mind! Knitting and crochet are very personal craft, and no one knits or crochet to the same tension as each other, and the individuality it highlights is something that I really like in these crafts.
I always knew that I had a pretty loose tension when I knit or crochet, but once I made a very cute crochet dinosaur for my few months old nephew, made up of lots of small pieces, and it’s only when I put them all together and filled the toy with stuffing that I realised how “off” my tension had been. The dinosaur was huge! And way bigger than my nephew!! I still gave it to him though, he will play with it for longer!
What project are you most proud of and why?
Generally, I’m pretty satisfied with everything I make. However, I recently came across a Christmas present I made years ago for my mother-in-law, and rediscovering it, I was amazed by what I’d achieved! I’d made her a “cozy” for her big coffee pot, as she already had tea cosy, and I knitted one side showing a Christmas tree and snow that I had drawn on a piece of paper, then made a “non- Christmas” matching reverse side in crochet, so that she could use it all year long. I completed it with a round crochet placemat with Christmas colours on one side, and regular colours on the other, joined with crochet ruffles.
Back then I was just learning to crochet and had to figure out how to shape things and to make ruffles. I didn’t follow any pattern or photo for this cosy. I had the design in my head and I winged it all the way through! When I found it again recently, I was really proud of what I had managed to make – and with so little experience! It turned out well and she loved it and used it, so that’s a something I am really proud of! Shows sometimes it’s not the longest or hardest or most complicated project you can be the most proud of!
Who or what are your biggest inspirations?
There are some famous knitting and crochet designers who simply blow my mind with their ingenuity at manipulating the stitches to create unbelievable designs. As a designer myself, I know it is one thing to come up with the ideas, another to render them possible in knitting or crochet! Stephen West probably stands out in my mind. His designs aren’t always your typical everyday wear. They’re quite eccentric, but how they’re achieved is truly remarkable. Some people like Heidi Bear, Dedri Uys or Janie Crow can visualise crochet designs in 3D or in rounds on a large scale with intricate elements that completely work and are absolutely beautiful.
Other people like Elizabeth Zimmerman, or Nancy Marchant (again just to name a few), come up with completely “outside the box” thinking and create new stitches, new knitting methods even!
The designs, stitches and methods these designers create are a true inspiration, providing everyone with new and better skills to learn and use in a creative way.
Do you have any favourite techniques that crop up again and again in your work?
I love learning and using new techniques, but I guess Brioche Knitting still remains a strong favourite. I go through phases (socks, crochet blankets, garments, shawls, colourwork, lace etc.) but Brioche always seems to be a constant one. There is so much to this technique, it is infinite!
What are the common misconceptions about knitting and crochet?
There are many, but I guess the 2 that stand out the most are:
1. Knitting and crochet is for “grannies”
2. You can make a jumper in one day
Suffice to say none of the above is true. That said, misconceptions take a very long time to change. Slowly but surely I believe we are educating the world, either by knitting or crochet in public places (not just in front of the fire in our rocking chairs – although I do that too!), and as people watch us, let it be for a few hours on a train, they hopefully realise that it takes a lot of time, effort and skills to make something out of needles, hooks and yarn!
What would you say drew you to teaching a knitting course?
I love combining my jobs and my passion. As an archaeologist by trade originally, I got to explore my passion for heritage through my work. When it was time to change, I decided to use my other passion, crafts, in my job. I think it’s very important to pass these skills on, just as they’ve been passed down to us from generations for centuries. Then, since I worked on and off in teaching positions while I was at university, it felt very natural to put all these skills together! And I absolutely love it!
There are so many dimensions to knitting and crochet, from the simple notion of taking the time to make something from start to finish and the rewarding satisfaction of completing something whole, the relaxation and therapeutic elements of movement and repetition, the notions of commitment, dedication and focus, to the incredibly social, fun and creative aspects of these crafts, the list of benefits is endless! Teaching these just adds an extra enriching layer to all these elements.
What would you say to someone curious about trying your craft for the first time? What should they know before getting started?
I’m a firm believer that “there is nothing you cannot do, you just need to be shown how to do it”. So I put my words into action when teaching my knitting course. If you are interested, then do give it a go!
Knitting and crochet are not difficult, you just need to learn what to do, and improve your skills through practice. Just like everything else in life! In that respect, these crafts are suitable for everyone, regardless of age, gender, ability or financial means. Both materials and learning content come in a broad range nowadays. You can learn from a relative, from free online tutorials or paid knitting courses and workshops to getting yarns and equipment in charity shops and wool shops. The one thing I am very strict about in my teaching though, is that people MUST HAVE FUN.
These crafts need to be enjoyable and providing a pleasant experience, and absolutely not a source of worry or stress. When people start out, I tell them not to worry about mistakes. They’ll happen. They’re part of the learning process. Progression always comes before perfection, not the other way around. I try to encourage my students to not become impatient or frustrated because everything can be fixed. Ultimately I teach them that they are in control of their skills, they choose how it goes!
I believe crafts are empowering aspect, and confidence helps a lot when learning something new. I don’t just teach the crafts during my crochet and knitting course, I teach people how to understand how everything works. That way, they’re the ones in charge. They grow in confidence and can enjoy all the other great benefits that come with knitting and crochet.
And there you have it! Thank you to Samira for talking to us and for giving us such a wonderful insight into her crafty world. We can’t wait to see what kind of magic comes out of her next crochet and knitting course.