Inherited knowledge and talent – Tabula Rasa post by me


I felt compelled to write about the inspiration behind the name of the De Anima shawl and about what it means to other people and questions it raises. I have asked designers and overall very talented people, whom I admire a lot, to write from their prospective about Tabula Rasa and whether they believe that we, as people, are born as a blank canvass or whether we genetically inherit knowledge and creativity.
I want to thank them all for contributing by writing such personal insights. If you would like to read the blogs again here are the links:

Today is the final day of Tabula Rasa posts and I thought I’ll give my two cents on the matter.

Tabula Rasa refers to the idea that we are born without built-in content, a ‘’blank slate’’, and that all we know comes from experience and perception. It is a truly fascinating concept, and I very often ponder it when I teach knit and crochet. We acquire skills through practice, some of us are taught those skills at a young age, but do we possess them already in our unconscious mind? The same can be said for talent… do we acquire it or are we simply born with it? In western philosophy the concept of Tabula Rasa originated in treatise of Artistotle – De Anima or On the Soul (hence the name of the shawl).

I tend to agree more with Pluto and his Theory of Forms that the human mind is born with ideas. I believe that we genetically inherit instinctive knowledge, like a new born who innately knows how to suckle onto mother’s breast. In the same way as you can observe in animals, like cats with hunting or elephants with geographical knowledge. Based on that, what other information is passed down, which can be later reinforced through teaching? Form the first day we rely on parents, our surroundings, then later on teachers and people around us to help us develop and enhance that knowledge. Do we naturally possess creativity/talent in the same way we possess instinctive knowledge?  
Teaching knit and crochet gives me the perfect opportunity to observe all stages of ability. In a group of ten people who never tried crochet, you will have four that instantly show natural ability and will be crocheting within half an hour with ease. Then you have few that just can’t get to grips with it. We are all wired differently and predisposed to be good at different things. However, maybe knitting and crochet are not the best examples of talent as we can learn how to do it and obviously enhance our knowledge and ability through willingness and lots of practice, but let’s take photography for example. Everyone can learn the rules of staging a good photo but only few have a natural eye for capturing a truly amazing image. You can have twenty photographs of the same person taken by different people but only one will capture the person’s soul and encapsulate the mood of the subject.
How much of that wiring and ability we possess is in part down to any knowledge we inherited? I’m not sure, but maybe I have a romantic view of it that we do pass more that we think down to the next generation. 
Anna xx

Whatcha making kiddo? – Tabula Rasa guest post by Justyna Lorkowska


Today’s guest post on Tabula Rasa comes from the one and only Justyna Lorkowska aka Lete’s Knit.

Justyna is an overall designer extraordinaire, every single one of her shawls is to die for. She excites with her designs, they are stunning with gorgeous colour combinations, they evoke urgency….the need to cast on every single design is unbearable, and if that wasn’t enough, she is also a fellow Pole so you gotta love her. I adore hearing my name in the Polish way, Ania 😊.

I have been admirer of Justyna’s work for a very long time and when I was approached to contribute to her husband’s, Marcin (Martin’s Lab), Stillness Collection, as you can imagine I jumped at the chance. De Anima shawl was my contribution and it was a pleasure working on her using Marcin’s amazing yarns. 

Justyna also released two collections called TabulaRasa Naturals and recently Tabula Rasa Speckles, so who better to talk about the subject……….
Some time ago Ania asked me to write a guest blog post. At that time I was in a shop trying to pick the entrance door and running around my 6-year-old daughter who was sure to hurt herself in a place full of tools, tiles, doors and other building equipment. Ah, the “highlights” of a knitting designer’s life 😉 (To tell you the truth, this life is pretty boring: the same chores as everyone else, with some deadline knitting and almost no knitting just for the sake of it… and taxes to pay just like others). Anyway, I was sort of busy in the shop, but when a friend asks you a favor, you say yes. So I did.
After some time when I was supposed to write the actual post, I had no idea what to say. “Tabula rasa”…. “Tabula rasa”… scratch on the head… Well, I did name my collection like that – after all it sounds inspirational and catchy 😉 Also Ania’s beautiful shawl from “Stillness Collection” is called “De Anima” after the treatise of Aristotle, in which the concept of Tabula Rasa in Western philosophy originated (btw, that’s one of the most gorgeous crochet shawls I’ve seen and I really saw it in person). Finally, I do know what “tabula rasa” means (blank page, right? 😉), but writing a whole blog post explaining if I think we are creative blank pages… oh man.
I was never planning to become a knitting designer – it sort of happened organically. I just really love making things with sticks and string. However, being one of those “knit-in-public” knitters I get asked many questions by lots of people, I mean lots. And it’s not only questions. A lot of “muggles” just chat to me and start talking about their crafting experiences. They mostly describe their failures and end up saying “I could not knit like you”. 
My favorite story dates about 2 years back to a summer holiday I was spending with my kids at my lovely mother-in-law’s. She’s not a knitter or a crafter of any kind, but loves listening to me when I describe what I’m making, when I talk about yarns (she loves caking yarn for me) and she’s super proud when I make something for her. She has a bunch of friends in the neighborhood so almost every time when we looked after the kids in the playground, they would come over to us and chat. I was the youngest in the crowd so whenever they saw me with knitting needles, someone would ask “Whatcha making kiddo?” One day I was ploughing through a cardigan (if I remember correctly I was making Dipped cardigan, which is contiguous) when I heard the “whatcha making” question.
“A cardigan”, I replied. “I know it doesn’t look like it but I assure you it’s a cardi. You start your work at the neck line and then increase in certain spots to shape the sleeves, neck and so on”.
She stared at me as if I was casting some magic spells on her.
“Wow, I could never make something like that. I can only knit and purl.”
“Well… you actually could. I also just knit and purl” I said. “With a few simple increases here and there”.
That sums up perfectly all crafty failures. I taught myself to knit when I was a child, observing my mom and trying to copy her needles’ movements. Then I stopped knitting for many years believing, just like the lady, that I could never make more difficult stuff. So wrong! After many years I took it up again, this time determined to learn and create as much as possible. From simple techniques and easy projects to creating my own designs. I can’t even count the number of times I had to rip the projects and the amount of foul language accompanying it (I’m sure many can relate 😉) until one day I started feeling comfortable enough to let my creativity rule. Was I a blank page or was it inborn? I think a little bit of both. My skills were acquired throughout the many years or ripping and starting again, but my innate stubbornness and drive to create helped too.
I believe none of us are born with skills to knit, sew, crochet and we need to learn and master them. Just like kids learning a language, we need to provide ourselves with creative input – beginning with easy stitches and projects to more advanced ones – until we possess so much data it allows us to freely create. So, Dear Reader, knit, make, create until you feel comfortable and your mind if full of ideas! Thomas Edison once said “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration” and I could not agree with him more. Creativity takes hard work, it takes time and it is something that can be mastered. Every stitch gets you closer to perfection and helps you build the vast knowledge of how and why. You can’t expect to be creative by doing nothing. Just like kids who are kept in silence since their birth can’t use proper language, you need stimuli for your brain and hands to become crafty.  
However, just like with anything that requires both success and failure, a lot of people avoid stepping out of their comfort zone to try new things. They would rather become this lady from the story than experience defeat. Personally, I wouldn’t call the hours of unravelling “ugly projects” being unsuccessful. It’s just a step you’re making in the process of becoming better and more creative. Every small mistake teaches you, so if you are learning from them they are meant to be.
Finally, as a former teacher, I can say there’s nothing that drives me coocoo more than someone whining “I can’t do it” 😉

Justyna xx