New Year’s Resolutions: or how Makers and Mentors changed my life…

January 2015: new year’s resolution time.

I’ve tried and failed at this year’s resolution more times than I can count. People have attempted to help me, to no avail, and I’ve even worked at it, committed to it, and failed again.

And yet, this year is going to be the year I do it.

No, it’s not quitting smoking, losing weight or going to the gym more, although two of those three resolutions certainly apply.

No. This is going to be the year I learn how to knit.

There. It’s been said. So now I really have to do it.

But where to start?

Like all good resolutions this one has been sitting with me, in the back of my mind, for awhile. As soon as the weather got cold, I started browsing the yarn aisles at Michaels. Yearning for the soft touch of worsted. Wishing and dreaming of clacking needles. Back in December I started to plan.

And like any good neophyte, I realized I needed a guru, someone to help me stick to the straight (edges) and narrow (patterns). I found my guru in Cathy Jackson, who is one half of Edmonton’s Makers and Mentors.

Tea cup cozy, amongst other fun projects from Cathy’s collection. Photo credit: M. Weber

Which is how I found myself on Cathy’s doorstep, needles in hand and ready to learn. While the following exchange may be hyperbole, the facts are true. I can’t knit, Cathy can, and she vowed she was up to the teaching task.

“I may be unteachable,” is how I introduced myself.

She sized me up. “Hmm,” she said as she led me to her comfy craft room off the kitchen.

“Others have tried,” I babbled. “My grandmother. My great aunt. My home ec teacher. My mom. I may have a learning disability when it comes to knitting. I’m knitting dyslexic.”

“Hmm,” she said, again. “Well, let’s just see about that.”

And then she showed me the project we were going to work on. A cute little buttoned scarf for my tea cup to wear.

“It’ll never happen,” I said. “I’m impossible.”

All she said was “Hmm.” And she winked at me.

Then she began to knit. She showed me how to cast on, how she holds her needles and yarn, how it becomes a personal preference as to how you gauge your tension, whether you knit continental style (yarn held in your left hand) or English style (yarn held in your right hand). She made it look incredibly simple.

“It really is simple,” she assured me. “Six-year-olds can do it.”

Then she handed it to me. More clumsy than your average six-year-old, but still, there I was, casting on stitches. I was knitting — sort of.

“No, wrap your yarn the other way,” she corrected as I intuitively did it wrong. “That’s it,” she said, the most patient kindergarten teacher ever. “No, the needle goes in the left side, not the right.”

With monumental slowness, I knit a stitch, then two. Then three. My hands cramped, charleyhorse pain shooting up to my elbow. I gritted my teeth, knitting through the pain.

Cathy watched like a nervous parent. “There you go,” she said. “That’s all there is to it.”

Knitted coasters, and Cathy’s doodle journal. Photo credit: M. Weber

Somehow, I doubted that. But still, I was knitting. I could even glance up at her, every five minutes or so, and every time I did her blue eyes sparkled. Cathy is nothing if not passionate about her craft.

Or crafts.

“Tell me about Makers and Mentors,” I asked her, once my brain was free enough to multitask with speech. 

“Well, I’ve been making things all my life,” she said, picking up her own knitting. I watched enviously for a moment as her needles flew, her fingers wrapping the yarn with terrific speed and ease. My own fingers faltered as I tried to remember — was it enter the stitch from the left? Or the right?

“Left,” she said, hardly looking up. “Anyway, I’ve just always been a maker. Our house is full of projects I’ve done over the years — knitting and crocheting, sewing, painting and doodling. All kinds of things. I love making things — it’s remarkably satisfying to make something with your own hands, and I love teaching other people how to make things too. So my daughter, Sarah, and I dreamed up the idea of a little business that teaches people how to be makers too.”

“Makers and Mentors,” I said. “Fits in nicely with Make Something Edmonton, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does,” she said, “Oh, watch that backward stitch. Here’s how you fix that.”

My first knitting attempt. Photo credit: M. Weber

Our chatting had distracted me. But with the error fixed, Cathy carried on. “I love that our city is full of makers. Makers of all kinds. That’s another part of our business, connecting with other makers who like to teach too. It’s allowed us to expand our offerings to things like calligraphy. There’s such a great interest in learning how to do the old arts and crafts. I think it gets more and more important in this digital age.”

The more I knit, the more I agreed with her. Even though my tension was wonky and my stitches were less than perfect, I was immeasurably proud of how my little misshapen tea cozy was turning out. Because I made it. It was mine. A part of me, in the way nothing digital ever had been, or ever could be. It was something tangible, something real. It wasn’t ones and zeros, it was something I could hold in my hand. And it felt good.

“Next week, we purl,” Cathy said, hugging me on the way out.


Look Ma! I can knit. One of my favourite new scarves. Photo credit: M. Weber

And now that it’s January, it’s crunch time for resolutions. And I’m happy to report this one has stuck. I’ve knitted four scarves, and I’ve got a wrap on the way. I look forward to learning how to make things other than rectangles — and I have no doubt Cathy can show me the way. Turns out I wasn’t impossible, after all.  

And maybe if I keep at it, someday I could be a mentor. Perhaps that’s a new year’s resolution for 2016. Or 2026. It may take me that long, but I’ll get there. 

If you want to learn how to make anything — nearly anything at all — give Cathy and Sarah a shout. There’s a good chance they’ve got the mentor you need, maybe even the mentor you deserve.