Passing on the knit: Stitch Sage Stories
Posted by Deadly Knitshade on March 20, 2011
Why on earth would you teach people to knit for free?
At Stitch London we’ve been teaching people to knit for free since 2006. Our volunteer Stitch Sages (and earlier Stitchettes) have taught hundred of knitters during this time, and all for the love of the knit and the occassional bit of cake. We’re often asked why people offer their free time to keep Stitch London alive. So we thought we’d let our Stitch Sages explain why they love knitting and why they love passing the love of the knit on.
We hope to encourage you to teach others, either with Stitch London or wherever you are.
Giving makes life lovely
Learning to knit is more than just looping a bit of string onto a couple of sticks. In the cases of our Stitch Sage volunteers passing on the love of the knit has built bridges, grown confidence and in sometimes literally changed lives.
If you’ve always been tempted to try out teaching the knit but aren’t too sure, then here’s hoping the stories of these Stitch London Stitch Sages will inspire you.
Taking Stitch Saging overseas
Jenny Willett has taught over 20 people Stitch London meetings since she began Stitch Sage volunteering. Those first little learner loops have helped her go on to some amazing things…
“I volunteered as a Stitch Sage because I enjoy teaching and encouraging others that they can master knitting. It’s really rewarding to enable others to have a sense of achievement and watch their confidence grow.
Stitch LDN has inspired me to volunteer elsewhere, like in Thailand, where I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to organise and run a two-day intensive workshop for almost 30 Burmese refugees. I taught them to knit from scratch, read knitting patterns, signed them up to Ravelry and helped them to access the skills and online resources to teach themselves and make money from their work, as well as make hats to stay warm in the cold mountains and make gifts for friends and family.
I also organised a workshop for 11 girls aged 9-17 at COSA, a refuge for girls who had been victims of sex trafficking. The girls built their confidence and started to teach each other, forming closer bonds through learning to knit. I’m happy to say they’ve kept knitting since.
The best moments of being a Stitch Sage are when I feel I am part of a community that gives back, appreciates each other’s skills and enjoy being creative together. I really believe that crafts and the confidence they foster in people can play a valuable role in repairing damaged self-esteem, building bridges through the alienation caused by sitting in front of a computer all day, to begining to repair some of the damage from the serious trauma some of my students have been through.
Without Stitch LDN and the teaching experience I gained here I never would have had the confidence and experience to pass my skills on to so many who will benefit from them.”
That ‘lightbulb moment’
Penny Stephens is a Stitch Sage and a freelance journalist/editor in the voluntary sector.
“I’ve taught about five people to knit at Stitch London, I think, and I hope they’ve carried on knitting after our meetings. I always wonder.
My granny taught me to knit when I was about seven or eight and I knitted pretty much constantly for about 25 years. Then other things got in the way and I didn’t take it up again until my father was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago. I couldn’t concentrate on reading or anything else, so I went out and bought some wool and needles and started knitting again. I found it a really soothing activity and it really helped me through the next 15 months and stay relatively sane. I’ve never gone back to knitting the complicated lace and aran patterns I used to do, but I’ve probably become a bit more creative in what and how I knit.
I’m happy to pass knitting skills on because it is such a joy to see something grow from nothing and turn into something snuggly to wear or beautiful to look at. I know it’s a struggle for some people at first – waving two sticks around with tangly yarn wound around them isn’t the most natural activity in the world – but when you see that light bulb moment when knitting finally clicks it’s really worthwhile.”
Keeping calm and carrying yarn
Heather Brown has taught a few people to knit when she’s found the time but is keen to teach more and puts why she teaches very simply.
“I have only taught a few people so far, so I don’t have a great tale to tell, but it’s a fantastic thing to be able to share. When things are rubbish at work, knitting is one of the things that calms me down and keeps me going.”
Joining an inspiring creative community and unexpected hugs
Bronagh Miskelly (aka Lapurplepenguin on twitter and Ravelry) began teaching at Stitch London almost as soon as she joined. In her day job she edits a magazine and website for social workers but some days she says she would rather just knit.
“I’ve been a regular at Stitch London for a few months but started volunteering to teach quite quickly so have taught a lot recently, even groups of four who have come along together. I’ve also taught other people over my many years of knitting.
Being a volunteer teacher is about passing on a skill that I really value. I love knitting for many reasons:
- the range of beautiful materials I can work with
- the delight at a project growing; in my case this is often lace where there is something really special as a cloud of delicate fabric sprouts from my needles
- the beautiful and individual items I can create that are personal to me or others
- the relaxing and therapeutic effects
- the fact that it brings me into a community of creative and interesting people who want to share their passions and knowledge
I teach because I want other people to have access to those great experiences and to show that by learning a few techniques a beginner can start to create something that is real – scarf, an iPod cover, a mini sheep. And because I love the joy on a beginner’s face when they achieve an inch or two of “actual knitting”.
It’s hard to pick out a best moment because so often people are excited and wave their knitting like a flag in excitement, but I have been hugged by a returning learner because they’d knitted a gift for a family member since I’d first helped them.”
Making the world a warmer place and commuter space-making
Amy Shannon has taught almost every teaching session she’s been at, including our workshop at Prince Charle’s Garden Party last summer, and helps out with newsletter duties to pass on the Stitch London love too.
“I’d been taught to knit by several kind and well-intentioned people throughout my childhood, but I didn’t start knitting in earnest until the over-fed slump that falls between Christmas and New Year when there was nothing decent on the telly about 2 years ago. I asked my sister to show me how to purl (that had always been my sticking point previously), and I still didn’t get it…until she explained that it was just a knit stitch done back-to-front. Something in my head clicked and I could suddenly see the difference in the way the stitches lay, patterns made sense, the textures of the fibres came alive and my head buzzed with possibilities … only problem was I was still a terrible knitter.
Salvation came in the form of a request from my husband – he wanted a Dr Who scarf – not an authentic Tom Baker one, but something he could wrap around his neck at least 3 times and still have a generous tail. This coincided with a new person who started taking my usual bus to work, a chap with incredible expanding knees that would start off neatly pressed together on his own seat, but would gradually encroach on his neighbours seat until he was sat in a ten-past-ten pose. There was only one solution – I got myself some 14” steel needles, a big bag of assorted yarns and I got knitting. Mr Knees soon ceased to be a problem, my husband got a scarf, I got a new hobby, had a chance to practice until I became not-too-bad, and developed a new form of self-defence.
So what inspired me to become a Stitch Sage? Well, 7 people attempted to teach me to knit, and only one succeeded – it would be bad karma to let their collective efforts go to waste. We all learn in different ways, and what seems logical to one learner may sound utterly insane to another, and I’m more than happy to share my “pretzels and chain mail” interpretation of knitting/martial arts with other off-centre thinkers to learn, and for the amusement of everyone else.
I’d like to make the world a warmer, more patient place, and by knitting I hope I can.”
Retired but stitching up a storm
It’s probably safe to say that Linda Laidlaw has taught more people to knit at Stitch London than any other member. She’s even been known to start teaching early because she just can’t wait.
“I knit every day and what would life be without knitting? Not as good as it is now. I always have some knitting with me, because if you have to spend time waiting for things the time is not wasted.
At Stitch London I have met many people and made good friends. I feel rewarded and wanted, and not just a retired person.
There are people out there who really enjoy learning, though some take longer than others to learn. The joy when they get it is great.
Since starting to teach at Stitch London, I have also recently been teaching for free with a Bangladeshi community in my local area who are grasping it well. None of them have ever knitted before. We have shared cakes and savoury snacks and they appreciated us for giving our time and knowledge. I have taught schoolchildren and many adults, men and women. Even my grandson, age 7, is coming along a treat with his wonky scarf.”
Good memories, a connection to the past and seeing past knitting differences
Clare Tovey has been part of our Stitch Sage team over the last year but has been knitting for quite some time.
“Firstly, I still remember my own excitement the Christmas I opened a parcel to find a lovely cardboard basket containing tiny balls of wool, and pair of gold coloured, 4 year-old Clare-sized knitting needles! I was very keen to learn how to knit, and my Mum taught me the basics – cast on, knit, purl, and cast off, as she had been taught them – not by her own mother, but by a kind American lady on a ferry from the UK to Denmark. More of this later.
Secondly, passing on needlecraft skills and tools is very important to me: the photograph shows my Stitch Sage badges; one of my original gold knitting needles; a pair of green plastic knitting needles that belonged to my Mother (which my Dad had commissioned me to buy on her behalf together with some pink yarn for a baby jacket, when my sister arrived prematurely, and my Mother wanted something to do in hospital); the scissors, silver thimble and very worn red leather case given to me by my Granny (who was a trained tailor) when I was about 8 years old; and a pair of Victorian tatting shuttles which I think belonged to my Great-grandmother. Unfortunately, the knowledge of how to use them was not passed on, so I am planning to learn to use them this year.
Finally, in teaching people to knit, I have learnt that the style of knitting does not really matter, just the the joy of developing skills in making a fabric out of a system of loops! The kind American lady taught my Mother to knit continental style, which she then in turn taught me, which was great, except that my class teacher at junior school thoroughly disapproved of my not knitting English style, and made my life miserable in knitting classes over this.
In fact, I held back from teaching people to knit at Stitch London for sometime because of this teacher’s attitude, and making me feel I was doing something wrong in knitting the way I do. Lauren O’Farrell encouraged me though, and the folks I have taught have been very appreciative, as well, which is very rewarding to see.”
Curing cancer, changing lives and taking over the world
I (Lauren O’Farrell) have been teaching for free and running Stitch London mostly for free (except for occassional advertising funds) for five years. I now run Stitch London as a full-time business on my own, with the teaching help of over 70 signed up Stitch Sage volunteers. This is why I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for five years, and why I’ll continue to do it and encourage everyone to pass the love of the knit on too:
“To me being a Stitch Sage (and running Stitch London) is about offering people who may not be able to afford it or are not sure and don’t want to commit, a taster of a skill I love and have seen change lives. I’m not sure I would have learned if I’d had to pay for official lessons to begin with but I am so glad I was taught by my friends.
Knitting is like holding a magic paintbrush to me. With my needles I can make anything from Godzillas to graffiti. If I can start someone off on that woolly road without asking for anything back, other than that they give it their best, then that’s something to be proud of.
Knitting pulled me through three hard years of cancer treatment (pic above is of me and S&B London co-founder Laura Parkinson, back in the days when we started the group and my hair was growing back at last), and the knitting community that has sprung up around Stitch is one of the most supportive, generous and downright hilarious groups of people I have ever been a part of.
What knitting has given me is a whole new life. Passing that possibility on to a newbie knitter for the love of it, just because I want to and not for any other reason, is a humbling and freeing thing to be able to do. I feel like I’m giving back a bit of the huge amount that has been given to me and offering them a way into one of the best communities I know.
And if it doesn’t change their life like it has mine then at least it’ll keep them in socks. Warm feet are very important too.”
Awwwww. Now I want to teach!
Teaching someone to knit is really easy. Don’t worry about teaching them bad habits or doing something formal. Just get in there and show them how. Everyone ends up knitting a little differently anyway.
Whether you teach a couple of friends, volunteer at Stitch London (we’re always looking for teachers so please volunteer) or go out into the world and teach people in need, do teach. It’s fun, free and gives you a warm fuzzy feeling that could be passed on and on.