Each One, Teach One: It’s Only Knitting

Dear Everybody,

When we first met this co-author of a book called Drop-Dead Easy Knits, we knew Mary Lou Egan would be our soul mate in the appreciation of simple, beautiful knitting. Mary Lou’s open, straightforward, and uplifting approach to making new knitters is as contagious as it is inspiring. Welcome to MDK, Mary Lou!

—Ann and Kay

As adults, we’re so accustomed to knowing how to do things well that we (mostly) don’t remember learning how to drive, type, write, ride a bike or cook. Officially setting out to learn something new puts us in the precarious position of being an “adult beginner.” If this phrase makes you shudder, don’t worry. As I repeat in every lesson to the nervous newbie, It’s only knitting. Learning how to read and write was much harder.”

I personally aspire to teach knitting the way Laurie Colwin taught cooking. “Competence was a goal, but confidence was the real point,” she wrote. I love to create confident knitters. You can too.

The Right Project

First, help the knitter-to-be choose a project that will build confidence. Not a scarf—they will die of boredom before it is finished. Researchers on boredom found that adding immediate feedback tools such as progress bars, speed indicators, and ranking systems on otherwise repetitive tasks reduces boredom. In knitting, this immediate feedback is right there on the needles. A scarf is like a page-loading progress bar that never seems to change.

Seeing progress is one reason I love to knit small projects like hats in meetings. Instead of thinking “Those are a few hours of my life I won’t get back,” I can look at my knitting and think “Hah, look what I accomplished!”

The Right Stuff

Next, a new knitter needs decent materials and the right tools for the job. Heavy old aluminum needles from someone’s Aunt Myrtle and the ancient Wintuk Orlon that came with them will not be inspiring. It isn’t necessary to drop a bundle for a first knitting project, but using materials that are pleasing to handle is a good place to start.

Oh, Myrtle. There may be better needles and yarns to learn with nowadays, but yours are loaded with memories and ambience.

Help the knitter-to-be ask helpful needle-quest questions: Does wood or bamboo feel good? Does the slickness of shiny stainless steel appeal? Straights or circulars? Let them try several. There is no one right way.

Help choose a yarn that won’t make it hard to see the stitches. A smooth, lighter-colored wool is the way to go for the first foray. If you are lucky enough to have a local yarn shop, take your student there and smile to yourself at the reaction. If not, hold their hands as they browse online and don’t let them max out the credit card! Choosing beautiful yarn for a beautiful project builds confident knitters.

Skill Set welcomes new knitters to the Yarnery.

The Right Words

Help newbies with the vocabulary. Knitting language is like recipe language. Does “mix by hand” mean up -to-your-elbow-in-cookie-dough, as my sister once thought? And how do you fold in the cheese? Cast on, bind off, work-even-as-established—these are the knitterly equivalents.

The Right Support

Lastly, provide a resource for extra help when the need arises and being in-person isn’t an option. As the teaching buddy, you may be OK with texting and FaceTiming at all hours, however, a good book and/or video resource is an excellent supplement. We often forget the details of things recently learned.

Research suggests if you find yourself struggling to recall some tidbit of information, you are better off simply looking up the correct answer. One such handy resource is Skill Set: Beginning Knitting. The book is excellent, clearly written and a friendly upgrade to Aunt Myrtle’s booklet.

Fun is in scare quotes.

And hey, “There’s an app for that!” The Skill Set: Beginning Knitting app for Apple iOS and Android is the digital equivalent of the book—and then some! It’s packed with quick, clear video demonstrations. You can even send the app to a friend as a gift.

One of my students keeps the Skill Set app on her Apple Watch. I had to remind her that she didn’t need to use it in class, as she was paying for in-person instruction. She replied, “I know, but it’s so cool!”

Something special

For MDK readers, Mary Lou is offering a discount on her Kiandra hat pattern that takes two skeins of Atlas (Seaglass pictured here)! Enter code ATLAS when you check the pattern out at Ravelry for 50% off. Sassy cable motif, chewy garter stitch. We love this beanie. Thanks, Mary Lou!

Images © Gale Zucker

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