Letters from our Knitting Friend (on teaching children how to knit)

“Knitting, and learning to knit, is so much better when it’s about relationships.”
-Elizabeth Dehority
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I am saddened to share that very early this morning, our friend Elizabeth died after a long battle with cancer.  Some of you have gotten to know her over the years whether through her blog, mine, or those of other friends, and many of you have kept her in your prayers.  She was loved by many, and she loved right back.

This morning after receiving the news, I held Larkspur in my lap and to the best of my ability tried to describe to her the way I understand that Elizabeth’s last moments were, peaceful and surrounded by her family.  Through tears, we talked about her and went through photos and old emails.  Larkspur recounted her phone calls with Elizabeth, whom she called her Knitting Friend, and the four words she used to help Larkspur learn to knit, “In, around, through, off.”   Those are the same words that I use now and will always use to teach others to knit as well.

Dear Elizabeth, we thank you for touching our lives, for inspiring us, but most of all for loving us.  We love you forever.

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Lark and I thought that this would be the perfect day to share again the post we collaborated with Elizabeth on years ago, about teaching children how to knit.

The following post originally ran in April 2011.

*****

Over the past couple of years, and in the past couple of weeks, I have taught four of my five children how to knit. They’ve watched me knitting, and have naturally wanted to join me. I honestly can’t remember now how I taught Keats and Gabriel, as it has been so long. More recently, I taught Larkspur, and finally Seth, but this time I unexpectedly gained a mentor. I found myself in the privileged position of having a dear woman whom I share a mutual friend with, begin sending emails to Larkspur and I about knitting. These emails have guided me in teaching Larkspur, and I think that they may help you too. I could cut them up, and turn this into an impersonal guide, but I don’t want to edit her words, and think you can gain more from her letters in their entirety.
With Elizabeth Dehority’s permission, I am going to share with you the letters she has written to Larkspur, and some to me as well in the order in which we have received them. I hope that you are as blessed by these letters as Larkspur and I have been.
I will give a list of Elizabeth’s recommendations at the end of this post, so that this tutorial of sorts can be revisited and those things she recommends easily found.

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(photo of Elizabeth Dehority teaching Katie Foss how to knit courtesy of Elizabeth Foss)

Dear Larkspur,
Your mom put pictures of your beautiful cast on row on her blog, and it was the very first thing I saw this morning. What a wonderful way to start my day!

Teaching four and five year olds to knit at the Montessori school by my house is one of my favorite things to do. I can’t even count as high as the number of children who now knit at that school, because even though I can only teach some, they all end up teaching each other. That makes me really, really happy.
If you’re going to learn the knit stitch today, there are two things that will make it easier… And make the next steps easier too, for a double bonus 🙂
There are lots of little rhymes to remind you how to make your knit stitch, but the very best thing to say while you’re knitting is
IN. AROUND. THROUGH. OFF. IN. AROUND. THROUGH. OFF.
If you say it out loud, even your little sister will learn it, and then when she walks around chanting ” in around through off in around through off” it might drive you crazy, but that’s OK. Someday she’ll be a knitter, too.

The second thing is this. Every knit stitch has a front leg and a back leg. I put a very sloppy drawing down at the bottom… Pretend your knitting needle is a horse and think about your stitch like a little guy sitting on his horse. He has one leg on your side of the horse and one side on the other. Can you see it in your imagination? We call the little guy’s right leg his front leg because it’s in FRONT of the knitting needle… But you probably already figured that out.

It helps to think about “in around through off” and front legs and back legs because then when you start to do fancy things like increasing and decreasing, we can talk about it using those words and make it SOOOOO easy.
And now I have to take care of a naughty three year old. I’m not even going to tell you what mischief he’s been into already this morning.
Keep up the good work! I am so happy to start my day knowing there’s a new knitter in the world!!!!
Love,
Elizabeth
knitting stitch

elizabethwithkari

(Elizabeth Dehority teaching Karoline Foss how to knit, photo courtesy of Ann Voskamp)

Dear Ginny,
I always offer up each chemotherapy for some particular intention, and tonight was your knitting relationship with Lark…. I am a praying knitter… I do not sit still well AT ALL and knitting while I pray has been essential for my spiritual life for a LONG time. But usually during and after chemo lately I just don’t feel well enough to knit, so I sort of need to connect it all back somehow… So offering up everything that goes along with chemo… Especially the not being able to knit part… Helps a bit.

There’s no way we could explain all that to Lark, but I am going to send her another email asking how it’s going… Just as soon as my head clears a bit and my husband changes my IV bag…

Love,
Elizabeth
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Dear Ginny,
Tonight is a chemo night, and tomorrow I will be pretty much worthless, but I PROMISE you some notes on teaching little ones.

First of all, what you are doing is perfect, perfect, perfect. Just BE WITH HER. For three and young fours, or often boys up to 5, 99 % of the knitting we do is actually the adult’s yarn and needle manipulation. Sit the child facing the same way you are (you probably don’t have much lap left 🙂 (I am eight months pregnant) and start with your hands on the needles, you tensioning the yarn, and the child’s hands resting gently ON YOURS. Hand over hand. As they chant In around through off, etc, they will naturally start reaching for the yarn to bring it around, and helping you click it through. Say nothing about it, just notice as they take over the tiniest movements, when they start to press your hand into the right direction ever so slightly. Then pick one part… “You do in” and I do around through, off… and then pick a different part. You will find that gradually, hand over hand has become your hands over theirs! Or sometimes one on one side, the other on the other.

OFTEN,to take a rest, do a whole row yourself and tidy things up. But you need to have something to say while this is going on, otherwise it’s “Hey! What are you doing to my knitting!) But things that demand such high level of concentration from such little ones musn’t last too long without little breaks.

I use size eight knitpicks harmony needles on a 24 inch cord… it is SOOOO sad when a child has done such good work on a straight needle and it all falls off the end in a bag…. plus the relatively sharper tip on the harmonies helps get that needle in there when a stitch is tight…

More knitting with small ones thoughts might not be till Tuesday, the day after chemo I usually sleep most of it through.

Love and hugs,

esd
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Dear Lark,

Seeing the pictures of your first knitting last week reminded me of so many brand new knitters I’ve known. I wish I could show you a you tube video of the first time I tried to show somebody how to knit… But back then not only wasn’t there YouTube, there weren’t even computers. I was four years old, and my mom had just taught me to knit, purl, and pick up dropped stitches. I was so excited about learning that I decided to teach my sister. The problem was that she was only two years old, and you know how two year olds are! My mom and dad have a film movie of it, though… maybe my dad can get it put on a DVD so I can upload it and show you.

Most of the kids I have taught how to knit have been in the primary classrooms at the Montessori school by my house. It’s a little different teaching kids in a school than knitting with your own kids at home. Did you know that some children have never actually seen anybody knit, and don’t even know that wool comes from sheep?

When I teach school kids how to knit, I have them make their own knitting needles. We make our own needles for two reasons. First of all, it would be way too expensive to buy fancy knitpicks harmony circular needles for everybody, even though I think they are the very best to learn with. The second thing is this: for lots of people, especially boys, knitting helps make it easier to sit still and be a good listener. Well, I need the kids to be able to sit and listen while I explain about wool and sheep and how they get the wool off the sheep, and how we can spin it into yarn. But the kids who need to listen don’t know how to knit yet! So while I’m talking I have them make their own knitting needles. Before the class, I cut 3/16 inch dowels into 10 inch lengths and sharpen one end in a pencil sharpener. While we talk about yarn, the kids use really fine sandpaper to make their needles SOOOOO smooth that they can’t feel any rough spots anywhere. They sand and sand and sand… Then they use polymer clay to make a knob for the non-pointy ends. Finally, we rub beeswax into the wood… And rub and rub and rub…. Usually by this time we’ve talked enough for one day! Then I take the polymer clay knobs home and bake them in my oven and glue them on the ends of the polished needles. Then the next day I bring the brand new knitting needles back and we can really learn to knit. I’ll tell you all about that in a minute, but first I have to put George back to sleep.

Love,
Elizabeth
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Dear Lark,

We left off with the school students and their brand new knitting needles. Now we get to really learn how to knit. I think it’s best to learn how to knit with wool. Wool is stretchy and squishy and real. Usually I teach knitting with Paton’s Classic Merino, because it’s just regular worsted weight wool yarn that’s not expensive. But you know how when yarn comes in a big round hank, and you get to hold it out with two hands while someone else winds it into a ball? That’s one of my favorite parts of knitting. I LOVE winding good wool yarn into a ball to knit with. The problem is that the Paton’s Classic comes already in a ball, so the kids don’t get to do that part. Sometimes I think I should take the yarn and put it INTO hanks, just so kids can try getting it FROM the hank into balls, since most of the kids have never gotten to do that at home.

So anyway, now we have needles and wool yarn. What do you think we have to do next? If you guessed “cast on” you’re right! Somehow we have to get the yarn onto the needles so we can learn our knit stitch. Even when I’ve got a whole classroom of kids to teach, I always let them learn how to actually knit one at a time. You and I already talked about learning how to knit. The two most important things to get stuck in your head are “in, around, through, off” and what a knit stitch actually looks like, with the two legs, the front leg on the right and the back leg on the left.

Usually the first project I have kids make is just a regular square. You can do so many things with a knit square! I think you could think of ten different ways to use a knit square in less than a minute. But here’s the tricky part: You can make a square by starting on one of the sides and knitting across to the opposite side, OR, you can knit a square by starting in a corner and knitting to the opposite corner. If the person learning how to knit is four years old, or maybe five, I usually cast on twenty stitches for them and teach them how to knit across.
In, Around, Through, Off.

Love,
Elizabeth
lark-1760(A string of prayer socks, just waiting for Elizabeth to Kitchener stitch the toes)

For teaching children to knit, Elizabeth recommends:
Options Interchangeable Harmony Wood Circular Knitting Needle Tips, Size 8
Cables are sold separately, Elizabeth recommends the 24 inch cables
For an easily attainable, inexpensive wool starter yarn: Paton’s Classic Wool
You should be able to find this at your local craft store.

Elizabeth recommends a simple square as a first project.
If you have the child knit two of them, you can add a bag of beans to the middle, sew them together and make a bean bag! If you are knitting with wool, such as the Paton’s you can even help the child to wet felt the squares first, adding another element of fun to that first project.

Larkspur’s first project is a doll scarf. At five years old, her attention span is quite short, and for a doll scarf she just cast on 5 stitches. To sit down and knit a row only takes a matter of moments. Sometimes that is all she is interested in doing.

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(Elizabeth’s famous prayer socks)

I hope that Elizabeth’s words will help you teach the little ones in your life to knit, as they have helped me.  She would love that so much.
Your prayers for her family are very much appreciated.
Love,
Ginny

Comments

  1. I just found your blog and the original post today! I’m so sad to hear of her passing and feel your pain in your words but also your blessings of having known her.

    Thank you and thank her for the inspiration to finally teach my own 4 year old to knit. She’s been asking and asking and I let her knit with me often but I think it’s time to let her have her project!

    Thank you!

  2. anniekitching says:

    She is so beautiful, and what an amazingly lovely legacy. I am so sorry for you and Larkspur, and all who loved her.

  3. She sounds like such a beautiful soul. I am so very sorry for your and Larkspur’s loss. So grateful that Elizabeth is at peace with her Savior. *hugs*

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss. Hugs…

  5. I am sorry for this second enormous loss for you within a year Ginny. May there be comfort in imagining her first Resurrection Sunday spent with Jesus who is our eternal hope.

  6. Truly so bitter sweet. Such a loss on this side of Heaven, but a huge welcome home on the other side. Such a wonderful legacy she has gifted to us. Thank you for re-sharing this post. Someday, when I become a grandmother, I will remember her knitting wisdom, and teach. 🙂

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