In Praise of Crafty Newbies


“Hi! I was just gifted a loom—I’m so excited to be a loomer! 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, 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.

There have always been newbies but, in days gone by, maybe they weren’t so obvious. A lot of us learned some basic skills 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.

We had a huge laugh in our sewing group a couple years ago, when a then-novice at quiltmaking was bemoaning the fact that her sewing machine bobbin always ran out at the most inopportune time. She felt she’d just get into a rhythm and then, boom, she’d have to stop, unthread the machine, fill the bobbin, etc., etc. Another, very experienced, member of the group listened carefully and said, gently, “Well, at the beginning a project, I just fill up a bunch of bobbins, to get me through.” Stunned silence from our sweet newbie . . . and then she said, “Duh. I would never have thought of that.” And now none of the rest of us will ever forget it!

  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.

Just last week, I got to show a friend the basics of hand quilting. She’s a far more experienced, better quilter than I am but she’s never taken the plunge for quilting by hand. It gave me a big thrill when I could show her and watch her pick it up very quickly!

  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 skilled and capable and motivated to keep learning.

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

I am one of those people who loatheslooking 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. For instance, it had never occurred to me to fill a bunch of bobbins at the start of a project  . . .

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

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

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.




54 thoughts on “In Praise of Crafty Newbies

  1. I never got into the habit of asking questions, I suppose because I acquired all my sewing skills in the days before the internet, and because I mostly taught myself, being remote or disconnected from others working in the same area. It’s just something that never occurs to me, or at least, not until too late! I do find the assumption that everything can be learned from YouTube a bit irritating, because there’s a whole dimension of tactile experience missing in that format. Hands on simply cannot be beaten, whatever your chosen craft. Having said all that, how wonderful is it that we can connect with each other, and that experience can hold out a helping hand to those just beginning?

      • I get such a lot of pleasure out of my craft that I guess I want everyone to feel the same way… There are places I’ll never go with it, like longarm quilting, but if I *can* help, I like to!

    • I’m always surprised at how gentle people are with the newbies who, in their naïveté, ask “how do I weave” or “how do I do cable stitch,” as if that can be taught in a Facebook comment. I do think most people want others to learn and enjoy a craft–it’s so nice to see!

  2. It amazes me how the youth do not have the drive to just get a book and teach themselves. I do believe that the schools have dumbed down our society in the last 30 years! They all have to have their hand held, cannot take stress, and expect all things to be easy and LIFE is NOT that way. Logic and abstract reasoning are just not in their brains anymore!

    The one thing that is exciting about a person who wants to learn something new is to be able to share our knowledge with them, but it also means that they must have the drive and desire strong enough to try things on their own! It is called ‘making your brain go to work’! Our generation learned by doing even allowing mistakes along the way! I never forget mistakes and strive to not make them again!

    Interesting Post!

    • Actually, a lot of the newbies I’m thinking of are our age, just getting a late start on quilting, etc! But you’re right that people of different generations approach learning differently.

      • Also must add that the young people I know are working their you-know-whats off just to make a living. But maybe it’s different in Maine, where grit and hard work are an integral part of our culture. Good thing we Mainers also know how to have a good time, or we’d be a real drag to be around. 😉

        • Having taught college for 30 years, I can say that there are all kinds of young people today, good and not so good, just as there always have been! And that Maine doesn’t have the market entirely cornered on grit and determination!

          • No, of course not. 😉 But in Maine it’s part of the culture for both Franco-Americans and Yankees. We have our faults, to be sure, but young or old, laziness is not one of them. One of the highest forms of praise coming from my mother was, “That one’s a worker.” As I’ve noted in many of my posts, its a good thing Franco-Americans have such a sense of fun, or we would be a real drag of a culture.

  3. I too love the enthusiasm of a newbie, it is contagious, and brings joy to everyone involved! I have seen a resurgence in the desire to learn basic skills like cooking, sewing, canning, etc. in the past few years and it gives me hope for the future. 🙂

  4. I love quilting newbies because I get to turn them on to my favorite quilters, books, videos, etc. I know myself well enough to recognize I’m not a good teacher, but I can sure point a newby in the direction of one. One of the delights of the modern quilting movement has been the enthusiasm and can-do attitude of modern quilters.

    • I imagine the modern quilt movement has brought lots of newbies into the fold–the aesthetic is so exciting and bold, when compared with many traditional quilts.

  5. Great creative fun post! Feeling everything you have written. I began hand quilting back in the 70’s, along with cross-stitch, crewel, crochet and spinning and I still feel like a newbie at times 🙂 LOL ~

  6. We have all been newbies at one time or another. Back in the old days a long, long time ago ( before internet ) when I was a teenager got it in my head that I wanted to knit. Why, I do not know. No one in my family knitted nor did any of my friends. I got one of those little learn how to knit books and taught myself the basics. Then I went on to knit two sweaters….one a cardigan with button holes and the other a pullover with a pouch in the front. I was so proud of myself and wore those sweaters as often as I could. Then I never knitted anything again until recently. But I really didn’t ” get into it” like I did all those years ago.

    • I’ve had the same experience of going back to a craft I once loved and not really being able to get into it again. For me, I’ve just moved on to another craft!

  7. Your list is applicable to every situation including work. It helps us all when we have to explain a process or answer questions from the new kid because it reminds us of why we like what we do and why we keep plugging.

    • Great point! It’s just been awhile since I’ve worked so I forget about it! Learning something from another human being is so valuable–all the little tips and hints . . . .

  8. This is an excellent post, Kerry. I’m always feeling like the newbie in any given situation and like you, also reluctant to ask questions. I feel very foolish most of the time. I read everything I can, do a lot of trial and error but then I find some sweet person willing to give me a pointer or two to make the journey easier and more fun. It’s too easy to get discouraged and give up something that holds so much potential without the help of those more experienced. I don’t live where I can get classes anymore or find people that are doing the crafts I enjoy so stopping by the blog world, Utube, books and all the other places we have for information and inspiration help so much. Thanks for always being willing to chime in with a little help.

    • Thanks, Marlene. I have a tendency to try and learn from reading and doing and only ask questions as a last resort–I don’t want to reveal, to anyone, that I don’t know something. It’s so silly, really . . . . But, you’re right, that the blog community we’ve found is so supportive, I’m willing to be more open here.

  9. You are right about all of these things, and it is a good reminder of two things – to be kind to newbies, and to not be afraid of being one! One of the things I really struggle with being a newbie weaver is that I *being* a newbie, when I am a confident knitter, able crocheter, and love countless other crafts. And I picked up spinning relatively easily. How can this be so difficult to master? On a simple loom? Am I a total klutz?

    So this post gives me encouragement to keep on trying, learning, reading and asking. I will get there.

    • You know, I think weaving is so much more difficult to learn than many other crafts–there’s more equipment, you’re dealing with vast amounts of yarn, trying to keep it under control, lots of variables. And it takes so long to set everything up, just to get to the point of throwing the shuttle! I so wish you had a local guild or could take a workshop and have some real-time, in person, guidance. I think, with weaving, it would make all the difference. But don’t give up! And if you have questions that I might be able to help with, let me know.

  10. Love this and all the comments. And, thank you for teaching me how to make toffee. 🙂 A couple of bloggers have helped me with quilting and photography, and I’m grateful to them as well. I use google all the time to find info, and I’ve used many a YouTube video to learn how to do something. But, I always think about the days when I rode a city bus to the library, talked to the resource librarian, and then spent time looking in 10-20 year old books and magazines for the info I needed. I must admit I like the answers at my fingertips. 🙂 By the way, it took me several projects to realize the value of multiple bobbins. 🙂

    • I think the comments are usually better than my posts! We do have so much information at our fingertips now–I like it a lot but still am most likely to turn to books. I didn’t find them much help, honestly, with learning to weave–its so complicated!–but everything I know about quilting came from books and then from practice. And I learned to make toffee from a book!

  11. Great post Kerry – it reminded me to be tolerant of learners – ‘tolerance’ should really be my flagship word these days! We mature crafters knew how to learn from others and from books – those were our only two options and while I do agree that many young people have expectations beyond the platform and even beyond their abilities – still they know no better and should always be encouraged. Otherwise the art of handcrafting will die out as it so nearly recently did. I ask questions constantly still. If I want to know, I ask – I so love the woman who asks ‘what is a bobbin?’ For real or tongue in cheek, it’s a great question! You are a wonder!!

  12. So many of us had the advantage of learning from our mothers and grandmothers. I certainly learnt to sew from Mum, who learnt it from her Nanna. Maybe life is too busy for many women to find time to sew, knit, crochet, weave and therefore be able to pass on their knowledge. I was delighted to see a pattern maker developing a skirt pattern that was deliberately made to be sewn with parents and children. So newbies need to ask, and good on them for doing so.

    • I think crafting can skip generations, too–and leave younger women with no older relative to learn from. I like seeing the current levels of interest in craft and I’ve seen craft workshops that are designed for parents and children to come together, so everyone learns at the same time. Perfect!

  13. We are all newbies at some stage in our lives and I am very grateful to all the people who have given me tips and help, even when I haven’t been brave enough to ask. Fun post. Thank you.

  14. Even though I’m not a beginner in most of the crafts I’ve settled on I still make mistakes – and write about them – so I’m probably still a source of amusement from time to time, but in a good way I hope. It would be very off putting to beginners if they thought everybody else was turning out perfection all the time.

    • This is a really good point! You keep it real in your posts, making it clear that things don’t work out perfectly every time but that you persevere. It’s a valuable lesson for all of us!

  15. I was reading all of this with interest…smiling here and there but I was delighted with the question.. what is a bobbin! Bless him ,that question made my day!

    • I think he knew he was going to make us laugh with that, Deb! Charlie’s wife is a devoted quilter and I am quite certain he knows all about bobbins! But it’s a good reminder, isn’t it? Real newbies wouldn’t even know that vocabulary.

  16. I don’t like to ask for help. My method is to pick the collective brain of the internet. I have books, but I don’t turn to them as much. Learning a new craft is exciting and invigorating, and with sewing I find things to stump me and still make newbie mistakes after 7 years. I love reading about others’ mistakes; it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one!
    Weaving seems very complex, and unlike sewing, most new weavers didn’t have a family member to watch or learn from, and had only seen a child’s potholder loom. Your reasons for appreciation of the newbie were fun to read! I like the amusement factor.

    • Thanks! I do think weaving is a little different, as you say–less prevalent and fewer potential teachers. I wish I had taken advantage of my mother’s sewing skills–she was really good but that meant I just relied on her to make nice things for me and didn’t ever learn to do it myself. You keep finding new ways to challenge yourself with your sewing!

  17. I agree. It’s fun to hand on skills – and invariably find out something new in the process. It’s flattering to be seen as an expert, even if in reality you’re just someone muddling through. And it teaches patience, a virtue that has always been very elusive as far as I’m concerned.

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