Thursday, September 15, 2016

Wool Yarn for Waldorf First Grade / Beginning Knitters

It doesn't make any difference how old you are when you learn to knit, I still think that wooden needles and wool yarn are the way to go. These warm natural materials grip each other just enough to be helpful, and it's way easier than slick aluminum needles and slippery cotton yarn (which is what I learned with when I taught myself years ago).

When I teach a child to knit -- which in Waldorf happens in first grade, before the child learns to read, since knitting strengthens the communication between the two hemispheres of the brain -- we start with finger knitting.

Finger Knitting blog post by Homestead Honey

Then when the child requests a lesson on knitting with needles (I model this by knitting in the classroom during handwork time and, of course, the older children who already know how to knit are constantly churning out projects), I have him make his own knitting needles. Simply buy the dowels which you find in craft stores in the wedding cake section for stacking tiers of cake, sand each, sharpen one end in a pencil sharpener, sand again, rub with grape seed oil, and glue an acorn cap on to the other end. Then write the child's initials with Sharpie on each needle.

Teaching Our Children to Write, Read, and Spell: A Developmental Approach Looking at the Relationship of Children's Foundational Neurological Pathways to their Higher Capacities for Learning

All you need for initial knitting patterns you will find in Jill Allerton and Bonnie Gossie's book:

A First Book of Knitting for Children

I actually start with a chicken as the first stuffed animal. It's just cast on 15 or 20 stitches, knit until the piece forms a square, cast off, fold in half, stuff, sew up, and embellish as desired.

The top chicken was the first stuffed animal I ever made. Barbara Dewey taught me the pattern when I was at a workshop with her, once she found out all I knew how to make was scarves! The bottom one I made more recently.

After that, using the knitting book patterns, we have

  • lamb
  • lion
  • pig
  • elephant
  • horse

There are more, but these are the patterns kids do pretty routinely before they take off on their own. I was looking up "lemon colored wool" for a student who wants to create a lemon shark pattern, and realized that I have two favorite wool yarns for beginning knitters. And between the two brands you can put together a pretty decent rainbow of yarn to have on hand at the beginning of the school year. You do NOT want worsted weight yarn; it is too thin for stuffed animals and the wool stuffing will fall out between the stitches. I recommend either Lion Brand Alpine Wool Yarn (solid colors only, the others are not 100% wool) or Paton's Classic Wool Roving Yarn. Whatever you get it should be fairly bulky, pure wool, and in animal colors as well as bright colors for hats and mittens, doll blankets and clothes...

I have a shelf in my classroom with the skeins of yarn, arranged and stacked with their ends facing outward, in rainbow order. And then once a skein has been wound into a ball, and someone is knitting with it, it lives in the handwork basket. And when the remainder of the ball of yarn comes back to me and joins the stash of yarn odds and ends for other projects, it goes in the miscellaneous yarn baskets. The yarn baskets are where we "shop" for yarn for weaving on the tapestry, or for finger knitting during a story, or for embellishments for a project, etc.

By the way, if your child gets completely into finger knitting, you'll have hundreds of yards of it all around your house. And, yes, there are some really cool projects you can do with the pieces! We've used them for weaving a rainbow trellis around a bamboo tipi for vines in the garden, as well as our hula hoop loom rug. But the most beautiful project I've ever seen, and one I would LOVE to do as a class, is the Finger Knitted Tent!

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