Sticks & String

A podcast by an Australian bloke who knits.

Pass it on

How did you learn to knit? It may have been a friend or relative, a book, videos from the internet, whatever the method at some stage you were the student and there was a teacher. Many knitters have very fond memories of the person who first taught them to knit, of those first steps followed by slow mastery of at first simple stitches then more complex work.

If your teacher was a person, you are probably still amazed at the patience they displayed slowly taking though those steps that now seem simple, but back then seemed impossible. Being taught by another knitter was pretty much the only way people learned up until the middle of the 19th century when the first knitting books began to be available, and even with the large number of knitting books and other resources available today, many people still learn to knit from a friend or relative, or even from complete strangers. The human interaction is part of what makes knitting so enjoyable.

Over the coming weeks, you’ll hear some stories from listeners about how they learned to knit, how the knowledge has been passed up and down the ages, and how something as simple as sticks and string can tie a family together. Today I thought I’d share one with you that was sent in by Teri.

My family knitting history is actually a bit backwards. I learned to crochet about 9 years ago from my oldest sister Mary, but never really pursued it. About 5 years ago, I found out that my highly intelligent and precocious niece, Jamie (age 7), was learning to knit from her Granny (from her Dad’s side). It made me a bit curious about knitting, and also a bit envious.

We had introduced Jamie to all sorts of crafts, and one of the gifts I sent her that year was a shoe box full of all sorts of crafting supplies that I had collected for her. I heard she loved it. But here was this knitting thing that I wasn’t able to share with her. Meanwhile, knitting was getting huge in the Los Angeles, CA area, where another sister, Laurie, was living. By Summer 2003, I watched, Jamie’s Mom struggle with knitting, complaining that there were “too many sticks” (she had only recently learned to crochet). 

Fast forward to December 2003, when sister Laurie, gave Laurie & Mary each a pair of bulky size knitting needles and a huge hank of very bulky yarn, and proceeded to teach them to knit a very basic garter stitch scarf. Laurie told me “I didn’t think you’d be interested in making a scarf since you live in Hawaii”. I also had just undergone elbow surgery, and with my arm in a full length splint, it wasn’t likely to happen anyway. We then all proceeded to spend the holidays together in Lake Tahoe, California.

Well, put a crafter in a cosy home for 10 days with nothing else to do but watch everyone come and go, or sit by the fire and knit, and suddenly knitting looks kind of interesting. I asked Laurie to show me how to knit, and was able to pull off knitting a row or 2 of knit stitches despite the splint. I was hooked! While we waited for the splint to come off, my Mom got me some yarn and a pair of knitting needles, and as soon as the splint came off, I was up and knitting!

Since 2003, I’ve knitted, thought about knitting, or read patterns probably every day, or nearly every day. It’s been the only thing besides the necessary daily activities that I’ve done with such consistency for the past 4 years and I have no plans of stopping! Most of my knitting is for gifts, and my sisters and their family all love the hand-knitted gifts they receive. Christmas 2005 gifts were nearly 90% all lovingly hand-knit. Not so much in 2006, but that’s because I got engaged & married last year. However, I was very excited to pick up my needles again once the wedding business was complete. Even my dear husband learned to knit when he was in college, so he is very supportive of my knitting!

Well, that’s the roundabout story of how I (and my sisters) learned to knit–I credit it all to one curious little 7-year-old niece who learned from her Granny.

I teach, and perhaps the greatest pleasure in teaching comes from seeing a student finally ‘get’ it. When I see the idea I’ve been talking about become a concept they now know, all the planning becomes worth it. And it’s a joy you can have too. Now I’m not suggesting you abandon your current career and head for the classroom, but you can share your knitting.

Next time someone asks you to knit something for them, offer to show them how to do it themself. Pull out some yarn and needles and get them started, sit with them and get them going on what could turn into a lifetime of enjoyment.

You don’t need to be an expert to teach, you just need to stay a few steps in front of your student. If you can cast-on, knit and purl, you’re already three techniques ahead of someone who has never knitted, add a cast-off and you have all the skills needed to successfully teach someone to make a scarf. If you’ve made socks or a glove, mittens or a hat, you have more than enough to offer someone who wants to get started; they are not going to start with jacquard or entrelac, are they.

Having someone to teach is also good for your own knitting, teaching and explaining is a wonderful prompt to get you thinking over your own techniques, it gives you to a deeper understanding of how you do your own work, and it spurs you on to learn more – to stay that one step in front.

So, next time the opportunity arises to teach someone to knit, take it up, then there’ll be someone who will look on you with the same affection you look on the person who taught knitting to you.

1 Comment »

  1. We are a not for profit community service for women 18-30 with a focus of teaching living skills to assist women to live independent lives.I want to locate a knitting/crochet teacher to run a small group for women to pass on the arts. I envisage 2.5 hours per week for 4 weeks and we are able to supply all materials and pay $25.00 per hour either as a casual emplopyee or as an ABN holder. Is there any way you can somehow promote this for us? Am happy to talk with you and my numbers are 02 9516 3716 and 0408 634 655

    Comment by Suzy Scott | 22 May 2007

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