Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Excessories! and Before You Teach...

More Sock Yarn
Originally uploaded by sunasak

I made myself laugh just now by commiserating with someone in an email message about having "too much" sock yarn. I said that now my yarn consists decorative accessories in lovely baskets, some of which may be socks some day. Only when I first typed it, I said "excessories" instead of "accessories." What an EXCELLENT mental slip, if I do say so myself!!

So, here we have a photo of some of my excessories in a lovely basket.

Before You Teach

Now for the second part in my series on teaching beginners to knit. Today I'll focus on things to talk a bit about before casting on the first stitch. (This information is also useful to fill time waiting for a latecomer, or for someone to pick out their yarn.)

Now, this IS important stuff, so if someone misses it, it's good to slip some more of this info in during the class or series of classes.

I like to talk in general about the ingredients of knitting, because I have found that if I don't talk about this stuff, I'll get asked about it anyway! You can do the topics in just about any order.


Types: show them single pointed, double pointed and circular needles, plus a cable needle if one is handy. Let them know that circulars are probably the most versatile, but that most people end up using all of these for different projects. Explain why they are using the shorter single pointed needles (if that's what they have). Mention that some "throwers" like longer needles, because they can rest one in their lap or under their arm. Promise to demo that later.

Materials: reassure them that all materials are appropriate in different circumstances, and that individuals will have different preferences. Talk about wood (bamboo, ebony, birch), plastic (Bryspun, clear, old solid ones, light-up), metal (steel, coated, brass) and the importance of smooth joins and flexible cables in circular needles.

How to Choose: Point out that slippery yarn often benefits from needles with a bit of texture, while smooth yarn knits really quickly on slicker metal needles.


I could talk about this for a long time so I try to be brief!

Content: point to the wool, bamboo, cashmere, mohair, cotton, hemp, corn, soy....and say that it didn't use to be like this! I act like an old lady and reminisce about long ago only being able to get acrylic in mod 70s colors.

Textures: Emphasize that they are knitting with smooth yarn, but that there are all kinds of weights and textures and constructions to choose from. Point to the eyelash, the thick-and-thin, the sock yarn, the laceweight and so on.

Quality: go into detail about how good yarn may cost more, but in most cases is worth it. Tell them when a cheap yarn may be fine. Remind them that they will be touching the yarn for many hours, so be sure you like how it feels.

The Label: show them all the brilliant information there is on a yarn ball. Have each person look at the label from their yarn. Have them see if they are using an appropriate needle for their yarn. If not...switch. Tell them you are guessing, since they don't yet know if they are tight, loose or average knitters. This will lead you to...


Give them their very first little chat about gauge and why it matters. No doubt it won't be their last. Let them know that every knitter is different, and that's why you can't say that Yarn X should always be knit with Needle Y. (If I personally did that, I'd have many overly large items.)

Where to Buy Yarn

The Local Yarn Shop: If you are in a yarn shop, extol the virtues of the yarn shop up and down. Well, it is TRUE. The LYS is a wonderful thing. Remind them of the friendly helpful staff, the wonderful classes, the ability to see, touch and smell yarn before buying (hey, Schaeffer yarn smells like vinegar, ya know). Mention that you can see many patterns knitted up, and browse patterns easily at the LYS. Remind them that the shop is there to hang around in, if that is true. Point out the wonderful friends you can make there (hug one, if available). If there are other yarn shops in town, let students know it is not a sin to shop there. Usually there are things in one place that aren't in another. And you may be more comfortable with the staff in one place than in another--there are a lot of factors that go into choosing your favorite!

The Internet: Do not deny the lure of the Internet. When the LYS doesn't have enough of the yarn you want, or you can't find something locally, the Internet is your friend! And there are many indie yarn dyers and other vendors whose merchandise is not available in a shop. Mention your personal friends by name, hee hee. Reveal that there are FREE patterns on the Internet! And caution that you sometimes get what you pay for, too! You might want to let them know there is good refresher information out there if they forget something you teach them, and that there are many cool books they can order via the Internet, to expand their knowledge.

Big Box/Discount/Hobby Stores: Be nice, and remember some of your students may simply not have the funds to buy $37.50 dishcloth yarn like YOU did. Just caution that some of the yarn in discount stores and the like may not be of great quality, which may lead to a disappointing product, but that some of the places have much improved selections, and you can't go wrong if you are looking for crochet cotton or dishcloth cotton. Even yarn shop employees get some of their stuff there! If you are careful, you will help the students with limited funds feel better, yet give them the idea that it might be worth their while to get less yarn of better quality than tons of inexpensive stuff.

I try to fit all this information into ten minutes. Good luck with that. The part on where to buy yarn can also be interspersed with your other instruction, and makes good "chatting" fodder while they are knitting away and you are hoping they mess up so you can help them learn how to not make that mistake again.

Have fun!


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