Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sometimes This is What It Looks Like

Sometimes this is what it looks like when you're a junior high knitting teacher.

I must have seven or eight of these globs of tangled yarn at home waiting for my time and attention.

When I first signed up to teach this class I had no idea that I would spend HOURS untangling yarn.
I have learned (and learned well) that the average 7th or 8th grader does not untangle yarn. They do not have the patience and perserverance to attack a knot from the inside and carefully follow strands of yarn that seem promising to lead to untangledness. They are, however, in giving me the mass of knot, following the golden rule of my knitting class: WE DO NOT CUT YARN! I learned (the hard way) that as soon as a knot develops in class, the junior high knitter's fingers begin to twitch for the scissors and want to make the knot go away fast. "However," I say, "we, being in a public school, are on a yarn budget, and cannot throw yarn away!" All knots must come undone. Which means, of course, that I will do it. I do have, now after several weeks, a couple of devoted knot undoers, and this makes me happy.

Aside from knots, this is also what it looks like in knitting class. Once the students complete their finger knitting (which takes one or two days), they start on needles. I cast on 14 stitches for each of them with a worsted weight acrylic yarn of their choice. Most of the yarn we use was my mother-in-law's leftover from maybe the 70's???? It's a good beginners yarn. We start with the knit stitch and the little poem that goes with it:

"In through the front door,
Around the back,
Peek through the window,
And off jumps Jack."

I attempt to teach each one a sort of Continental/English method of holding and wrapping with their left hand. This was all very weird to me since I have been knitting for 15 years with my left hand, as I am left-handed. I realized, though, that it would have been nice to just learn right-handed the first time around so that pattern reading would not require brain acrobatics. I promptly forced myself to learn to knit right-handed in the weeks prior to working with the kids. And I also force all left-handers to knit right-handed. I'm sure they'll thank me later. That being said, since I am not with each student each minute of the class, they all seem to come up with their own weird way of holding/wrapping yarn--only the weirdest of which I correct.

With their first 14 stitches, they work on the garter stitch for several rows...until they seem to have it. I try to enforce that 14 stitches must remain 14 stitches, but I think one student made it up to about 43. It looked like a thong. We revisit the poem every so often reinforcing that Jack must jump OFF and not ON to the other needle. Some students become very upset with Jack and come close to cursing him for being the culprit of so many added stitches.

From there they move on to purling. This is the point when Jack is not the subject of curses, but the purl stitch itself. I was tickled one day when the 8th grade teachers told me that my students would show up to class not with their usual gossip and complaints of the day but with comments like, "I've got the knitting down, but I can't stand this PURLING!" If only they could hear themselves.

When purls are executed beautifully and the students see their ability to stockinette, they begin to build confidence and develop their fondness for knitting.

Then we start ribbing.

This seems to be the crucial act that separates those who "get it" from those who do not. It tells me if they have ANY idea what the difference is between the two stitches. I haven't figured out a better way of saying "the knit looks like a V and the purl looks like a bump (!!!!!!!)."

Oh well, they all seem to eventually get it and they end up making something that looks like this.
And it's nice.

Then, finally, sometimes THIS is what it looks like when you're a junior high knitting teacher.

He finished it today.

I'm so proud!


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