Teaching Kids to Knit: Serve up a Fiber Feast
Do you find yourself regularly comparing yarn to food like I do? You might think it a bit odd, but I’ve found that food is a good analogy for talking with children about fiber appreciation.
I start my courses by serving a fiber feast—we play with swatches while the students develop their preferences and palates. Beginning this way tames nerves and that pervasive pressure to perform and establishes a positive, calming group culture that builds trust in you as the teacher. It’s as if you picked the best-of your local yarn shop or fiber festival for them to explore. Who wouldn’t love that?
- 5-8 swatches in a variety of fibers (You can use yarn from your stash, even swatches from past projects.)
- Samples of knitted objects that include different stitch patterns (I bring a sampler blanket.)
- Undyed wool roving and dyed wool roving
Let’s Get This Party Started
Break the ice. Children are often nervous when class starts, especially if they’re surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Start by talking about why you love to knit, and then ask each child to share why they wanted to learn to knit. You’ll be pleased to know many join because their grandmas knit.
Time-travel. Kids love to see handknits from another time. Show them a photo of this 1,700-year-old sock from Egypt to talk about how knitting has been around for centuries! It provides a connection to history and invites them to imagine someone finding their knits thousands of years from now.
Activity Idea: Field trip. Indulge kids’ curiosity about Egypt with a quick virtual visit to the British Museum. Or, if teaching children in your family, shift gears and set up a mini exhibit of your knitting and invite children to try things on and take pictures with your knits. Turn those pictures into a “Museum Visit” photo book or bulletin board to preserve this celebration of your knitwear!
Feel the fabrics. Ask your students if they know what fibers they are wearing. You can help them guess and then let them learn about different fibers by feeling swatches or yarn samples in merino, cotton, acrylic, alpaca, mohair, cashmere, and—if you have some—angora rabbit (the crowd pleaser). Ask, “How do the fabrics feel?” and “Which swatches do you like the best and why?” See if they notice the textures and halo of various fibers.
Activity idea: Create cotton centerpieces. So much of our clothing is made from cotton. Show them the way cotton looks on a stem and invite them to play with the cotton or to create simple dried flower arrangements featuring cotton. Recycle cans or mason jars and wrap them in cotton fabrics for added color.
The wonder of wool. Discuss the types of fiber members of the group are wearing. Notice if they are synthetic or natural. When you connect children to the origins of their own clothes, they learn to appreciate the work that went into making them and they look at stitches in a new light. Next, talk about the sources of fiber. Children often appreciate knowing that humans have a symbiotic relationship with animals who provide fiber.
I provide yarn that I believe was sourced humanely. You can learn more about this from wool advocate, Clara Parkes.
Activity idea: Fall in love with sheep. What could be more fun than watching this Kristy Glass Knits video of her visit to Rettir where she and designer Stephen West frolic with countless sheep in Iceland? Share videos like this with children and invite them to imagine working to corral sheep for the cold winter. If possible, take a trip to a local farm.
Time to twist. Give each student a small piece of roving, either dyed or undyed. Some kids automatically start pulling and twisting it. If you’re a spinner, this would be a good time to demonstrate spinning—with a wheel or a drop spindle. The kids often enjoy seeing how stretchy the wool is and getting a feeling for fiber in its raw form.
Activity Idea: Lather up! Young children love playing with slippery sudsy soap. Purchase some wool roving and create felted soaps.
Present knitting examples. To connect the fabric to creation, I show the students a sampler blanket, but you could use anything that shows a variety of stitch patterns, including photos in a book. Take time to explain that all of these stitches have been developed by humans around the world over hundreds of years using just two stitches, knit and purl, as their foundation.
Finally, explain that the sampler blanket was essentially knit with one long piece of yarn. Ask the kids to imagine what might happen if they were to cut it in one tiny spot to understand that it would unravel, which paves the way to teach about weaving in ends later.
Activity idea: Research yarns at your local yarn shop. Arrange a store tour with your local yarn shop. Create a little scavenger hunt card to prompt each child to identify different yarns like: a bulky yarn, a hand-dyed yarn, a yarn that does not come from sheep, and so on. Be mindful that inviting young fiber lovers to a shop could lead to a desire to shop and plan accordingly!
I can’t wait to hear about your fiber fêtes!
Teaching notes: If you’re teaching an in-person group, keep it small—no more than six students—and plan to have at least an hour, if not 90 minutes, of un-interrupted, screen-free time. Kids should ideally be at least 8 years old to have the fine motor skills needed, but these fiber appreciation lessons can start at age 5. Many of the activities are well-suited to online teaching, too.