Friday, July 5, 2013

An Interview with...JC Briar

Once a week I post interviews with interesting knitting professionals about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that everyone makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find JC here and here on Ravelry.

How long have you been knitting and who taught you? 
I learned as an exchange student in Chile. My exchange student mom taught me the basics, and I made the obligatory first scarf. One end was twice as wide as the other - the result of a significant change in gauge. 

Tell me how you got into teaching knitting classes?
It was a gradual process, beginning when an acquaintance asked if I'd teach beginning knitting to a group of moms while their kids attended Montessori school. That led to teaching at the local Parks and Recreation department, then local fiber festivals, and finally events like Stitches, the TKGA/CGOA shows, Sock Summit, and more.

How long have you been teaching?
Oh, about ten years now, I guess.

How do you develop teaching topics and class plans?
Once I pick a topic that I think I'd enjoy teaching and others would enjoy taking - like seamless set-in sleeves, or casting on, or whatever - I read all I can on the topic and pick specific points I want the students to learn and specific skills I want them to acquire. Then I plan how the class time will be spent: what will the students do, and what will I need to say to make them capable? It's like orchestrating a performance, really, with the goal of getting a good mix of discussion and hands-on practice. Then it's a matter of gathering samples and creating class handouts.

How long roughly does it take you to develop your teaching plan, samples and notes per instructional hour?
It depends on the subject matter, but it can take a solid week or two to develop a three-hour class.

What do you find to be the optimum class size?
I'll accept up to 25 students in all my classes. But often having just 15 students works out better: everybody gets all the one-on-one attention they need, yet there's enough people in the room to spark interesting discussions.

Do you prefer to work with beginners or advanced students?
Actually, I like teaching at all levels. Many of my classes just require that students have basic knitting skills, and are geared to adapt well to a wide range of skill levels. For example, in Get Twisted!, students get to choose one of four cable samplers to work in class. So someone with just basic knowledge of knits and purls can learn basic cabling mechanics by practicing rope cables, but someone with some cabling experience can practice twisted stitches, bobbles, and other techniques.

All that matters is that students have the skills required for the class they want to take. It's tough to teach mitten thumbs to someone who's never knit in the round, or sleeve modifications to someone who's never knit a sweater. Taking time out of class to teach prerequisite skills to a couple students is something many teachers refuse to do - it's unfair to the students who did come to class properly prepared.

What is your favorite part of what you do when you are teaching?
Seeing when a student "gets it," and knowing that I've made a difference in their knitting life.

How do you handle students who are having trouble learning the material being presented?
It varies. Sometimes all it takes is phrasing my instructions in a different way, or demonstrating a skill a couple more times. Sometimes I watch what they're doing, or ask them to explain their understanding of the material, so I can figure out where they took a wrong turn. Sometimes I loan out plain yarn to students who brought yarn too fine or too dark to see, or bamboo needles to students who brought needles too slippery to manage. Sometimes I loan out my "jumbotron" set, giant size 35 demonstration needles and matching yarn, so students can practice, say, grafting on a large scale without having to fiddle with a tapestry needle. It all depends.

What are your favourite knitting techniques?
Oh, there's so many! Seamless construction. Lace. Cables and other textured knitting. Those would be my top choices, I guess.

Do you belong to any knitting groups?
My hometown doesn't have a formal guild, but I meet with a group of friends a couple times each month just to knit and chat. And there's a local retreat held twice a year; I'm always bummed if I have to miss that.

Do you take knitting classes from other instructors?
When I can! Unfortunately, my schedule at most knitting events has me teaching during nearly every class time slot.

Could you please tell us a little about your new website,, and explain your new type of knitting chart?
Stitch maps are grid-free charts. Like crochet charts, each symbol both shows you what to do and where to do it: a k2tog symbol, for example, points to the two stitches of the previous row that you need to knit together. As a result, stitch maps often resemble knitted fabric more closely than do traditional grid-based charts, particularly for lace and other stitch patterns that contain increases and decreases. My favorite example is Feather and Fan: the rows of a Feather and Fan stitch map actually wave up and down like the rows in a Feather and Fan swatch. is a website where you can browse through a growing collection of stitch patterns presented as stitch maps. You can also add to this collection if you register for a free account: enter the written instructions for a stitch pattern, and the website will draw its stitch maps for you. Paid subscriptions bring extra goodies, like the ability to highlight your current row, to export stitch maps as publication-quality images, and to control the visibility of the stitch patterns you enter.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in teaching in the knitting world?
Prepare to be flexible. Learn to adapt to different skill levels, interest levels, and learning styles. Plan some "wiggle room" into your classes: identify extra material you can add in if a particular group of students moves along quickly, and excess material you can jettison if a group moves along slowly.


  1. Thank you for a great interview! So fitting with the new Stitch Map founder!

  2. JC - your stitch map site is fantastic! Thank you for your work on this.