Monday, July 02, 2007

Thoughts on the TKGA Masters Levels

My deadline for completion of TKGA Masters Level One is nearing. I'm 12 or 13 swatches into it (16 total due) and still need to do the report, the questions, and the project (a hat). Being aware of the looming deadline, I'm pretty sure I'll make it. In fact, I INTEND to make it. One of the things that will allow me to do that is to avoid being OCD about my swatches.

I've been lurking on the TKGA Forum and the Yahoo group devoted to the Masters and I've noticed a pattern amongst the participants—they stress over the perfection of the swatches. They knit and reknit and rip and reknit their Level One swatches because they are worried that unless they are PERFECT, they won't pass. Some of them have been at it for a few years and have yet to submit anything. To me, this seems pointless.

I'm a Parelli Natural Horsemanship student. PNH has levels 1-3 as well. I've come to believe that the two programs (TKGA/PNH) share a similar philosophy. If so, then these are some key points:

  • Level One is the basics, foundation, building block level. It doesn't have to be perfect, and in fact nobody expects it to be "pretty". The object is to demonstrate the rudimentary grasp of the most basic concepts.

  • Level Two is where these skills are expanded upon. Things should start to look natural, maybe even somewhat pretty. Details are becoming more important, but this level is more about breaking down each of the fundamentals and tweaking the parts of each fundamental.

  • Level Three is where you're expected to have the concepts firmly under your belt so that the fun can begin. It's second nature. You don't have to think to do it. It flows and there is beauty. Now you can start to play with it. You know the rules, and now you can break them or use them to your advantage to develop something of your own.
Like, OK, you can create a knit stitch. Or a purl stitch. You know what an increase or decrease is used for, and you know at least one way to form it. You know how to cast on, bind off, and you can tell which is the inside or outside of the "garment". Those are the basics at the most primitive level (pre-Level One).

But what are the parts of that stitch? Let's examine a knit stitch. Components of a knit stitch include:
  • the size horizontally and vertically
  • the balance between the two sides of the loop
  • the left and right sides of the loop
  • the specific way the loop sits on the needle to be correct (which loop is more forward)
Keep in mind these are my gut instinct feelings, not absolute fact and that none of this has been officially prescribed by anyone on the TKGA committee. It's merely my observations based on what I've been reading from others participating in the program and comparing it to my experiences in and knowledge of PNH.

In PNH, for example, the levels have names. Originally they were Partnership (1), Harmony (2), and Refinement (3). They've revamped and greatly improved the program (if perfection can really be improved upon), and now they are known as Safe (1), Confident (2), and Advanced (3). I think the original names described it better, but oh well.

The idea was that in Level One, you formed a partnership with your horse. You learned the basics of communication and understanding horse behavior and motivation so you could be safe around your horse. Level One should be done quickly, and it is NOT expected to look pretty like Pat & Linda. In fact, Level One can look pretty ugly as long as the concepts are understood, demonstrated, and the right attitude is present. For example, you know what the Seven Games are, in order. You know that Game #5 is Circling. You know that somehow you ask the horse to move away from you, go out to the end of the line and walk or trot around you in a circle, and you know the Game ends with the horse returning to you, facing you. As long as the horse responds appropriately, even at a slow walk, it's a pass.

In Level Two, you smooth things out. Level Two has a TON of information, concepts, and detail in it. In Level Two, for example, one learns the phases within a phase. One learns how to take a concept like one of the Seven Games and break it down into components. Isolate, Separate, and Recombine becomes a big theme.

You'd take a basic concept such as the Circling Game, and break down the Game into the elements: Send, Allow, Bring Back. Then you work on perfecting each element. You figure out how to improve your Send so the horse responds more quickly to your request, and how to do it so the horse does it willingly with a good attitude. You learn how to improve your Allow and let the horse decide to go out at the requested speed/gait and stay out there until asked to stop. You work on your Bring Back until the horse responds right away to your request and comes trotting into you, then stops, turns and faces nice as you please. You learn to analyze these parts to figure out what's working and what's not. Once you have that going, you start to play with the parts and combine the Games into new techniques. Because it's being smoothed out, it begins to look pretty, it begins to come naturally. You no longer think through the phases or the steps, you just automatically Lift it, Lead it, Send It, Allow It.

PNHers say that Level Two is the FUN Level, and many of the ones who make it to this level don't go on to Level Three because in Level Three you begin to get really picky. It's about finesse. It's about perfecting things to a high level of subtlety and lightness of response that the majority of backyard recreational riders won't be interested in achieving. But if one is into dressage or competition, this level can help them achieve it because that's how picky the level is. Level Three students take all the knowledge and rip it down to the microbes. Then they think creatively and rather than being told what to do, they decide what they want to do and figure out a way to do it.

According to my observations, then, in TKGA Level One, you show that you can execute a knit stitch (or purl, increase, decrease, etc). Period. It can be uneven, a bit sloppy, not exactly like its neighbors, and you probably should know by now which loop is more forward on the needle. You can also execute the other basic stitches, whether the tension is looser or tighter than the knit stitches or not. You've "got" the concept. It might not be pretty, but it's decent. The knitting demonstrates overall that you understand these concepts, and that you've been practicing enough that you can execute a fairly consistent row of stitches and that you can be fairly consistent from row to row... "fairly consistent" meaning the size of each stitch is pretty close to its neighbor—it doesn't look like stitch #1 was knit on size 6 and stitch #2 on size 9 and stitch #3 on size 2.

In Level Two, you'd be working on tweaking the execution of the stitch so that it is balanced, that all knit/purl stitches are consistent with each other, and so on. You're perfecting the ability to maintain consistency and tension in the knit/purl stitches versus increases/decreases, etc, and you're learning more advanced techniques. There is flow. There is beauty. There is a competent level of perfection demonstrated across the board.

Once you hit Level Three, you're expected to have corrected all your flaws, and use the knowledge gained to experiment on your own—to be able to use the rules and break them, develop your own style, design a garment. Here, you should be able to say, "OK. I know that by doing this, I can achieve that... but what if...?" and having absolute confidence that it'll work the way you expect it two.

That's my vision, anyway.

Wow. I'm wordy today. Anyway. A lot of PNH students take years to pass Level One because they are too focused on perfection when the idea is, get through it in a month or so and move on to Level Two, don't stay stuck in Level One Purgatory because it's boring for you AND the horse and once you have the concepts down, if you stay in Level One Purgatory you will not progress (sometimes the horse REgresses out of boredom).

TKGA seems to have the same approach. I've seen examples of passing Level One swatches that were far sloppier than I would have imagined would pass, but they did. The minute I saw those, I realized I knit well enough that I should be able to pass most if not all of them the first time. So my philosophy is, I'm knitting them the way I happen to knit, and I'll let them tell me what to fix rather than trying to figure it out myself and cause myself immeasurable stress. I'll knit them, pass Level One, then perfect things during Level Two.

That's my lecture for the day! :-D



At 8:14 PM, July 02, 2007, Anonymous Robin said...

I've always thought about doint the masters classes. I would think it would be a great way to learn. It would force me out of my box!


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