This, by the way, is the learn-to-knit book I would suggest if you are looking for one from your local library. It is nice to be able to borrow things and not have to buy them! If you want the Waldorf-y one with the animal patterns, that's A First Book of Knitting for Children by Bonnie Gosse and Jill Allerton. There's also a second book. They are worth getting if you want to do things in a purely Waldorf way.
Melanie Falick's instructions and illustration show two options for knitting needle caps: super-cute polka dotted polymer clay balls and acorn caps.
I thought the acorn caps looked boring but now I LOVE them!
The first year I did this with students in 2006 we did the polymer clay balls. I'll never do that again. My thought was that each child would do a different color combination of balls with polka dots and that way we would know whose needles are whose. Sounds logical in theory, but it's not a good idea in practice. You either have to have a dedicated toaster oven and a well-ventilated space to bake them in, or you can boil them in a pot of water (which gives them a whitish cast), both of which are a real pain or impossible to do in a classroom. Either way they are never as cute as the pictures and -- more importantly -- they are heavy in the hands of children.
Plus, I found the polymer clay balls tend to either crack, break, or just plain fall off. So we ended up writing everyone's initials on their needles with Sharpie, down towards the point of the needle, and it worked perfectly. And I realized I could have been labeling them with Sharpie all along!
So now we just do an annual Nature walk in Autumn to collect tiny acorn caps from our neighbor's huge oak tree, and I keep them in a special beautiful basket so that we always have plenty all year round for knitting needle making.
Another option I have recently discovered is making wet felted balls to be the end of your knitting needles. This would be a nice option if you had a collection of wet felted balls already made, or you have wool and this was a craft you wanted to introduce anyway, or you just don't have any acorn caps handy. You have to cut into them with sharp scissors to make a place for the knitting needle, which can be a bit hard if they are very firmly felted, and I would suggest wood glue instead of Elmer's glue to help them really stay on.
24 color wool roving assortment
Steps in Making Simple Knitting Needles
Step 1: Buy dowels. I get the wedding cake dowels sold in craft stores for stacking tiers of cake. They're probably cheaper from the hardware store.
Step 2: Sharpen one end of each dowel with a regular pencil sharpener.
Step 3: Sand until silky smooth. I just have a basket of sandpaper pieces in the classroom. In my Handwork teacher training, we were given small wooden tablets with two squares of sandpaper on them. Two grits of sandpaper in two different colors. Yellow and purple. This makes it easier for the children and for you. Mr. Rodriguez said he just used spray adhesive to attach the squares of sandpaper and that they were quick to make.
Step 4: Oil the wood. I like to use the edible salad bowl finish / beeswax polish that is also used for toymaking (edible for salad bowls and cutting boards... and edible for young children who will still put toys in their mouth). You don't have to buy polish, although it smells lovely and a jar will likely last your entire lifetime. You can use a few drops of grapeseed oil instead. Just rub it in until it absorbs, like when you put lotion on your skin. It shouldn't be so much that it is sticky or greasy.
Three BEEautiful Bees Original Wood Polish, 4 oz
There should be no stress about these steps -- sharpening, sanding, oiling -- because if your child goes to knit with the needles and they are still too rough and the yarn is catching on them, you can always go back at any time and redo any or all of these steps. It is nice to do these steps slowly and with loving care but some children are in a hurry. They are eager to knit!!!!
I have heard from other Handwork teachers that they will "fix" a child's needle in the evening if it is not smooth enough, so that they experience a feeling of success when knitting. I personally will simply gently suggest more sanding and let them know their fuzzy wool yarn may catch, but I won't override a child who wants to just get started. And then it's a good life lesson when they have to go back and smooth them.
It is best to write the child's initials on the needle after the sanding and before the oiling, but it can also be done at any time, like when you realize you forgot.
Step 5: Glue on your acorn caps. I just use Elmer's glue and I put some in the cap and then put in on the unsharpened end of the needle. I stick the needles into a ball of yarn, standing straight up, as the glue dries overnight.
Step 6: Knit something with your beautiful new needles!
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