After a great #etmchat on March 6, I had the realization that, because of the old-school things I enjoy, I’ve been part of the open movement for a long time. In fact, I’ve been part of it much longer than I’ve known such a thing existed or what to call it.
I’m a knitter and a foodie, and those are both passions where the remix is just an understood part of what you do.
If you read food blogs, you know that reworking a recipe is what it’s all about. Writers regularly share their successes, and their utter disasters, as they play around with the chemistry of a recipe. I am a particular fan of a blog called Food in Jars, where Marisa McLellan posts what she’s done with a particular small-batch canning recipe, and then always asks what other people have done with that ingredient, and the comments are full of creative twists on the starting point.
In the Kitchen Counter Cooking School, author Kathleen Flinn chronicles her journey of giving people the freedom to experiment, to play, to taste, to see what works for them. There is always a beginning, but nothing to say that you must slavishly imitate that beginning, if you think something will work better. In her current blog, Cook Fearless, she now picks a topic a month, and challenges her readers not to be afraid, and invites them to tweak recipes to make them their own. My own recipe books are full of notations and hints, as I try different things to feed my family delicious, healthy food.
When a friend asks you for a recipe for that amazing dish you brought to the potluck, you hand it on happily, without thinking about copyright or licensing, and knowing that it will be transformed again.
Knitters have been adding their own variations to design elements for hundreds of years, and it’s rare to see two knitters complete the same pattern with the precisely same end result. One popular activity (both virtual and f2f) is called a knitalong or KAL. A group of knitters picks a pattern to knit, asynchronously but within a particular time frame. People blog and talk about their progress, share the spots where they’re stuck, crowdsource solutions to pattern errors (often with the designer gratefully helping), and eventually share the finished product. The process, and the learning that comes from sharing about it, (along with a little extrinsic motivation) is why you enter into a KAL. (My f2f knitting group is about to begin a KAL on this pattern.
I’ll share photos of the finished projects to show you the kind of range you get even if everybody’s using the same pattern).
Even without a KAL, knitters love to create infinite variations on a theme. Entering the search term “hat” into the pattern database on Ravelry, a knit and crochet social media site, comes up with over 44,000 entries (no, that’s not a mistake). One assumes that a lot of those would never have happened if someone hadn’t shared a pattern. And that Rav database is incredible – it holds over 350,000 patterns, of which at least a third are free.
Once you’ve chosen a pattern, the world is your oyster. You can tweak at will – change the yarn, the colour, the stitch pattern, the collar, the sleeves. I have a favourite baby sweater and have knitted about 15 of them over the years, no two alike. I can go to any of my stitch dictionaries, and find a pattern that suits the recipient – so the friend moving out west gets a wheat-sheaf design in her daughter’s sweater, and the mom who ran our breakfast program gets a tree of life motif in her son’s.Tools like Goodreader, that let you annotate a .pdf, and track your changes, are the modern version of my grandmother’s neatly penned marginalia with names attached to each variation. If a variation works out really well, you can now easily choose to publish your pattern, for others to start from, on their designing journey.
Knitters, like other crafters, are also supremely willing to share our technical knowledge, in the hope of getting others hooked on our particular fibre-crack. A rough day at school was recently made better by receiving a text from a friend who needed to know how to do a particular stitch she wasn’t understanding. After a couple attempts, I was able to send her a link to a video, because she’s a visual learner. When I wanted to try a new handspinning technique recently, I had a variety of instructors to choose from, who had posted hands-on video. I have a student in Grade 7, without another knitter in her family, who is an accomplished knitter thanks to YouTube. What we once relied on family members to pass on, we can now learn from our extended knitting PLN, both virtual and f2f.
What am I trying to get at, in a rambling, roundabout way? That many of us come from generations of people who have been remixing the content of their lives for a long time. At a recent panel discussion I attended, one of the panelists talked about how hard it was for teachers to teach open collaboration and sharing, when they hadn’t been down that path themselves. How do we show our colleagues (and remind ourselves) that we walk that path everyday in other parts of our lives?
I’m wondering how we give people the gift of understanding that sharing their learning, and great lesson plans, and assessment ideas, and years of hands-on expertise is no different, and that the rewards that will come back to them are huge.
As I type this, I am taking part in one of spring’s great remixes. Maple-scented steam is rolling off a new stainless evaporator, and the sap, for the first time in this bush, is being delivered by tubing. My kids, reading happily beside me, are the 7th generation of my husband’s family to make syrup on this land, and helped build what we sometimes refer to as sugar shack 2.0. It’s a process built on the open sharing of knowledge, between cultures and through generations, and the end product is all the more delicious for that.