Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Musings on My Current Class…

I’m finishing a sweater class right now at my LYS. I sweated over the class instructions for literally months, re-writing, editing, changing and re-writing yet again. Mostly because this class isn’t supposed to teach students how to make a single sweater pattern. No, this one is titled “Knitting to Fit” and is designed to show knitters how to modify a design or design a well-fitting sweater for themselves.

There are nine of us in the class, including me. We’re in all sizes; even the three or four of us who have a petite height and frame have widely-varying measurements. Including those who wear exactly the same size! Our body types are different, ranging from oval to hourglass to triangle to rectangular. And most of the class members are making different types of sweaters, ranging from set-in sleeves to raglan and yoked styles. A couple are going bottom-up, most top-down. Most are using wool or wool blends – one chose cotton. It’s definitely a challenge for the instructor!

Just to keep it interesting (I know I’m nuts), I set myself a task for the class, too. I’m using three-ply handspun Blue-faced Leicester in a fingering weight – about 2000 yards per pound – in natural gray-taupe and some white that I space-dyed at the roving stage. I’ve made several raglan or yoked sweaters from the top down for the grandkids, but not for myself, so that’s my challenge – a yoked/raglan combo sweater knitted on size 3 needles. I finished it up this weekend, and love it! It fits beautifully, and shows me as well as the class members that knitting, done properly, is indeed a beautiful thing!

Needless to say, we’ve made extensive use of reference materials in this class. I’ve been lugging a box of books by Zimmerman, Walker, Righetti, Gibson-Roberts and others to each class, and using them. Class members have purchased their favorites to use, as well. Several years back, by using bits and pieces from each of these knitting icons, I finally learned to make a sweater that fits well, not only for myself, but for anyone else I could measure. And that’s what I’ve tried to communicate to my students.

The knitting is almost incidental to this class, in a way. Learning about the different body types and what looks good on them, learning measuring and shaping techniques, discovering how to control your knitting and trust your instincts, planning your knitting and how to make a useful swatch are the most important things. Techniques for set-in sleeves that are knitted from the shoulder down, re-figuring raglan lines, learning provisional cast-ons and learning to incorporate stitch patterns into shaping options are second in importance. Doing the actual knitting is almost anticlimactic.

So why is everyone making a sweater rather than a single enormous swatch? Because nothing teaches like a successful project. Besides, swatches that go on forever are…well, boring…even if they are terribly useful! Part of making a sweater is falling in love with it - choosing the yarn and needles, choosing the fabric you want to make, transferring the measurements you have to the garment you want to make, knowing how to modify details so that you can change a shawl collar to a ribbed band without anguish. And all of that is much more fun to do in full-size rather than in miniature.

Could I have chosen a single sweater style (perhaps a set-in sleeve, fitted style with princess lines), designed the sweater and the pattern, and taught how to modify it? Yes, and I considered that. But I eventually decided against it, because my aim for this class is for everyone to make a sweater that they love. And not everyone likes to wear set-in sleeves and fitted, princess lines.

Did I perhaps bite off more than I can possibly chew? Perhaps. Although so far (seven sessions into the eight of the class), I don’t believe so. What I was hoping for is happening instead. Knitters are making different sweater styles, and are helping and learning from one another. Only one knitter chose to use a pattern – everyone else is designing their own sweater! This class is proving what I’ve always known about fiber folks – they’re unfailingly generous with their time, their expertise and their encouragement, and much, much smarter than they think they are!

This is indeed turning out to be a very successful class. As I hoped, my students now feel empowered to change whatever they like in a knitted design, with confidence that they won’t encounter any problems that can’t be solved with a bit of ingenuity, a willingness to rip as needed, and asking questions of other knitters! They have also gained the confidence to design and make their very own garments, which is a wonderful bonus. I’ve loved this class, and hope to do many more like it!