If all synesthesia is idiosyncratic, then why doesn’t anyone like 9?

Since I was very little, each letter has had such a distinct personality and relationship between its nearest letters. As soon as I knew letters, I knew who they were, just as if I’d met someone.

There’s handsome G, stuck between sweet, gentle F who he pines for, and on the other side: H who he’s committed to. Will they break off the engagement?? H treats G horribly! And always snickers behind his back in her bitchy clique with I and J. KL are such snobs anyway, they don’t even seem to notice. They’re older and really can’t be bothered with all that nonsense…. etc!

I don’t think I understood the complexities when I was that little. But the story became embellished as I learned more and got older. My understanding deepened but the situation was the same.

I’ve asked others if they had dramatic stories behind the arrangement of letters in the alphabet. When I kept on getting weird reactions, I stopped asking. I assumed I’d taught myself this little tale to remember the order of the letters.  26 letters. And a tale I’ve never forgotten.

Now I see that I wasn’t alone in assuming I’d “learned” it.

“I figured that numbers must have been taught that way to me at a time when I was so young that I could no longer remember the teaching of it.” – Do you have Synesthesia?

I didn’t recall meeting anyone who had a similar experience. Until today, my friend MizzAdamz said that letters and numbers had personalities, complex back stories.

She’s a synesthete, and she said one of the rarest with Ordinal Linguistic Personification Synesthesia.

Apparently, the reason I have no trouble remembering this convoluted 26 character story because I can perceive the relationships.

I am also a synesthete.

Synesthesia comes in various forms

It turns out if you’ve got one kind of synesthesia, you may have another kind.

I was sitting here researching and I’ve just yelped out loud. “NO WAY. WHAT?! Doesn’t EVERYONE feel a touch on their body when they see someone else being touched?”

Turns out not everyone does feel it. This is Mirror-Touch Synesthesia! “I can feel other people’s pain.” I can feel if someone across a room touches their cheek gently. I feel if someone gets punched in a movie. (Also, I wonder if it’s why I can’t cut meat. It feels like I’m cutting my own flesh. I get worried I’ll get confused and actually cut my own arm.)

Turns out I also have other types of synesthesia, and I may have others.

  • Colour to sound synesthesia 
    • I hear pure tones from colours. Moving and flashing images are very “loud.” Sounds are apparent when they “switch” – it’s like hitting a tuning fork. It fades.
    • For example, I use an app that darkens my screen as the night goes on. And the screen changes “tone.” If I ALT+tab to another app where f.lux is disabled, the screen goes brighter and bluer. And the pitch goes higher.
  • Spatial sequence synesthesia
    • I “see” time and numbers. This is also how I see temperatures and conversions.
    • Times and dates advance to my right, and recede to my left. Past is left. “Now” is centre, where I am. Years, months, days, hours, all ticking along bands around this drum. The furthest right and left are darkened, in shadow, because I can’t see around the disk.

I wonder if other people with spatial sequence synesthesia also get this sensation of everything “clicking” when it lines up together. It sounds unlikely.

Turns out these idiosyncratic traits mean no two synesthetes see the same colours.

That question intrigues me. For me, F is a shy and kind girl. She’d never stick up for herself. And then I came across an article on synesthesia which said “F is shy, hesitant, some would say spineless.”

Are there patterns?

Why is 9 such a jerk?

MizzAdams told me about the number characters which go into the hundreds and even thousands. As soon as you say a number, she intuitively knows it. She said “9” for example was a total bitch.

I came home and started reading about it. I saw a video which said “For Gayle, 9 is an elitist girl.” (TedEd video below) There seems to be a pattern of negative associations with 9. Emily, a 13 year old, wrote Me and My Synesthesia. 9 is an annoying boy.  Another blogger write “Nine looks down on everyone. He thinks they’re a pack of idiots, and treats them all with barely disguised contempt.” in Do you have synesthesia?

They must just be coincidences?

As described in the video below, the first shock for synesthetes is to discover no one else who perceives your sensations. Then there’s a shock when you find someone else that does. The final shock is when you learn that they do not have the same exact associations.

So I’m curious: Do you have it? You can take this quiz to find out. 

Organic Reach is Dead -Pay to play

In the Golden Age of the Algorithm the networks have complete control over what you see.

The move to things like Facebook instant articles, and Google’s AMP pages mean that readers may never even reach your site.

Soon they will control all of the traffic, through their paid portals. Is it like AOL all over again?

They have been laying the groundwork for this. Facebook started increasing the mix of friends and family in newsfeeds. They knew this would provide a better experience. Companies were penalised.Their followers weren’t getting their updates. They asked people to make sure to “get notifications” – but no one bothers.

Brands were finding their audience was even less than they thought it was because Facebook was fibbing about the view numbers on videos. Also in Nov 2016, a bug in Facebook showed that organic reach was even STILL lower than that. Your organic reach counted on Facebook includes people who don’t view your entire post.  Less than 5% of page fans see your content.

And no one is clicking! Did anyone ever click on Twitter? This article from 2011 complained about the widespread issue. And nothing has changed.

A natural reaction would be to increase your output. Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner says: Don’t. (The whole episode is great. #134: Preparing for Future Traffic Declines: What Content Creators Need to Know.) Now, he explained, Facebook penalizes companies that are trying to increase the volume of organic reach.

You have to pay to play!

Guardian argued that human “gatekeepers” still hold the key. They act as curators to trawl through the mediocre stew of information, and serve up delightful selections. Yet even now tools like Pinterest can predict what you want. Will you even need to do the curating yourself?

Pinterest uses “deep learning” to analyse the data you have already give it (the pins you pinned). And then it takes that to predict which pins you’ll most likely pin. And it can suggest the board you would like to pin it to.

Here’s an idea. Why doesn’t Pinterest just pin them for me and I’ll sit in front of my computer and watch a steady stream of digital crack cocaine?

Since brands will soon have to pay to play. It would reduce all of my entertainment down to a slow stream of advertisements. How grim.

The scourge of the heavy “student spindle”

For the third time in as many weeks, on Saturday a would-be spinner told me of her woes trying to spin on a spindle. I diagnosed her problem: a way-too-heavy spindle.

I have been delighted recently to demo spinning and learn more about how to break down the steps and condense my tutorials down to get people spinning happily as quickly as possible.

I’ve learned that giving students the right tools can make this much faster and easier. I also do think the beauty of a spindle is part of the joy of the craft. I’m delighted to share handmade tools with beginners. I don’t think they should be relegated to using something brutally plain.

So why, please tell me, is the first spinning experience most people have (including me!) with ugly, heavy, lumbering spindles that take two twirls before they conk out?

Why so HEAVY?

I remember teaching someone spindle spinning at a show, and an hour later she came back with the dreaded Student Spindle. That brute is 85 grams? Apparently it’s not just Ashford, because Kromski also makes a heavy student spindle at 80 grams. It spins reluctantly, and the weight means it’s physically limited in the size of yarn it can spin.

Can someone explain this to me?? Great for plying, I guess? Yes, I wish they sold it as a plying spindle. Does anyone actually use this beast of a student spindle?  Even the “Maxi”plying  spindles sold by Bosworth top out at 56g. I assume it’s for making bulky yarns?

I think it’s a terrible shame to give learners such as HEAVY spindle. These heavy spindles seem to be the only spindle on offer when someone is looking for an inexpensive spindle to learn on. If a vendor is going to only carry a few spindles to help people get started, they will tend to veer towards the only “student spindle” option out there.

In fact it is the one that was sold to me on the first spinning workshop I went on.  I tried to spin when I got home without a teacher’s help, and I created some horribly over spun heavy yarn. It was awful and I didn’t touch spinning again until years later.

This great article on Knitty.com about selecting spindles gives a helpful table. They recommend you would spin a worsted weight yarn on a 70 gram spindle.  Making a worsted weight single is a challenge on its own. Mechanically this means you need to draft out more fibre to make your yarn. You need a thicker fibre supply. If you have a compacted hand-dyed fibre, then you can’t do much pre-drafting. From my experience a lighter weight spindle will mean you have to draft less fibre and you can use a looser fibre supply, and even do some pre-drafting.

I would say you want to stay in the range of 28-50 grams for a beginner spindle. This will be in the range of spinning fingering, sport and DK weight yarns.

Trying to save money?

OK I can understand if people want to give learners a chance to learning spinning without having to make a major investment. Paying £10 or so for a spindle *seems* better than buying a handmade spindle for £30. But to me, that is money wasted.

If the cost is the main issue, I think a much better student spindle is one made of materials lying about the house. Handmade and simple.

Don’t have a spindle but you have a pencil handy? Yes you can spin wool with a pencil. Abby Franquemont has proven you can pretty much spin wool with anything. But the mechanics of a spindle with a whorl makes spinning much faster and more efficient.

There are some great tutorials about making spindles. Such as with CD and a dowel or toy-wheel spindles in this Spin Off free guide on DIY spinning equipment. Though even these requires a trip to the hardware store.  (oh! here you can make a CD spindle without the grommets if you have some blu-tac!)

How about making one out of a door knob and a chopstick! Or just whip a turkish spindle together with some twigs! These homemade spindles show that you can spin with anything, and if someone is inspired they can see this can be done with a low-cost and easily with what they have lying around.

Affordable spindles

I’m so keen on getting people to spin, I’ve given away some of my spindles in the past. Now I need to get new ones specifically for teaching and demoing spindle spinning, and I want something affordable but still really beautiful.

You don’t have to get a gem-studded Golding spindle for over $150 USD. (Though if you’re trying to figure out what to get my for me birthday, the  “BLACK EYED SUSAN” would be lovely, thanks!) There are lots of really nice affordable spindles.

My search is focused on spindles in the UK. Woodland Turnery has hand-turned bottom (approx 45-60grms) and top whorl spindles (approx 30-50grms) for £13.95. Kevin Rhodes has a beginner spindle at 35-40g and it’s only £13.95. Most of Adelaide Walker’s spindles are under £20.

Luckily, the UK Spinners for sale board on Ravelry  has come through.  Buying secondhand equipment can save you about 10-25%. The nice thing is, if you keep your equipment in good condition it holds its value better than most things you buy!

I got a great deal on two Kerry spindles. Even still, brand new, they are great value. Look at this one, a beautiful wood, and a cool 30g for £20. I think that is a great spindle.

In a search on Etsy for sellers in the UK with spindles £25 and under I found several vendors. ThomasWoodandWool has a 40g hand turned beeswax finished spindle for £8.50.

You can also check out the UK Spindlers group on Ravelry for some good deals.

Find a special spindle

The best place to choose a special spindle would be at a fibre festival. Ideally you could hold the spindle in your hands to choose it.

Pro-tip: Make sure to check the vendors at the shows you’re thinking about attending. I was disappointed after trawling all over Edinburgh Yarn Fest that few vendors were selling spindles, and of course there were no specialist spindle makers. The spindles available were too heavy, poorly made or uninspiring mass produced spindles. (Nothing wrong with mass-produced, but I’m talking about finding that beautiful spindle.)  But EYF aren’t claiming to be a fibre fest per se, it’s more of a knitting fest with a few bits of other things.

So check and make sure you’re headed to a fibre fest!

I had the best experience at Fibre East with all the spindle vendors. I remember seeing these crafts people’s hands all gnarly from woodwork. They also let you have a go! I felt a bit shy about trying them, but Ian of IST encouraged me to give a tiny Turkish spindle a try. It went on spinning and spinning and spinning. And I fell in love. SOLD!

The Interweave Guide to choosing a drop spindle mentions the option of getting either a low or high whorl spindle. I’ve noticed some actually have both possibilities. With hooks to spin high-whorl and notches to spend low-whorl on the other end. To me that seems like the best option, since you won’t know until you try which suits you best. I really liked a high-whorl spindle when started, but now that I have the half-hitch down, I find it’s easier to slide my hand along the thread, and flick the top of the spindle.

However if you can’t try it in person stick to some tried and true highly recommended spindle makers:

Conclusion: Stop the spread of The Student Spindle

OK my rant is OVER. If you can explain to me why student spindles are so heavy, please enlighten me.

If you know of some great, affordable spindles, I’d also love to hear!

How much scaffolding does your creative class or workshop need?

I’ve been very lucky to have gone to a few creative knitting and spinning workshops. Apparently, I’m obsessed with colour work, hence I’ve taken TWO classes on it! This of course led me to compare the experiences and reflect on the differences.


Samples by Karie Bookish

I love learning, but I can’t help myself also paying attention to how the workshops or classes are run. As an experienced trainer I tend to be critical of teaching approaches. I’m always looking at how instructors address a topic and what that experience is like for the learners. Even though my experience is in technical training, it turns out the most important concepts are the same.

  • Let the learners be the heroes. Give them ways to personalize the content and express themselves.
  • Create a context for learning and problem solving. An obstacle course of problems to solve is better than a cable car with a specific path and outcome.
  • Demonstrate steps, provide instructional supports. They need to see what you are doing. Scaffolds and support helps!
  • Give increasing independence over to learners. I do, we do, you do.

Learning can be scary and frustrating at times. The amazing thing is right at the point someone is confused they have a chance for a pivotal learning experience. As a teacher you need to give learners space to get confused and generate problems and good questions. Sometimes you have to let the students make mistakes, so they experience it for themselves. It’s a leap of faith.

For example, I was teaching spindle spinning the other day.  Though I had explained and demonstrated that the “leader” (helping you spin and anchor the new yarn) should be coming from behind the hook (else it might slip). The learner had hooked it from the side, and I knew it was going to slip. Instead of correcting her, I stopped myself and let her make the mistake. The leader slipped and then I called her attention to how she had it hooked. From then on, she certainly knew how to hook the leader on.

Of course, if you have a classroom full of people making lots of interesting mistakes like that you will get some chaos. Structure can help. The more novice learners are, the more structure they need.

What is scaffolding?

When you’re teaching skills you need to give the learners just enough support so they can work on a task without feeling lost. If I’m doing what I’m already capable of, then I’m not learning anything new. There is a  “Zone of Proximal Development” in which I can do tasks just beyond my reach- with some help.

Public domain image

With support, I can extend what I’m able to do, and develop new skills and understanding. In teaching theory, this is called “scaffolding.” Scaffolding could be samples, a demonstration, a template, printed resources, and ad-hoc coaching. Scaffolding balances hands-on practical work as well as demonstration and theory. The supports you provide help a learner understand the steps to take so they can begin the work knowing what to do, and yet be able to make the important mistakes which are pivotal to their personal learning experience.

For the learners, depending on their level of patience, a certain amount of tension will build up to where they literally want you to GET OUT OF THE WAY so they can get started. If you’ve ever taught children, you might have had the experience where they grab something out of your hands. They are like a coiled spring ready to try it out. Demonstrate too long, and you’ll bore people and fizzle out that excitement. However, if you launch too soon, you send people off in all sorts of directions.

Too much open-ended hands-on practice will leave novice learners really confused. (‘How do I do this? What am I supposed to be doing?’) Too much theory/demo can put experienced learners in a passive mode, especially if they are familiar with the content. (‘Ugh, when are we going to get started? I know this stuff already!’)

What kinds of learning supports and scaffolding do you use?

The notion of “learning styles” is one of those theories that sounds so intuitively right, but is so completely wrong, and has been debunked many times but still persists. We’re all visual learners, aural learners, tactile learners: we’re all that – depending on our physical capabilities. We all need to interact with new concepts in multiple ways. The supports you provide can help learners benefit from all the modes.

Samples by Karie Bookish

Colourwork samples by Karie Bookish http://www.kariebookish.net

There’s a scale from low interactivity to high activity with the different learning supports you can provide in creative workshops. The trick is to ensure you use a blend of learning supports.

  • Samples: Let learners interact with completed samples or samples-in-progress. By looking at example work, they can get an idea of how techniques are used.
  • Lecture: Passive learners listen to a speaker, focus on theory or concepts. Can be more interactive with guided discussions.
  • Demonstration: Passive learners observe someone working on a specific task. Most hand-work requires demonstration.
  • Handouts: Learners can follow printed instructions or use worksheets to complete tasks. Hand out notes of main topics, links and references for learners as well. If you mention a book or a service, tell people about it.
  • Discussion: Learners develop questions and use dialog to express their understand and more experienced instructors provide correction as they form the mental concepts.

You can combine them in varying amounts depending on the content and the experience levels of your audience. For example, you can capture learners’ attention for a lecture or demonstration; and then let them work and practice using samples, templates and handouts. By using discussion, you can help give learners a chance to explain their budding sense of comprehension and you can also provide correction.

A comparison: A class versus a workshop

I notice in the craft world we use the terms class and workshop interchangeably, but I think we can make a more clear distinction between classes and workshops.

  • Class: Some theory, a structured schedule, specific activities.
  • Workshop: Little theory or demonstrations. Learners work in a less-structured, self-directed manner with expert support.

I wouldn’t make a value judgement – one is not better than the other.  However, I do think certain topics and certain audiences benefit from different approaches.

I was able to attend Karie Westermann’s Scandinavian Knitting class at The Glen Gallery in Culleybackey (of all places!) last Saturday. She was very clear in her approach, and she gave us ways to experience the concepts in a hands-on way. At one point she joked we were going to “wreck the shop” which meant hunting around for colours in the shop to find colour combinations, after she had explained some colour wheel basics. This gave us a low-risk way to play with colour and consider how they would affect a design. Then, when she picked up the colour theory again, we had all taken some time to consider these effects, and we could compare the choices others had made. Karie also gave us a way to be creative if we wanted to with custom designing on graph paper, or follow the specific sample design. Having that suited some participants better. This simple hands-on activity of colour picking also let us feel like we were getting started on something without getting into the main project without guidance. Design, afterall, was one of the learning objectives of the course.

In comparison, at Hazel Tindall‘s Fair Isle Colour Work workshop earlier this year, we got immediately to work with little demonstration or theory. We sat down to a pre-knit cuff and immediately got started on a specific design in which we all did one of two patterns. By limiting the project to two specific designs, we could focus on the practical skills of holding the two yarns, colour dominance and tension. We didn’t touch on design because it wasn’t a learning objective of the course.

As people came up with questions, Hazel would collect people with a similar question and answer that in an ad-hoc demo. I think this is a classic example of a workshop model. We were working along with an expert available to help us over our individual hurdles.

In a way, I felt the workshop probably suited many of the participants who were already experienced in colourwork, and had specific technique questions. It’s possible they would have been annoyed by basic introduction or demo in a more structured class, and just itching to just get started. Hazel has lots of experience teaching, so she knows what suits these audiences.

There was an enormous selection of colours to choose from, but we didn’t engage in a specific discussion about why you’d choose certain colours over another, or what effect it might have.  I was probably one of the people who felt a little lost since this was my first time attempting to use two colours at the same time. Though thankfully I had read through Knitsonik’s Stranded Colourwork book so I had a good idea about colour and contrast.

I observed as someone knitting next to me started working with colour choices that didn’t have much contrast. I didn’t feel it was my place as a fellow student to say anything, but in the end, she certainly learned how important colour intensity and contrast is to colour work. In a workshop you are given space to make mistakes so you can learn what you need to. Each person will have their own individual hurdles.

To compare, you could say that Hazel’s class was more hands-on, while Karie gave more theory and concepts. One wasn’t better than the other, it’s down to your learning objectives you have and approach suits what kinds of learners you have.

Novice learners will benefit from more structure, and experienced learners need more open-ended practice and a chance to get coaching on-demand.

Workshop planning tips

A definition of good training is the right content for the right audience at the right time. In real life, however, you will end up with a room full of people with mixed abilities and experience. This makes it hard if you have novices alongside more experienced learners who all need different content and different times. Here are some tips to help plan your workshops.

Define who your learner is: What is are the prerequisite skills required? This will help you limit what you need to cover and help communicate to potential participants if this is the right course for them.

Define your learning objectives: What is the special focus of your workshop? What are the main things you want people to take away? What can you cover in the amount of time you have? Prioritize and review what is important. For example if a specific technique is a priority and you don’t have time to delve into design, limit what designs are provided.

Warm-up activity: Provide a simple activity to warm up without throwing absolutely everything at the learner. In her spindle spinning workshop, Abby Franquemont lets people draft and spin fibre right in their fingers before they even touch a spindle. She also shows making yarn with a stick and pretty much teaches you the evolution of the spindle while letting you experience in a low-risk activity.

Create an obstacle course: In the example I gave above, Karie’s course emphasized design by letting learners look at design sources, and draft their own design on paper. As a comparison, Hazel left this element out of her shorter workshop, so learners would focus on colour and knitting technique. Define what activities will highlight the learning objectives.

Bonus and challenge activities: Planning small detours for more experienced learners can give them something to work on, while novice learners catch up.

Demonstrations: Practice and prepare your demontrations. Keep them as brief as possible for people to get started. Give just enough information. Provide printed materials with notes about the tasks and concepts.

Step away: Give learners space to make mistakes, especially ones which they can do with low-risk. Don’t pounce on learners right when they are about to make their own discovery. Instead, stand back and provide support and prompt insight with questions.

Dealing with larger groups: Depending on the size of your group, you may or may not have time for general introductions or discussions. You can let people speak in small groups however, and elect one person to report to the larger class what they learned or discovered.

And most importantly…

Get feedback: I think it’s odd that at almost every in-person creative workshop I’ve ever done, they never ask for feedback. I find that strange. As a teacher, I crave feedback, and work hard to make sure I get it. It’s the only way I can improve. Bring your own feedback forms, make them anonymous and tell people how much you appreciate feedback.

I hope that helps! If you have questions about planning workshops, I’d be happy to help. Ping me for a virtual cup of tea via Skype chat or Google Hangout to talk about planning your next workshop.

Why I turned off my IFTTT recipe for auto-posting Instagram to Twitter

Isn’t it annoying that Twitter will show “cards” including a summary and image in your twitter feed when you post most links, but it won’t show images from Instagram links? When you share via Instagram you do have the option to connect several networks and automatically post to them. However when you do, your image won’t be included on Twitter. I always found this annoying when I see others share these updates. I call it a #zombiegram. See? No picture.


At one point, Twitter used to show Instagram images in the main flow of twitter stream, but they turned it off in 2012. Sure, why show media from a competing social network? (Instagram was bought by Facebook in 2012.) So for the last few years people have come up with some work arounds.

If this then that to the rescue?

An obvious solution is to re-post the same image manually on Twitter after you use Instagram (nicer filters of course!) But why does that extra few clicks seem like a giant pain?

Instead you can use an IFTTT recipe. The “If this then that” recipes can be used to set up lots of automated services. It’s a rather cool tool! For example, Get an email if there will be rain in your area tomorrow or Tweet your Facebook status updates.

To deal with Twitter ignoring Instagram images, there are a few recipes that will automatically post your Instagram picture as a native Twitter image, and link to your full Instagram post.

There’s two annoying things about this.

  1. Often users have different instagram IDs from their Twitter IDs. Why this is so is completely beyond me! FYI – If you use the native Instagram share to Twitter it will correct the ID if the user has also connected their Twitter account.
  2. Unless you’re really careful how you write the first characters of your Instagram post, you’ll likely get cropped @mentions and #hashtags.


Still a Zombiegram

My other main problem with this is it means your Instagram > Twitter post is still a zombiegram. I notice that when people I follow on Twitter use either IFTTT or the native Instagram sharing option, it’s like a ghost of a post. All the action is over on Instagram and the Twitter share is merely a residual image.

Unsurprisingly, most of the creative people I follow are heavily focused on Instagram. Being a visual social network, it lends itself to artists and craftspeople. So even though the native images are on Twitter, they still aren’t interacting on Twitter. I interact with the Twitter pics and then I realize the conversation is elsewhere anyway. You would still need to click through to the original Instagram post.

Control what you post

Another strange effect I noticed after I set up IFTTT is that I was limiting posting Instagram as much knowing it would go to Twitter. I’m usually pretty careful about what I post on Twitter or how frequently I post. I worry about “my mix”, because my Twitter feed is a weird combo of craft/marketing/technology. I don’t want to drown people in yarn on Twitter. When I was just sharing on Instagram, I didn’t seem to mind sharing frequently, where I know it’s going to be all craft/nature/travel. Over there, it’s more clear why people are following my posts. On the other hand, I rarely share political images on Instagram.

So here’s a solution! Instead of auto-posting everything you can choose what you post. There are two useful options:

  1. Be more selective. Use the Instagram to Twitter IFTTT recipe where you can use a hashtag to mark which Instagram posts to share on Twitter.
  2. Use Tumblr as an intermediary, so you can select to just share to Tumblr those things you want to post to Twitter. Here’s a tutorial.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m going to use it. I’ll go back to sharing selected images manually. I actually don’t use Instagram as much as I intend to. I don’t pay attention to what is happening on Instagram as much as Twitter, but I’d like to. I like that it’s less spammy, less newsy, and more easy to control what I see. I don’t mind that it is an escape from reality. I like that sometimes.

So for now, I’m turning off my auto-tweeting of my Instagram images, and I’m going to probably be sharing more on Instagram too @nearlythere

Review of Creativebug – fun friendly quick online learning

Creativebug feels like Pinterest come to life. Short, bite-sized snackable tutorials, curated and quick. This makes it feel fun, friendly and light.


Most of the creative online learning platforms I’m reviewing in this series have the same features: video players, shared student projects, downloadables, etc. So it’s worth it to focus on what makes them different. For Creativebug, I think the biggest defining feature is actually the pricing and payment model. That payment model even affects their catalog, how people use the service, and it affects the relative “size” of the courses.

There’s a sort of false economy with online learning. People may tend to think “Hey this course long, great value!” But within our attention economy in full effect (oldie but goodie Wired, 1997), we have limited time to devote to anything, much less online learning. From my experience making screencasts, it takes much less time to make a 20 mins screencast than a 5 mins screencast. That compact-ness requires careful scripting and editing. Less really is more. Online learning is moving to shorter formats, and personalized environments. In fact I think for Creativebug, moving to personalization would make a big impact in their experience. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Quick tour of Creativebug

What’s in the Creativebug box?

The Creativebug platform includes:

  • Video player
  • Note taking and bookmarking capability.
  • Downloadable PDFs

Interactivity includes:

  • Student projects

Tips to get the most out of Creativebug:

Overall impressions of Creativebug

I first heard about Creativebug on Crafts from the Cwtch. As Sarah pointed out, the tutorials are mainly product-based.  I almost feel like Creativebug is Pinterest come to life. The topics are often so specific as to fit in a little Pin. But instead of images, you have a friendly instructor with step-by-step activities. The projects seem specific enough that you could conceivably watch a little class, and finish a project in that afternoon. Invite your friends over to make Painted Canvas Pillows or Watercolour Silhouettes! That is sort of how I see Creativebug being used.

“CreativeBug also seems more sort of hip and artsy, while Craftsy is more traditional/crafty,” as Tiny Rotten Peanuts observed. That’s pretty spot-on. I think if you want to build crafts skills, you’d turn to Craftsy but if you want to just make a decoration for a party this weekend, you’d go to Creativebug.

Creativebug seem to work closely with sponsors, such as Michaels which is a craft store in the US. If you’re not in the US, many references about shops, products, etc aren’t relevant. For example a class on dyeing with Kool-aid may leave you wishing you could get technicolour foodstuffs in your country.

Let’s look at the catalog in more detail.

The Creativebug catalog

You can watch quick tutorials for a little decoration, or get absorbed in a longer course to build a specific skill. The Drawing and Illustrations basics course with Heather Ross is over 3 hours long. Sketchbook explorations is another in-depth class. These might be worth the subscription alone.

However it’s the fact that it’s subscription based, and more like a magazine that you’ll feel enticed to maintain your subscription. Check out the calendar when you visit the site.

Creativebug_-_calendar 2

You can see there will be more courses coming up, and you can set up reminders.


They have a range of instructors on Creativebug. They have attracted recognizable talents to their platform. Though the bulk of classes aren’t by those experienced instructors, so the quality can be variable, as one reviewer commented. My main issue is that I don’t find many of the courses enticing. Do I need a tutorial on making a silhouette picture? I think if you’re stuck for ideas though, there’s so much inspiration. I could imagine checking out the catalog when I want to add a hand-made present to a gift. So in that sense, my comparison to Pinterest stands here.

My real issue is that I find Creativebug hard to navigate. I feel like I can’t find things or browse. If I find a class I’m interested in and don’t book mark it, I’d be worried I wouldn’t find it again.

They use the “load more” option at the bottom of each page, and I’m like: when does it end? Am I seeing everything? Again, with a Pinterest comparison, they have a seemingly bottomless pit with a similar grid-style gallery. But my strategy for browsing on Creativebug is very different from discovery and collection on Pinterest. So it seems a strange model to copy, if that is what they are doing.

I think a huge step would be if they included a powerful, faceted search to the platform. In the future, if they included personalization and better browsing capability, their wide ranging catalog will be easier for people to find the value in. Unless the mystery meat navigation was done on purpose?

Creativebug’s special sauce: The Creativebug pricing model

I think the pricing model is generous and attractive, and it’s hopefully going to pay off for Creativebug in a large user base. Currently their pricing is $4.95. Apparently a few years ago, it was $9.95 Creativebug is least expensive outlay in comparison to other platforms I’m reviewing. They also give you one credit per month which allows you to “save” a course you really like. So even when you no longer subscribe, you still have access. This seems to me the most generous of all the platforms.

Free to try: I signed up for the free Creativebug subscription to review a few classes. It’s one of the only learning platforms I am reviewing in this series that gives you full access during a trial period. FREE, for real. Credit card required, but still, that displays a lot of trust in their viewers and the model.

Because they are enticing subscribers to stay, there is a drive on their part to continue to publish new courses and tempt subscribers with the upcoming catalog. They are not bound to try and get higher price tags on their courses, they can fill a special niche with shorter courses. This means the environment seems ever-changing and evolving.

I’ve also reviewed and Craftsy and Creativelive if you’re curious!

Review of CreativeLive – social creative learning

At the most essential, all of the online learning platforms I’m reviewing in this series have similar features: Online videos, some student interaction, a way to share projects – these are all common features. Most of the courses also follow a formula where the outcome is fairly clear. Such as “Learn to do X”, where the instructor starts with a clear “Here’s one I made earlier” example. The sizzle of the spontaneous learning experience that arises from interaction among students and the teacher is lost. It’s very hard to replicate that experience online in a self-paced asynchronous environment. Craftsy manages this by inserting comments at various timecodes, so you see others’ comments in context. But that doesn’t feel spontaneous.

CreativeLive is the most unique platform in that the first time courses are run, they are done so in front of a live audience, both in the studio, and sometimes online. This means you as a live viewer can influence the content of the course. As a viewer watching the recording you also benefit from the fact that people are most likely asking for the same clarification and extensions that you would like to know. The “Live” aspect of CreativeLive is what makes it truly unique.

Video tour of CreativeLive

I’ve recorded a quick video tour so you can see what CreativeLive courses are like.

What’s in the CreativeLive box?

The CreativeLive platform includes:

  • Video player – streaming only
  • Note taking and bookmarking capability.
  • Downloadable PDFs (depending on the course).
  • Sometimes discount codes for services and software.

Interactivity includes:

  • Live Q+A – if you attend the course live.
  • Chat rooms – both a casual lounge and on-topic chat room.
  • Student projects and peer feedback.
  • Sometimes Facebook groups or off-site groups run by the instructors.

Tips to get the most out of CreativeLive:

  • CreativeLive accounts are free, but you pay per course.
  • Pop into the live listing to see what courses are rebroadcasting right now.
  • Watch sample previews to get a sense of the instructor and the content to see if it’s worth investing.
  • RSVP to Join the upcoming/live courses for free. Click “Chat” to join the chatrooms for the live course.

Overall impressions of CreativeLive

Of all the platforms I’m reviewing, CreativeLive does the best job of connecting learners with each other and with the instructors. The social aspects to this platform are some of the most valuable. They seem to encourage plenty of off-site interaction too.

For example a course on Ditching your Day Job also includes a Facebook group you can join. While many online learning platforms may dream of being the all-in-one solution, the problem is that “The Conversation” has moved off of membership based sites and on to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. The ubiquity of Facebook for example, cannot be beat. If you don’t work with it, learners will work around you and create Facebook groups themselves.

Instructors on CreativeLive seem to know this very well. It also means that CreativeLive doesn’t have crusty old message boards – which in terms of community vibe is a real killer. facebook-group In addition to reducing communication barriers, they also make it easier to connect emotionally to the content. I noticed that CreativeLive instructors, even when they talk about fairly straightforward topics, they tend to dig a bit deeper into what drives you as a creative person. In the live course I attended on using  YouTube for marketing the instructor, Whippycake, zeroed in on the thing that is holding many people back. For many it’s not for lack of technical knowledge, it’s having the guts to get in front of the camera. She brought out emotional aspects to engaging your audience to the heart of the course topic. I was actually bowled over with her honesty about her own struggles. Somehow Whippycake manages to create her videos in a home-studio, with four kids running about the place! Many topics in CreativeLive are sort of like that. Let’s look at the catalog next.

CreativeLive’s catalog

CreativeLive does have some straightforward step-by-step types of practical courses on specific techniques for crafts, photography, etc. If they were just competing on those craft techniques courses, then I don’t think it would be very competitive. One thing you might notice as you browse CreativeLive courses is that are a little more expensive than the snackable prices of other platforms such as CreativeBug (at $4.99 a month) or Craftsy which has courses sometimes for $9.99. They are also longer (1 day or 2 day courses) and more in-depth. What makes the CreativeLive catalog special is that there are more courses which could inspire you to take action on your dreams; enhance your job prospects; or help you build a business by determining your market, your pricing and optimize marketing and production.

For this reason, I assume CreativeLive would appeal to an audience who was taking their craft a little more seriously – as in: They can justify the prices because it’s a business expense for professional development. And when you compare the cost of these courses against similar in-person courses, the pricing is pretty reasonable. Michelle Ward charges over $3300 USD for her coaching services; and she also offers CreativeLive courses. In comparison to either her own coaching services or even a local career counsellor, her online classes such as Ditch your day job ($99) or Create your dream career ($99) look like pretty good deals. While it’s not going to be the same as having a career counseller working 1:1 with you, it might be a good first step to get you in gear.

CreativeLive’s special sauce: The live buzz

When you attend as live online class, you can join in a live chatroom at the same time. I found the ongoing live chat is fun. Sometimes it descended into back channel chatter, so I preferred to watch the “on topic” chat room. The facilitators do a great job of monitoring consensus and bringing the questions forward in the classroom. I was amazed in the class when a remark I made was mentioned in the class and the instructor responded(!) That really opened my eyes and I understood the value of having a live event. creativelive-chat Just one tip about finding the chat room: I was watching the class for a while before I realize you have to click the “Chat” link, which opens a pop-up window. creativelive-chat-questions And after that, there are two tabs in the pop-up window. Monitor the Lounge for random chatter, or click the main tab for on-topic chatter. creativelive-chat-tabs

Tip: Get the most out of CreativeLive by attending the free live broadcasts

Look through the list of upcoming, live courses. RSVP for a course and attend the live online class to participate in a discussion. creative-live-rsvp The fact is, attending a course for hours is going to be tricky for most people. The times for the course I attended was 5pm-midnight in my timezone. It went well the first night, but the second night, I received multiple family phone calls which lasted for a long time, and this meant I couldn’t attend the entire class. Of course, you always buy the course! And that is clearly why they allow participants to try before you buy. As one reviewer wrote, “I did try to tune in for the free streaming but I had technical issues and missed most of it. I ended up buying the Optimize Your Online Store workshop and I’m so glad I did.”

No good deed goes unpunished of course. I was amazed some viewers still expected more for free. During the second night of the class I took, I was a bit annoyed by a viewer who complained a few times when the facilitators would remind viewers that the class they were viewing (FOR FREE, mind you) was also available to purchase. The viewer complained that the facilitators were pushing the class purchase. What?! Um, guys, they are a business. And isn’t it nice they let you watch for free? I think they are building great good will within their learner community by offering so much for free, with no credit card required.

I’ve been pleased with the quality of the courses and content, and I’m certainly going to be taking advantage of the current 30% off sale.I think that ends July 27th!!

Have you signed up for any CreativeLive courses?