A Terrible Teacher

August 4, 2010 at 9:31 am 1 comment

When I was trying to decide what to do with my life and pick a major in College, my mind briefly landed on the idea of education. I even went so far as to apply and get accepted to a secondary education program at Penn State. I’m very glad I changed my mind. I’m a terrible teacher. My knitting, and the lack of sisters and friends I’ve converted to knitting proves it.

This is the scenario. I have a crafty friend who eyes me enviously as I knit away at church events, over coffee, and while watching movies.  One thing leads to another and I offer to teach them. Within a week, we hit obstacle #1: TIME. I have no time these days. I barely have time to crank out a sock or two, and you all can see how much I neglect this blog. In my dream world, we make it past that obstacle. I may even have the chance to teach them to cast on, and knit their first row. If I’m very, very lucky, which does happen sometimes, they catch on quickly, and knit away on their little swatch or scarf for a few years. Then I hit obstacle #2. They’re hooked on knitting. They love working on their scarf, but they’re bored. Now comes the more time intensive part of teaching (See Obstacle #1), teaching them to follow a pattern. There are multiple components to teaching someone how to follow pattern for the first time.  Picking a pattern, walking them through the techniques used by the pattern, and serving as a knitting help desk when something goes wrong.

This is where it is very, very obvious that I’m a terrible teacher. I think I’ve only managed to find a decent beginner pattern once. This is the problem. I was 7 or 8 when my Gramma taught me how to follow a pattern for a pair of mittens. I can’t remember not knowing what a k2tog meant. I’ve not always done it well, but I’ve always known what the gibberish that is a knitting pattern meant, and if I didn’t, I enjoyed looking stuff up and beating the challenge. I’ve never felt intimidated by knitting. So when I’m helping someone pick a pattern, I always pick ones that I know in my head are easy enough, but then when my student gets beyond the first row, their absolutely lost. What the heck does YO mean? What’s the difference between ssk and k2tog? I always feel like I’ve handed a calculus textbook to a math-loving 10 year old. He loves working fractions, and can do long division in circles around his classmates, but when he opens that textbook and sees millions of graphs and letters (he thought math was about numbers), he’s so overwhelmed he never wants to touch the stuff again. That’s what I feel like I do when I try to teach.

But I will not be deterred. I may not be a natural teacher, but I’m pretty logical. So I’ve started thinking. What makes a good pattern for a new knitter? I realized that it’s not how the pattern is knit up that makes them seem like calculus textbooks (k2togs are not that hard). It has to do with how the pattern is written. If you’ve never made mitten before, the pattern should explain that as you do these seemingly random K2togs, you’re actually increasing for the thumb gusset. If you’ve been knitting mittens since you were 8, that’s a very obvious concept. If you knit your first swatch yesterday, it really isn’t.

The catch is, I’ve found very, very few patterns written this way. Another catch, I’ve rarely found that the patterns that do seem to be written this way are anything I would want to labor on for hours. So if you actually want to knit something you’re excited about and in the absence of finding patterns geared for beginners, I would look for the following in a pattern for a new knitter:

  1. It only uses one or two new techniques
  2. If it is a garment, it has an easy to understand structure.
  3. It’s small
  4. It has a good glossary of knitting terms

Use a pattern you can read-all the way through first. Don’t just rely on pictures. Make sure you have a good knitting reference book or website handy. I love knittinghelp.com. They have little videos for everything you could dream up.

If you take it slow, and have a little faith in the designer of the pattern, you should be able to muddle you’re way through it. Even if you have a terrible teacher like me.


Entry filed under: Knitting. Tags: , , .

Just in Time The Chief End of a Knitter

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. asmplelife  |  August 10, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I can suggest that new knitters find a local knitting group. Ask around at your lys (local yarn shop for all you newbies!) and they can surely find you something to belong to. We host a knitting group at the library every other Thursday and we’re always happy to teach people and help them grow their knitting skills. With 6-7 solid knitters in the group, we can muddle through any problem the newbie is having! And the best part, the group is FREE!! =]


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