Bountiful Bunting

I’ve had a fantastic week working with a small group of very keen beginner knitters. Some could knit a bit, some could knit but couldn’t cast on and others had never knitted at all. The group were an interesting mix of cultures and we even had a young man join us. They worked hard, had fun, used loads of imagination and have demanded more…. soon please!

They’ve all gone home with work that they have either entirely completed themselves or with a bit of help from their friends and are really proud of their achievements. They were a pleasure to teach too and not a group I’d considered working with either as a qualified adult ed tutor.

Yes, I’m going to blog about teaching children! I’ll be honest I had no idea even if I really could pull it off, I’ve taught the odd child one to one but that was it. However I’d had numerous requests from parents about teaching craft skills to children so I thought it was time to go for it. Its been an interesting learning curve and as a piece of professional development as a teacher, a really good way to get back to basics and think things through as to how to break down the skills you need to be an independent knitter.

I went through a careful process of planning the lessons and ensuring they were fun, engaging and encouraged imagination, the vital key to creativity.

1. Redesign of the Beginners Booklet

I sat down and thought about what I’d wanted to know about knitting when I was a child. Was it just how to do it or did I want to know other things too? I also wanted to encourage the children to think about where yarn comes from, the materials they would need and not to be afraid of patterns!  I also wanted the booklet to flow so that the skills they needed were presented in a logical sequence, so that they could follow through all the stages of knitting and finishing their bunting.

The final design includes a page all about “secret codes for knitting” – or how to understand a pattern. There is also an information page about yarn and the variety of plants, animals and “chemists” we have to thank for the range we have access to today. The pattern was very simple and contained instructions on how to knit a simple garter stitch flag, but I felt it was important as I didn’t want the children to feel worried about what they had to do or think, as many adults seem to, that patterns are scary complicated things meant to trip you up.  I then had a flow through of all the skills needed with clear images, from casting through garter stitch to casting off. I also included a section on making up that included how to sew the flags to ribbon and sew on decorative buttons.

2. Casting On and Off!

I’m not a knitter that subscribes to the theory of teaching beginners to knit before they can cast on. I’d decided that I also wanted to use this approach with the children. After all there is nothing so frustrating as having to wait for Mum, Granny or Aunty to have time to cast on for you! And as a child seconds can seem like hours if its something you really, really, really, realllllllllllly want NOW!! Many knitters also wait a while before teaching casting off – again why I thought? I tend to find that’s how stitches get dropped, the knitting gets put to one side, stitches slide off the needle, playing a mysterious and unseen game of “follow the leader”  and suddenly you’re having to rip out and re work 2 or 3 after school playtimes work!

I decided that the whole aim of the workshop was for the kids to go away and be able to work on their next project at home – whatever that might be!

3. Finishing Off and Making Up

Having a finished piece of work to show is important – and making sure it looks good is essential, even if there is the odd hole, oversized stitch or other mistake. I wanted to make sure they took something home to be proud of, that they could show to Grannies, Aunties etc and not be told ” you should have done it this way” – I can still remember some of the “feedback” I got as a child, especially when I decided to try something that didn’t go right! Although its proved useful as it makes me an extra careful checker of my work now! I also wanted it to last, there’s nothing worse than your lovely finished piece coming unravelled, especially when you’re a child.

So having considered the building blocks and thought up some games we could play as we went, Wednesday morning dawned bright and early and I got the bags packed. The previous evening had been devoted to making up learner packs, “just like the grown ups have” – one pair of needles, 3 small balls of yarn, the “How To” booklet all in a plastic wallet with the Bits and Bobs label on it. Alongside was a file of permission forms, a large bottle of squash, a pack of biscuits and the register. And when all was ready, the phone went for a last minute booking, and with one family having to pull out, the course again was full!

The three sessions have flown by – some of the Mums decided to stay and sat working on their own projects but also were willing to lend a hand to anyone who was struggling, which was fantastic as it meant I could give each child a little bit of individual attention as we went. We started off learning names and finding out who could do what. This was followed by a “Give Us a Clue” type quiz covering the essentials of knitting and discovering which animals and plants could be used to make yarn! Then it was down to work, tackling the slip knot! This was mastered surprisingly well and we were onto the much avoided casting on. With some patience and perseverance all the children managed to cast on at least some of their 15 stitches. It was surprisingly like an adult class in that some picked it up quickly and flew along, desperate to get onto the “proper knitting” and others took a while. I enjoy being flexible so I managed to rearrange some of the seating and had those who had knitted before working away quite quickly, whilst with a bit of help from my classroom asssitant and the Mums, all the others finally got going and proudly possessed 15 sts.  By the end of the session, even the youngest at 5 had managed to work a couple of rows, with one child getting her own work out as she didn’t want to get too far ahead! We did some basic maths too, working out garter stitch rows by doubling ridges and all the children were really quick!  The lesson soon finished and I was promptly handed a selection of knitted pieces the older girls had been working on outside of the lessons, to have a look at and correct the odd mistake on! They were all keen to do their homework and come back the next day. We also built in a couple of  “exercise sessions” wriggly fingers, hands and wrists, touching thumb to fingers and doing some big hand stretches. This produced alot of giggling from all involved!We finished the day with a round of applause for all the great work they’d done!

Thursday saw the group return ready to cast off their work from the previous day – and again a skill us knitters tend to keep to ourselves – casting on was the first task after a bit of revision quiz from the previous day and the group picked it up surprisingly easily. They were soon flying ahead with their second square, the older girls wanting help to count their rows on a very regular basis, having set up some form of competition with each other. The younger ones were proud of completing a row independently and really started to gain confidence and make their presence known. We also had an ideas session, thinking about what else could you knit from squares – the ideas were great, from blankets to hats, and one ambitious young lady of 6, announced she was going to make curtains! One girl had taken the bunting idea to the next stage and was going to make enough to decorate her bedroom in all her favourite colours, which then lead onto a discussion about the colours you would use to make your next project. The idea behind this was to encourage them to think “like designers”. Its far too easy I think to fall into the “pattern trap” and only knit what the book tells you – I want to inspire knitters to use their imaginations and try something different, see patterns as a “guide” as opposed to a strict list of instructions and where children are naturally imaginative, it just seemed natural to do so. I even showed them how to knit with 3 strands of yarn to achieve interesting colour effects Everyone was challenged to come back tomorrow with at least one square completed and I would help out with a couple more where needed – only fair when you’re 5 or 6 and have worked really hard I think! We kept to our exercise breaks, had a round of applause again and discovered just how many biscuits 7 small children and 2 mums can consume in one afternoon!

Friday was the last day and I was inundated with requests from the start to check things, count things and goodness knows what else! So I decided a bit of “order” was needed and got everyone to sit down and tell us what they’d got ready so I knew who needed a bit more help etc. The younger girls had “finished” with some help and so we started assembling their flags first, whilst the others finished off.  They were really quick to master weaving in and running stitch and got their flags neatly attached in no time! So we then moved on to sewing on buttons – which produced some interesting results and techniques but they looked great. Our youngest little lady got the biggest laugh of the day and should have had an award for cheek when she asked if I could sew on her last 2 buttons as she’d done 4 and “really couldn’t be bothered to do any more!” – she looked and sounded far too cute to refuse too! Gradually all the older girls “caught up” as did the one young man and started the process of assembling their work. They were talking about a “cooking competition” they’d had with friends over the holidays and this lead on to a discussion of favourite foods.  We ended up playing a game of “Whats my favourite” based on the colour scheme they suggested for a scarf – one general food or drink, one fruit and one vegetable. The range suggested was interesting and we even had a swede lover amongst all the peas and sweetcorn. By the end of the session, although they were sad we’d finished and were keen for more, they were all very proud of their work. One child actually said “I never knew I could do something like this. Thank you for showing me” – I was really touched by that.

Here they all are, as proud as punch!


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