Monday, February 6, 2012

Teaching Knitting in the 21st Century

Is knitting an old story?  Did we miss the heyday of knitting? Or is this it?  Knitting and the twenty-first century seem made for each other.

I taught my first knitting class at Middlebury College in 1990.  It was just me, eleven or twelve under-graduates and a mimeographed pattern for a simple pair of mittens.  Note, not an easy pair of mittens, but a simple pattern. I stood in front of the group and demonstrated the long tail cast on, worked up to moving the stitches onto three double pointed needles and joining for knitting in the round. We took a breath & worked two inches of two by two ribbing and then increased and started knitting stockinette for the hand--WHILE also learning how to increase for the thumb gusset.

I taught without a book, without written instruction beyond the pattern, without youtube videos, without a power-point, and (gasp!) without ravelry!  I had one mitten made up and the other one on needles, and that was it.  Everyone worked with the same kind of yarn, 100% wool in natural shades of grey and on wooden double pointed needles. It could as easily have been a class in 1890 as 1990 - not much had changed.  (Well, the lighting was better, and so was the heat.)

Here we are in 2012.  We still knit with yarn, of course.  Instead of just 'knitting worsted,' we may be casting on with a merino/cashmere blend.  Perhaps the wool comes from Australia, the cashmere from Nepal--and was spun in England, shipped to the USA & hand dyed here in Lancaster County. Or maybe the yarn is a wool and mohair blend spun and dyed at a mid sized family run business in Nebraska.  We may find ourselves knitting with sea-silk, or rayon from bamboo, or fiber drawn from milk, or corn or soybeans. Our needles may be stainless steel, aluminum, birch, bamboo, glass or plastic.  The possibilities are global, fascinating and often remarkably beautiful.

When I teach now, I list my classes in a blog online.  I send e-mail newsletters to knitters near and far.  The posts and emails feature high resolution digital photography, and use links and social networks to spread the word.  I send my students e-mails, they download .pdf files and bring them to class on their iPads, Nooks, netbooks and smart-phones. Sometimes they print their patterns out and bring their high tech devices, too. It's still easier to make notes and hash-marks on paper, after all. 

When I stand up in front of my class, though, time shifts again. I don't use books, drawings, or videos to teach knitting. It's me and my two hands and some sticks and string.  Knitting's heyday? Yeah, I think this is it.

When you have a few minutes, check out our other blog: and sign up for a Free Workshop or Class. Happy Knitting!


  1. This is what I love about knitting...timeless yet timely, always.

  2. Knitting is so good for the soul and you make it easy :-)

  3. What is going on in this picture? Roving/Yarn/Mittens....Now I would take that class!

  4. Thanks for your comments--I had an opportunity to teach 11 first time knitters how to cast on and knit this morning. It was good to go into it with a fresh excitement about teaching, about timelessness & about knitting.
    Shenoka, The picture is from our recent Thrummed Mittens workshop--thrumming is a great technique & we made some really cool, really cozy mittens. We'll be offering it again, it was very popular.