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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

What makes you an expert?

This topic is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. What makes any of us an expert? I've seen people on social media (in the knitting industry and other industries) claim to be experts but they seem to have very little experience in their area of expertise. 

I've come across a few such cases in the knitting industry recently:
  • Designers who've not been designing for very long (2-3 years) and is now teaching other designers how to design and get published by magazines etc.
  • Tech Editors (they check designers patterns for accuracy and to make sure the pattern is clear and without errors - or with as few errors as humanly possible) who haven't been knitting for long or who don't have any experience tech editing, offering their services charging a higher rate than experienced tech editors who've been working in the industry for years. Being a good tech editor is more than just being good at maths and proof reading. 
  • Business experts who offer advice on how to run a successful business - one such 'expert' I came across recently ran several companies in the knitting industry a few years ago and they all went bust leaving designers, knitters, yarn companies and others being owed a lot of money. She's now 'helping you build a super successful online biz'. 
  • Knitter who criticise a pattern because they're 'expert knitters' and they can't understand it so therefore the pattern must be wrong or badly written. 
Let's talk about the 'expert knitters' first. I once designed a pattern for a yarn company with an unusual construction which a lot of traditional British knitters are not used to (I'm not insulting British knitters here. When I first moved here 26 years ago the majority of patterns were written to be knitted flat and seamed. At the same time in Norway, the majority of patterns were written to be worked in the round without seaming). When the yarn company asked one of their regular knitters to knit an extra sample for them she told them it was a bad pattern because she was an expert knitter, because she'd knitter for decades, and all her experienced knitting friends couldn't understand that pattern either.

If the only garments you've ever knitted were worked flat in pieces and then seamed then a garment which is worked in the round with top down sleeves with short row sleeve caps may challenge you. But the response is to contact the designer or someone else who's experienced in that kind of garment construction to ask for their help. Not tell the yarn company that the pattern can't be knitted!

So what makes you an expert? Knitting for decades doesn't necessary make you an expert. The knitter I was talking about above may have been an expert in seamed sweaters that are worked flat but if she's never knitted a garment in the round with top down sleeves with short row sleeve caps then she's not going to be any more experienced in knitting that garment than a novice knitter.

As a teenager I was a keen horse rider. After I'd been riding for about a year, I thought I knew it all! I was an expert... or at least I thought I was. 6-7 years later I moved to England to work at a riding stables in Cornwall. My job involved training to take British Horse Society exams. As I started learning about the horse's digestive system, bones, respiratory system, how to determine what to feed the horse, how to look after injured horses and just being involved in working with horses and living at a riding stables, I realised how little I knew and I came to the conclusion that I'd never know everything. By the time I left there after nearly 2 years I had a lot more expertise than I had when I started but I wasn't an expert in everything to do with horses. 

I've been knitting since I was a young child. I knew how to knit before I started school at the age of 7. I'm 47 this year so that means I've been knitting for at least 40 years. I've had a few years when I didn't knit and a few years I knitted intermittently but for the last 10 years I've been an obsessive knitter. I've also learnt more about knitting in the last 10 years than I ever knew before because I've challenged myself to learn more, mainly so I can use that knowledge in my designs and my workshops but also because it stimulates my brain.

If a non-knitter asked me if I was an expert knitter, I would probably say yes. If a knitter asked  me, I'd say that depends. If we're talking about lace knitting, I consider myself an expert. I'm also fairly experienced with fair isle/stranded colour work but I've never done brioche knitting and wouldn't have a clue where to start if someone asked me about that. It's on my 'to learn' list. I've gotten a far as buying a book.... over a year ago!

Okay, so this blog post is starting to become a bit 'ranty' but with today's internet access, it's easy for anyone to set themselves up as an 'expert'. I'm very active on social media and I see people daily offering their services to help you improve the profitability of your small craft business, grown your social media following, become a successful designer and it's so easy to look at their pretty photos or well produced videos and sign up to their courses and hand over your money. Before you accept someone's word that they're an expert, do a bit of research. That's especially applicable if they're trying to charge you money to share their expertise. It's easy these days to find out about someone with the help of the internet. Ask the expert to provide you with references (they probably wouldn't ask someone who couldn't back up their claims to be a referee so the usefulness of references is limited, same with testimonials). See if they do taster courses, especially free ones. Do they do a newsletter you can sign up to, to get to know them better. Follow them on social media to see what they post etc. Do your research!

Maybe you're an aspiring designer and you see someone who's been designing for about two years offering you a course on how to become a designer. Would you pay this person money for her 'expertise' or would you approach a more experienced designer you admire and ask her if perhaps she'd mentor you. I'm not planning to offer classes in how to become a designer anytime soon but I would considering mentoring a new designer if I was approached. My workload is huge right now and I have health issues too so the answer may be no but I'd consider it.

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