Handmade: City Knits instructor has a not so 'perfect' approach
While every yarn shop has irresistible fibers in a variety of colors, textures and weights, it wasn't until my very insightful interview with Amy Houghtalin of City Knits that I realized why some are favored by knitters and crocheters far more than others.
It's not just about the exquisite yarn that fills their shelves -- but also their method for teaching individuals how to manipulate yarn into fabric. Beginning knitters and crocheters learn best how to turn yarn into something practical and amazing from instructors who are not only good at their craft, but also have a more philosophical approach to teaching.
Houghtalin has been the manager at City Knits, 26050 Crocker in Harrison Township, for the past 10 years, and she's "obsessed" with teaching others to hand and machine knit. It's that obsession, combined with a relaxed attitude about stitching, that makes such a tremendous difference.
Grosse Pointe resident Elaine Clark, a former student of Houghtalin, said, "Amy is a great teacher. And like all gifted teachers, she draws eager students to her classes."
Houghtalin, who lives in Harper Woods, said, "I'd like to find a way to keep local yarn stores as a resource that people can go to for instructions, because while you can buy yarn anywhere -- the internet, in person, from each other's stash, (etc.) -- we need a place where people can learn.
"I don't know how the institution of these crafts will continue at the same level of expertise. But, at the same time I say expertise, I don't think there's one way for people to enjoy stitching. Sometimes, the everyday knitter just needs the relaxation of our hands creating something (Ain't that the truth!). I think better and hear better when I have something I'm working on in my hands."
She believes it's "human nature to need to create" as an escape from the daily grind of work life and commitment. "I think there's a part of us that just needs an outlet, and maybe it's an art form or a relaxation technique."
Houghtalin, a self-taught machine knitter, who "watched some Youtube" during her learning process, said, "I'm teaching a lot of machine knitting now, and I can teach people how to spot their mistakes because of all my years of struggling at it."
She developed her overall approach to teaching after taking a lesson in machine knitting from Michelle Goodhand, a recent Michigan resident who helped her with "crucial things" she struggled with for 10 years.
"That analogy ties in with what I do now at City Knits," she said. "By providing an hour of quality instructions, I feel I can save somebody months and years of struggle, and maybe frustration -- even the defeating type of frustration that some of my students come to class with when they just can't do it -- where they're ready to give up on knitting. They sit and try to figure out what the problem is, and I ask them 'Is it the way you're holding the yarn, or what is the problem?' Let me help get you to a solution. And, sometimes they think what comes off their needles is supposed to look like the fabric (sample) in the store, but it hasn't been blocked."
As both a hand and machine knitting instructor, Houghtalin doesn't stop at teaching students. She goes as far as instructing even the teachers at City Knits on how to teach (Amazing!).
"I think we have to teach teachers to know that perfect is the enemy of joy, because we have to find joy in our crafts," she explained. "I personally find joy in finding the perfect, then making the decision that it doesn't matter. There is a perfect, and we don't have to do it all the time. I'm obsessive in finding the perfect way of doing something, and I want to disregard it at will. One thing I like to teach people at City Knits is that you are the boss of those stitches. They're going to do what you want them to do!
"My goal about knitting, or crafting, is to share it with as many people and teachers as I can," she continued. "City Knits lost one of our teachers last year to cancer, and she had a wealth of abilities to share. Some of us, who are blessed with all these abilities, need to share them with younger generations, but they don't seem to have the leisure time to learn the crafts. That's why I think machine knitting is coming back. I think the young people I meet, who are using knitting machines, don't have time to learn the hand (knitting) skills because it's multiple skills built on top of each other over time."
She believes hand and machine knitting "go together." She said, "I make things where part of it is hand knitted, and then I hang it on the machine. It's not just one thing for me."
Houghtalin is clearly a brilliant instructor, however, she knows her limits. That's why she hired longtime crocheter Nozibele Kelsey Brewton of Detroit to teach the crocheting classes at City Knits. "I have limited crochet teaching skills," she admitted. "I can't read a crochet pattern without getting a headache!"
However, she's so "driven" to share her knitting skills that she's "given up a lot of the day-to-day operation of running the store," yet, she still feels torn between two lovers -- managing City Knits and knitting.
"It's really cut into my knitting time," she chuckled. "I love what I do. I love the knitters who come to our socials, but I'm so torn because I want to knit more! And, that's quite understandable because she has a yarn stash big enough to fill a "semi-truck!"
Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.
Contact Amy Houghtalin of City Knits (26050 Crocker, Harrison Township) at (586) 469-9665 or cityknits.com.