Let Us Now Praise Newbies

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“Hi! I was just gifted a loom—I’m so excited to be a weaver! So . . . can someone explain how to weave?”

I am a member of several Facebook groups for weavers, where we go to ask questions and share our work. I have to admit when I see questions like the one above, from rank beginners, my first reaction is to roll my eyes and think, “Oh for heaven’s sake—go read a book! Take a class!”

Then I take a deep breath and remind myself how much newbies, newcomers to any craft or skill, bring to the rest of us.

I have been a complete novice myself recently, in the craft of weaving, and I am still struggling to learn a tiny fraction of what there is to know. My weekly sewing group includes a number of newbies—new to sewing, new to quilting.

Newbies have always been with us but, in days gone by, maybe they weren’t so obvious. A lot of us learned some basic skills in relative private, from others in our circle, by watching and emulating or by taking an organized class or reading. Those were the only options we had.

But now the Internet gives newbies easy access to knowledgeable and helpful people so their questions are public and their lack of knowledge and understanding are on view to us all.

And, though I will always think some newbies are being presumptuous in asking others to explain a difficult process in the space of a Facebook post, I really believe that these newbies are enhancing the craft world.

Are you a newbie at something, thinking about picking up knitting needles or sitting down to a sewing machine for the first time? Trying to learn a new set of skills, like hooking a rug or soldering silver? Surrounded, it seems, by people who already know the ins and outs, know the vocabulary, seem comfortable and calm in the realm where you feel edgy and inadequate?

I want to tell you how valuable you are!

  1. You are a source of amusement

Yes, it probably sounds harsh but let’s get it out of the way first—I am amused every day by a dilemma posed by a newbie. I laugh at the stories they tell about themselves and their confusion. They use the vocabulary wrong and make mistakes of the most basic kind. I am laughing with them, not at them—I see myself in their blunders.

  1. You remind us of the enthusiasm and joy of starting

The excitement newbies feel is energizing. This one just got her first loom, that one bought fabric for her first quilt. They have not yet felt the slings and arrows of outrageous craft fails. They are intoxicated with possibilities—and help me remember that feeling.

  1. You give us a chance to teach and feel smart

With novices, it always seems that, no matter how little I know, there’s someone who knows less. That gives me the heady feeling of having something I can share and teach.

  1. You allow us to feel competent and remind us how far we’ve come

There’s nothing like a newbie to remind you how much progress you’ve made, that you’re learning and growing. When I read the questions asked by newbies, I am pleasantly surprised when I know the answers to questions that would’ve been mysteries a few months ago. I feel competent and motivated to keep learning.

  1. You ask the questions we may not be comfortable asking.

I am one of those people who loathes looking foolish or incompetent. I hate to ask questions, to expose my ignorance. Newbies ask questions with abandon and I sit and listen carefully to the answer . . . and learn.

So, newbies, I say to you—keep starting new things.

Keep dreaming of being good at something that you have never tried.

Keep asking every question that pops into your mind!

Recognize the limitations of learning complex skills from Facebook posts or from one helpful friend and take advantage of all the resources available to you.

But don’t hesitate to start because the people around you seem so sure of themselves and the skills so daunting.

You are enriching the conversation by starting a new craft; you are bringing so much to the discussion.

41 thoughts on “Let Us Now Praise Newbies

  1. I seem to learn something new almost every day so in a sense I am a never-ending newbie. Today I felt like a combination of a newbie and an oldie. I handed over some old wooden cotton reels to a lady who remembers learning French Knitting as a child and now wants to try and teach her children French Knitting. One of the reels had been used for French Knitting before. I felt “newbie-ish” because for the first time I was passing on, or enabling, the continuation of an age-old skill, and I felt old because I realised there are generations who are newbies to French Knitting.

  2. Agreed on all points! I look at a lot of blogs posts, and also comment on a lot. I’m often struck by those from beginners, how they’ll wait for months to bind a quilt, otherwise successfully finished, because they don’t know how to do binding. Well, I was probably 3 years and several quilts in before I figured out how to do double-fold binding, as is “standard” these days. And it’s taken me several more years to improve my joins and to find methods I like for finishing binding by machine. Here I am, hundreds of quilts and 13 years in, and NOW I feel like I GOT it! There is always so much to learn, even if “just” improving on methods we already know. In truth this is one of the things I love best, that there is always a challenge to do it better.

  3. Amen to all this Kerry! As a child my motor skills developed slowly and thanks to a wonderful hippy teacher in the seventies who had the patience and creativity to help me learn and create craftwork, I overcame this. You can imagine the joy and self confidence this gave. This patience and thinking outside the box, helped me again to help others when I was a nurse and child therapist and much later again when I was working in libraries ( my working career was very diverse, also due to moving so many times ;o)) And how funny is it that already for years, I teach knitting to newbies at the craft myself! I have two conditions: a: you have to be able to laugh at your mistakes and b; no acrylic yarns!!!! xo Johanna

    • There’s always something new to learn the more you get into an art or craft. So we are all newbies in a way 🙂

    • How lucky you were to have someone with the patience and skill to teach you! I guess we should approach all teaching situations that way . . . I have to admit I get impatient sometimes. But I can just see you teaching novices to knit, and laughing all the way!

  4. Another great thing about newbies is they will often question the conventional wisdom, as in “why do you do it that way?” And sometimes the answer is “because that’s the way I’ve always done it.” Come to find out there’s a better way. Tradition is all well and good in its place, but a fresh set of eyes is helpful.

  5. You point out some really good examples how newbies can be good for all of us. I tend to get annoyed with newbie questions sometimes. Only because a simple Google search could give them a wealth of knowledge, but they choose to look for someone to explain it to them rather than doing a little research of their own. But you’re right that their questions can also be good for others, including ourselves.

    • Honestly, Edi, I tend to get annoyed, too, especially when the questions are about complex processes that are only learned over time, with lots of trial and error. I wrote this as much to scold myself a little, for my impatience, as anything else!

  6. It’s good to learn new stuff! I agree with that points you and others have made, we are never so experienced we can’t learn something from the experts and the students!

  7. Interesting ideas! I love to teach because of the high I get helping people started in a craft. And I get lots of ideas as I watch others work. I do get annoyed though as you first mentioned… I just joined Ravelry, as you may have noticed, and I was startled by the person on one of the weaving boards who was asking what project he should do next on his 8 harness loom!?!? What? I mean choose an end product – rug, placmat, scarf or a weave structure. To just say “what should I do?” seems pretty silly…

    • I completely agree with the annoyances! I don’t like to see people being (what seems to me) lazy in their learning. I really have seen posts on Facebook saying things like, “so, how do I dress my loom.” As if someone should stop everything and write that whole process up, right then! Or, better, I saw someone asking others to post videos of what to do! Really?? But, having said all that, there’s a lot of joy in seeing people get started.

  8. I am mature enough to remember when the only sources you had were books, magazines, and the reference room at the library. No we have the whole wide world full of talented people who in most cases are willing to share their experience. It is a wonderful thing. I have emailed fellow bloggers, asked questions, and they have in all cases responded with advice. Life is good in the blogging community. 🙂

    • Agreed! And, really, some of the Facebook communities are just as helpful. It’s about the only thing I really like about FB, these groups where people can share their knowledge and interests.

  9. I can fully appreciate all you and everyone else has to say but I have no particular skill and no time for a craft hobby at present. I am reminded though, of being a mother of small children and also helping out at my daughter’s primary school. Many children ask the most interesting questions and are very observant. I often found myself looking at things in quite a new way.

    • Kids are the ultimate newbies–the whole world is new to them! And I imagine you’ve also given advice to new gardeners or some other learners–newbies don’t just occur in craft circles!

  10. Another thought provoking post Kerry [I actually first wrote ‘class’ instead of ‘post’ – I feel like I learned something reading it!] Interestingly I am feeling like a raw newbie myself at the moment. Less than a week ago I picked up a paintbrush and hunted down my art supplies for the first time in 15 months. I have created three double page spreads in my art journal and am amazed at how much I have forgotten. The techniques are rusty, the layers are wrong, the design is wobbly, the lettering is off……… It is a raw reminder of how a skill must be polished regularly to stay alive and well. I feel like hunting through You Tube to view ‘beginner tutorials’ and reminders on how to address the challenges that are spread across each page. Getting back on this bike and riding off into the sunset wobble free will keep me busy for a while 🙂

    • I’m glad to hear you’re back at your painting, Pauline! I know you’ve found a lot of joy there and you’ll find it again. You’re right about the skills, though. I had been sewing a lot, with a machine, on a particular quilt top and left it for a few months. Now I have a hard time remembering what I was doing and how to do it!

  11. This is a true post! And like you, I have that first reaction to broad general questions (get a book! watch a You tube vid). Still, it’s fun to help out occasionally and feel as though you’ve contributed to someone else carrying on in something you love!

    • I’m always amazed and impressed with how many people respond, very kindly, to the ones who ask for, what seems to me, too much. I am much more the type to help the ones who help themselves! I bet you are always helping newish gardeners!

  12. Great post. Where they can though, I’d always encourage newbies to join some kind of group – whether it’s one-off workshop, or something more regular. The support and sustenance offered is second to none. Still, that’s in an ideal world… and I suppose a Facebook group is the next best thing.

    • Oh, I agree! I have had so much easier a time getting comfortable with quilting because we have a local guild, full of experts, and workshops. There are very few weavers in my area, though, so my options are the traditional books and magazines or on-line resources.

  13. Love that photo! I have never mastered the art of crocheting. I watch Knit cand Crochet Now on TV and when they show a crochet pattern for “beginners” I intently watch but usually get lost half way through. I can knit just can’t crochet.

    • Just a stock photo but a cute little newbie, to be sure! It’s interesting about your crocheting–I had the idea that most people thought crocheting was easier than knitting (can you tell I don’t do either?!) Maybe you just like the product you get from knitting and your heart isn’t really in the crochet?

  14. I have two newbie weaving students, mother and daughter, learning together, they will both continue to weave and with two little girls to watch/learn at their knee there is hope for the future of weaving. They are delightful, in my 8 years teaching this course I have never felt so encouraged.

    • That sounds wonderful! My career was college prof so I taught a lot of newbies a lot of things but I think teaching weaving would be especially satisfying.

  15. Maybe people who like to learn new crafts enjoy being newbies more than those who stick to one craft. I think that true for me – I’m excited to learn a new skill, and that I can still have first time experiences. I try to figure out things for myself, though. I’m not that great at asking.

    • I’m terrible at asking! I’d much rather research or just struggle through than ask. And, like you, I get big kick out of that feeling of starting new on a skill.

  16. I started with a rigid heddle loom and advanced to a floor loom. I learned to weave with a book by Deborah Redding, but now she goes by Deborah Chandler. Congrats on a new adventure.

    • I love that book! I think it’s interesting how old it is and that no one has managed to write a better book since. Her style is so engaging–I learn something every time I go back and re-read it.

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