A few weeks ago I started running a series of crochet workshops designed to get complete newbies feeling comfortable enough to finish a very simple scarf. I thought I was so prepared for doing this–I had supplies and helpers lined up. I’d read up on crochet instruction online, and learned that lots of people recommend starting beginners on a pre-existing swatch, and crocheted enough swatches for everyone who signed up.
Now, I’ll grant you that starting people on a swatch is good because it provides them with an example of what single crochet will look like. It’s easier to hold and work in than a chain is. It lets them master something quickly and actually see some progress.
However, in a one-hour session with more students than crochet experts, we weren’t able to get anyone to the point where they were able to create their own chain and then crochet into it. This meant that I sent everyone home without the ability to practice, unless they wanted to just keep pulling out the stitches in their swatch and doing them again. So much for being able to see progress! Lots of people left their swatches behind. That, in combination with the attendance issues that have plagued these classes, has made me a swatch skeptic.
Anyway, where I really wanted to go with this post is that one thing I had utterly failed to prepare for was left-handed people. I mean, yes, I’ve read all the suggestions about sitting facing them and having them mirror me; I’ve been told about using an actual mirror, even. But neither of those approaches was any good for the two lefties who showed up to learn how to crochet. They were getting thoroughly lost and confused trying. It was no good.
My solution has been to learn to crochet left handed. Earth shattering, right? It’s been useful in a couple different ways, though. For one thing, it reminded me of how wrong crocheting feels when you start out. Nothing happens naturally. You have to stop and consider each and every tiny little move of the hook. The yarn snarls on your hand, or is so loose that it’s hard to grab it. It’s hard.
You kind of forget those things when it’s been 16 years since you learned a skill, you know? So, yeah–empathy.
But also, being able to crochet left handed is fantastic for colorwork. I read Carol Ventura’s More Tapestry Crochet several years ago. She shows the differences between colorwork where you do it all right handed (or all left handed), and colorwork where you do a row right handed, a row left handed, a row right handed, and so on. Alternating hands and thus directions makes your finished product look a lot better because now you have a right side and a wrong side.
At the time I first read More Tapestry Crochet, I looked at that suggestion to be able to switch hands with a combination of dread and awe. Who was this woman that she could crochet with both hands?! I would just stick to doing colorwork in the round so that I could avoid the problem.
For a lot of years, that was fine. I got over my obsession with colorwork and moved on to other things. (Fancier stitch combinations, better yarn, Tunisian crochet, knitting, embroidery, weaving…) Then along came these left-handed would-be crocheters to remind me that I still have a ton to learn.
Well fine then, universe. If these people can come to my class and learn to crochet when most of them are older than I am, surely I can teach myself to crochet with my off hand.
And I have! I’ve spent a couple hours at this point doing really plain single and double crochet with my left hand. Yesterday, I moved on to trying colorwork with alternating hands. Here’s the practice I did, where I started off trying a pattern entirely right handed (the lower bracket), and then restarted the pattern alternating hands (the higher bracket).
Yes, the colors are awful for colorwork like this, where it isn’t large chunks of each color. This is a useful reminder to me that more contrast is better! Still, I think it’s cool how much more finished the top part looks. It actually was easier to follow the pattern when I was alternating hands, too, because it was so much easier to see what I’d done in the previous row.
So hey–trying to be more inclusive and empathetic with my students has improved my craft. That’s pretty cool.