We are interviewing some of our wonderful teachers in the coming months to help you learn more about them and what they do for us. These interviews are so much fun! Enjoy getting to know more about Jennifer Tan:
1. You have done a wonderful Tunisian crochet video for Earthschooling. How did you get started with Tunisian Crochet?
I learned how to crochet from my mother and grandmother when I was young. I enjoyed trying different sizes of hooks and a variety of styles. One day, I saw information online about Tunisian crochet, and I started to research it. Once I learned how, I was “hooked”!
2. A lot of people who have not been taught knitting, crochet or other handwork when they were a child are intimidated by the process. What are some encouraging words you can share with them to help them on their journey?
Start with one form of handwork. Take a lesson so that you can get a lot of one-on-one guidance, or an online class (or video) so that you can watch techniques over and over again. Be patient and give yourself a few months before expecting a beginner’s level of competency. Believe that you can do it…you can! I think that children learn easily because they don’t stop to question everything so much or worry. Handwork is physical and psychological…intellectual and artistic. Open yourself to trying something new each year and see how it goes! It is OK for some handwork to be hard at first. In general, knitting and spinning are harder to learn right away, so give yourself time to master the basics. Needlefelting and weaving tend to be easier at first. Read books, attend workshops, join Ravelry, and attend handwork groups at Waldorf schools, libraries, art centers, and community centers.
3. You are a busy woman in your life! You play musical instruments, you are a mother, you homeschool, you help run a household, you run a business, you officiate weddings and more. How do you keep yourself organized? How do you keep your energy levels up? How do you keep your motivation and joy for all the work you do? Do you ever have days when you would rather just sleep or read a book?
Balance is always a challenge, and I find that I do best when I am able to have a variety of tasks to do each day that I love. For example, today I spent time gardening, writing wedding words for a couple, dancing with my two youngest children, singing with a community choir, crocheting a gift, laundry, blogging, cooking, publicity for our two businesses, and researching weaving projects for our upcoming Summergarden camp at Davis Waldorf School. I love the variety, and that love feeds me with energy! Rick and I play harp and flute together for weddings. We get to collaborate and write music togehter, and then get dressed up and perform during beautiful ceremonies…it’s like a fun date for us! Eating a vegetarian diet and whole foods from local farms and our garden, doing yoga, using aromatherapy and homeopathy, gardening daily, and spending quality time in the evenings with my husband keeps me healthy.
4. How is Tunisian Crochet different from traditional crochet?
A Tunisian crochet hook is quite a bit longer, usually 14-18″ in length, with a knob or stopper on the end. The stitches are similar to traditional crochet, but it is done in two phases: 1. Forward Pass or Front Pass or Gathering Row, where you gather loops onto the hook; 2. Return Pass or Back Pass, where you work the loops off of the hook. The gathering and releasing of loops looks a bit like knitting. Tunisian crochet is easier on the hands wrists and arms and uses less yarn than traditional crochet.
5. You are very involved in creating many wonderful and artistic things from yarn, wool and wood. What drew you to this area of expression?
My mother used to knit, embroider, sew and crochet when I was young, so I was around yarns, threads and handwork tools my whole life. My paternal grandmother crocheted quite a bit, and I spent a week with her when I was in my 20’s to hone my skills and learn more stitches. I took woodshop in high school and lived in a forest where many people handcrafted items from wood. Being drawn to wool happened in my 30’s when I started seeing more books and online information about spinning yarn and felting. I was always drawn to Waldorf education and quickly combined my love of handwork with creating projects for my family and Waldorf homeschoolers.
6. What things do you do to learn more skills and keep up your skills in these areas?
I attend workshops, online classes and retreats every year. There is always more to learn! My favorite experience has been attending the Griffin Dyeworks Dye & Fiber Retreat in Southern California. I have attended for 7 years, and I learn something new every year. I learned wetfelting, inkle loom weaving, lucet, sprang, naalbinding, long-draw spinning, Navaho spinning, kumihimo, and so much more at the retreat. I have also done lapidary, glass lampwork bead making, leatherworking and basket weaving at the retreat. I enjoy teaching others, and I find that hosting workshops in person and online keeps my skills up and encourages me to learn more. I also read new books and subscribe to a variety of handwork magazines.
7. What is your favorite handwork to do? What is your favorite thing to make?
Crocheting is my favorite! I love crocheting fingerless gloves for gifts. I just finished up a pair for my youngest sister as a graduation gift from her doctoral program, and I let her choose the color of yarn ahead of time.
8. You have taught many children and adults about handwork. What are the benefits of handwork you have seen people experience after just one class? After many classes? After taking it on as a hobby?
Seeing someone eyes light up when they “get it” during a class is so rewarding. My goal is for this to happen during the first class, no matter what type of handwork I am teaching. After a series of classes, the benefits are seeing projects take shape and being finished, and a level of mastery occur. There is no doubt that having handwork hobbies can be calming and bring balance to someone who has a busy lifestyle. Handwork feeds a creative side of us unlike any other form of art — we create projects that are not only beautiful, but also useful.
9. You created a wonderful “How to Make Waldorf Stuffed Animal” book for Earthschooling. Why do you think it is important to create these felted toys?
Sewing stuffed animals is very rewarding! Giving a child an animal that you handmade is completely different from purchasing a stuffed animal for a gift. The love and attention that goes into each animal is special. Children need to play with toys that are made by hand out of natural materials.