Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Teaching Knitting: Purls of Wisdom

Back to teaching knitting, today with teaching the purl stitch and everything that goes along with it.

First, an update on my knittin'. Here's a picture of my latest yarn acquisition, Twisted Fiber Arts' Kabam! Organic Stripe in Batty. This is 60% merino, 30% bamboo and 10% nylon. 100% intriguing, especially since it is supposed to subtly self stripe. This was the Etsty Store of the Day on Lime & Violet's Daily Chum, a blog I like to read because all sorts of esoteric things come up on it. I admit to being a sucker for self-striping hand-dyed yarn. This is the second skein of such stuff I have gotten in the last couple of weeks. The other was sKnitches Syncopation Self-Striping in Leaflet, which I got from the Loopy Ewe and was NOT copying some other blogger when I picked that color, honest. I look forward to trying both of these yarns...eventually.

Currently I am still obsessed with Mr. Greenjeans in Red, who is now two rows below the armhole divide. And he seems to fit. I added a repeat of the 6-row increase pattern, because my gauge seems a little tight (though I did swatch!). Now I just hope he is not too big. And that I can magically end up with a multiple of 12 stitches plus 8 for the cable part. I bet I can.


At some point you need to teach the new knitters to purl. Wisdom differs as to exactly what point that will be. Here are some thoughts to help you decide for yourself:

1. Letting the student complete a garter stitch project first will build confidence, cement the knit stitch firmly in the mind, and guarantee a reasonable looking outcome, which makes new knitters happy. Happy enough to want to come back to learn to purl.

2. Some students get pretty bored with knit, knit, knit. Introducing the purl stitch to them fairly soon after they learn the knit stitch will give them many more opportunities for varied knitting.

3. Introducing the purl stitch too soon may cause some new knitters confusion to the point where they cease to understand the knit stitch and just end up confused. What point is "too soon," you ask? Regrettably, that depends on the student's natural ability and learning style. It's hard to guess--but generally if a student is having physical difficulty making the stitches or remembering the order of the steps, delaying the purl stitch introduction is probably a good idea.

4. Time is a factor. I like the idea of letting the students go home and practice the knit stitch, then introducing purl in the next session of class, which can only happen if you have more than one class with the student. A two-hour class is probably a bit too short to cement both stitches in an average student's mind, though people who crocheted before, learned to knit in their dim past, or happen to be approximately age 14 can probably handle it.

What You Need to Know

Teaching purl is easy and fun. There are a lot of little things that can make it fun for the student, too. It is great to see that light bulb going off over their heads when they realize the mechanics of it all.

1. Tell them purling is "the opposite" of knitting and show them the evidence. I like to show them garter stitch, stockinette stitch samples, ribbing, seed stitch and such, to show how the "bumps" can appear on one side of the knitted fabric or the other, depending on the stitch they make. I explain that in knitting, the bump shows up in the back, because you carry the yarn in the back. In purling, the bump is in the front, because you carry the yarn there. I like to cement that yarn in back/front distinction early and often, since it makes figuring out their mistakes later much easier.

2. Explain how having an evenly distributed number of bumps makes for a fabric that lies flat (show examples) and how putting smooths and bumps all together makes a fabric that curls (show stockinette and ribbing). I do this before teaching purling, because I lot of knitters like to know WHY they need to learn to purl.

3. As with knitting, show the purl stitch on large needles with thick yarn, and slowly. I repeat key words with emphasis. Like "Stick the right needle in FRONT of the left needle, pointing DOWN. Wrap the yarn OVER the needle, then poke it BACK through the loop."

4. At some point I emphasize wrapping the yarn OVER the needle, and tell them how I used to have twisted stitches every other row because I wrapped UNDER and hadn't learned how to compensate. If they are struggling, it helps them to know the teacher was not perfect from Day 1, and if they are thinking, "What would it matter?" they will then know why it does matter.

5. The hardest part tends to be getting situated for the first stitch in a row and the part where you poke the needle backwards (because visually oriented people want to SEE where their yarn is going, and you just sorta have to trust that it is going through.

Once they get purling, encourage them to knit a few rows in stockinette. They tend to love how it looks and how it feels to knit one row then purl a row. Then they will see their knitting curling up. Excellent demo of that feature!

What to Make

This is just me, but I tend to not leave them doing K 1 row, P 1 row very long. I want them to work on a project that will lie flat, for one, and they need to learn a few more skills before leaving the purl class.

I like to have them to a scarf or wash cloth in some variant of a basketweave pattern. We have simple patterns we wrote up for our shop, or you can find something you can use that doesn't infringe on anyone's copyright.

Basketweave is nice because:

1. You get some stockinette sections to admire.
2. It lies flat.
3. You learn to switch between knitting and purling (more on that below).
4. You don't get frustrated moving the yarn back and forth constantly, like you could in seed stitch or ribbing.

Still, any pattern you like that lets them practice both knitting and purling is fine. A dishcloth that makes a picture or something might be a possibility, though that will require teaching how to read a chart!

It's really important to teach students the skill of going between knitting and purling. You need to show them how to set the yarn up for whatever stitch is next, putting the yarn in the back to knit and bringing it to the front to purl, and not doing so over the needle. I demonstrate the "wrong" way and show how they end up with a YO, which would be great if they were doing lace, but they aren't.

Usually at least a few of the students need a little help remembering to move the yarn, and to be shown how to get rid of the accidental YO if they do (just let it drop).

Having a little pattern for them to look at helps those intimidated by patterns relax a bit. I show them the parts of the pattern, and that K = knit and P= purl. We practice reading the instructions. Sometimes I even introduce markers.

More important than markers, though, is learning to "read" the knitting, so they can tell if they should be knitting or purling. It generally makes new knitters feel very confident and accomplished once they realize they CAN do this. I tell them that reading their knitting is a sign they are "advanced beginners" now.

While they knit, I check to see if their gauge is wildly different in one or the other stitch, and if so, give hints for evening that out. I also look for mistakes and show them how to fix them. This is when I also chat them up a bit about stitch patterns--how much you can do with just knit and purl, and let them know what kinds of things they can learn in later classes (or if it's a series, what's coming next).

Of course, always answer questions. Reassure them that it's hard for everyone to talk and count at the same time (this always comes up once students begin to relax and start chatting).

When to Stop

I like to be sure they have done enough basketweave to switch between starting off with knitting and starting off with purling, so they have that experience under their belts before they go home. Teach or remind them how to bind off before you send them home, and let them know how to get help if they end up needing it.

I often give out a handout that lists good beginning knitting books, websites and patterns that the shop sells. I also point them to some free patterns (and tell them which yarns in the yarn shop work great with those patterns--selling yarn is a good thing for your LYS owner!).

Next I'll give some ideas for what to teach next: increases, decreases, cables and more.

1 comment:

Suna says thanks for commenting--I love comments!