Saturday, April 21, 2012

Teaching the Next Generation...

I have a terrible memory. I really think that the part of my brain that controls memory is either very tiny or broken. My husband can remember all kinds of crazy details from when he was very small. He can remember the names of his elementary school teachers and what he received for various childhood birthdays. He can remember what he ate for snacks at the daycare he attended before school! I, on the other hand, can remember very little of my childhood. Snippets of places I lived, but no memories of friends until at least Jr. high, some slightly traumatic events, and some adventurous and happy events. Why is this? I don't know, vitamin deficiency? As a a child I moved all over with the Air Force, and as a married adult I have moved all over with corporate America. Each time we move we leave behind familiar places and acquaintances. After a couple of years my husband will ask, "Do you remember so and so from..." And I will say, "Not really." He will look at me, astonished at my lack of memory. And I will look at him, astonished that after this many years of marriage he should expect my memory to improve! Of course I remember those with whom I stay in touch, my heart friends. And now my point: I also remember those who have taken the time to teach me something.

I love to teach girly things to girls, because I have all boys of course! Over the years I have had the pleasure of teaching girls all kinds of things: cake baking and decorating, paper quilling, quilting, sewing, knitting, and now dyeing yarn. In reference to the previous paragraph, I don't teach to be remembered, I teach because I hope that others will find joy in their knowledge of the things I teach them. Think about how wonderful it is to know how to do something yourself that before you only wondered about or maybe paid someone else to do for you!

As I was hand-painting a hank of yarn a while back I realized how much fun I was having and that it was just the kind of artsy-craftsy thing girls would enjoy. Since I knew there were girls in the local homeschooling community who were interested in knitting and crocheting, I thought this might be right up their alley. I was right. I had a great response to the ad for my class and actually ended up scheduling two classes (and now I have requests for more).

Our Supplies
I decided to teach them hand-painting wool yarn. It is sort of fool-proof because you can paint it however you want. I used food-safe dyes, Wilton colors and Kool-aid, because I wanted to be able to use our household microwave to steam their yarn during class (which you shouldn't do with acid dyes). I was worried that I wouldn't have enough glass jars for all the colors, but then I remembered the big stack of #5 plastic containers (which we can't recycle in our county) cluttering the corner of one cabinet. In each container I put a tablespoon of vinegar, 1 cup of water and the coloring.

I prepped our workspace by covering my dining table as well as a long folding table with plastic drop cloths (to protect the tables), and then a layer of newspaper (to absorb drips), and then sheets of plastic wrap on which to lay the yarn.

I prepped the yarn before my students arrived by winding the wool into 50g hanks on my niddy noddy. I did 50g hanks because I knew from experience that the students would be able to paint the yarn more easily with less bulk to deal with. Then I presoaked the hanks in the usual vinegar and warm water bath.

When the students arrived I told them what we were going to be doing and how we ought to treat our wool yarn to prevent felting. Because I only work with wool, sometimes I forget that the properties and pitfalls of wool are not common knowledge. I allowed the students to squeeze out the water and spin their wool in the salad spinner. My salad spinner is a $1 Goodwill version that sometimes goes a little crazy and gives a little comic relief.

Then the students laid their yarn out on the prepped surfaces. I had purchased a bag of 25 1-inch sponge brushes at Joann's with my 40% off coupon (around $3).  These work pretty well for this project, although they want to grab the yarn. I personally like to use a natural hair pastry brush to do my yarn painting.

I told them they could lay their yarn out in any way they liked and paint it in any way they chose. I explained how longer sections and shorter sections of color would affect the way their knitted item would look. And then I told them just to have fun. For the first class my OS had mixed the dyes for me and I had not tested some of the Wilton colors for yarn-dyeing, so we had some weird unpleasant colors. What was supposed to be purple went on the yarn as denim blue and came out from steaming as purple! This was a surprise to us. For the second class, I left out the unpleasant colors and tried another food dye for purple, but got the same blue to purple color change effect. In my experience with both cake decorating and yarn dyeing is that purple is a difficult color!

After painting their yarn, we rolled them up in the plastic wrap jelly roll style and steamed them in the microwave. Everyone's yarn looked different and it was so much fun! When the yarn was cool we gave them a little soapy bath and rinse and spun them damp dry in the salad spinner again. They took them home in bags. Before they left I showed them how to wind a centerpull ball on a wooden spoon and also demonstrated my homemade yarn swift.

All in all, I think everyone had fun, including me. Here is a link to blog of one family who attended, and I'm pretty sure they enjoyed themselves!

Do you know how to do something that others don't? You wouldn't believe how many grown-ups tell me they want to learn to knit or crochet or some of the many other things we know how to do that we might take for granted. The rewards for sharing your knowledge, whether with children or adults, are many. I do not consider myself a gifted teacher. I get nervous, flustered, overheated, and sometimes even stressed, but I keep doing it because I am compelled to share the knowledge of so many wonderful things others have taught me. In today's computer age, so much knowledge is available with the click of a mouse, but there really is no substitute for a real person beside you showing you the ropes. What can you teach someone today?

After my students left yesterday's class I had any extra hank of yarn prepped and Middle Son had been asking to try it out, so he had his chance. Then little guy woke up and saw colored water and sponge brushes and was so excited. I repressed my usual tendency to say, "No, too messy," and let him go to town on the newspaper covered table. He got a little rambunctious at one point and still has a green stain on his forehead!

A Project Made with Finished Yarn

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