The Dreaded LHKRPTSD (Left-Handed Knitting-Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
When I was 12, in grade 7, I had to take a class called Crafts, that nearly turned me off string forever. Sadly, the teacher didn’t “believe in” left-handed (aka backwards) knitting.
Now, as a craft teacher myself, I look back on that class and wonder if it would be even be possible to do a worse job of teaching a bunch of kids the joys of needlework. It took me 37 years to even try to learn to knit again. Thank Habetrot, she didn’t try to teach me crochet! Teaching an opposite-handed beginner to do yarn-craft takes a little extra work but it can be done very successfully.
Worst. Craft Teacher. Ever.
So back to 1978. 12 year old me would be knitting along on my 12 inch teddy bear, using horrible, scratchy, blue, variegated acrylic, when she would sneak up behind me. Quick as a snake, she’d smack the back of my hand with a knitting needle, rip several rows of the knitting out, turn the whole mess around, and tell me to “knit properly, not backwards”.
Now, I probably could have learned to knit right-handed, but my sense of justice would not allow it. Everyone else finished their bears in a reasonable amount of time, but we continued to struggle over mine for the whole term. Neither of us would give in.
In the end she did let me finish when the term was ending. At the end of the last class, I walked out last, made sure she was looking, and ostentatiously dropped that damned bear in her garbage can on my way out.
Teacher! Leave those lefties alone!
These days, it’s unusual to run into this attitude so openly, but it was once common. My mother was a lefty who was forced to switch to her right hand in school. (Then she developed polio in her right arm, had to switch back to her left hand, before recovering and being forced to switch back to her right hand again! It left her with the most illegible handwriting I have ever seen.) But many right-handed handwork instructors are still somewhat at a loss when faced with a left-handed student.
My Time Tested Teaching Technique
So here is my technique. It really works well, I promise you.
First of all, I should mention that if you are a left handed student who can find a left handed teacher, do that. If for no other reason then for the bond that two lefties seem to always feel in a right-handed world. That is one reason that I specialize in teaching left-handed students. But if you are a teacher in an opposite-handed situation, like I usually am, then…
Sit across from your opposite-handed student, knee to knee ideally. This is going to require some hand-over-hand guidance. Always remember to ask permission before touching a students hands! (See picture at the top. I am teaching a student tapestry weaving face to face.)
Demonstrate the motions with your correct hand, but reversed. Let me explain, using crochet as an example.
I always start with the slip knot and chaining. The basic moves are wrapping your non-dominant hand, while holding the working yarn below the stitch with the thumb and second finger and taking the hook into your dominant hand. Then yarning over and pulling through the first loop (the slip stitch) . Then repeating over and over and over until it’s super easy. Yarn over, pull through, yarn over pull through.
The difficult part to demonstrate is the yarning over. Normally one goes under the working thread in a scooping motion, turns the hook down towards oneself, pulls through the loop, and rotates the hook back into the upright position by turning it away from yourself.
For an opposite-handed student reverse this so that it looks correct from their point of view. Go over the yarn, scoop the yarn, rotate the hook down away from yourself, pull through the loop on the hook and rotate the hook back upright, by turning it towards yourself.
Practice this a bit alone first, it’s awkward but doable. I prefer to use this technique rather then struggle to crochet right-handed because once they have the hook in their hands I find the hand-over-hand guidance is best done with my most skilled motions.
This technique lets me teach an opposite-handed student face to face, showing them how the movement work correctly from their point of view, and lets me observe and guide their motions closely. I have found that hand-over-hand (or sometimes hand-under-hand) teaching is far more effective then just demonstrating and the student copying is.
Teaching handwork is teaching the hands.
For one thing, most of the learning and teaching happens with the hook in the new crafter’s hands. Teaching handwork is just that, teaching the hands. Handwork is not really a verbal skill, you need to feel it when it’s right. At some point the motion will just feel correct, it’s almost like it clicks into focus. I do not know what is happening in the brain but I do know it is not happening in a verbal part of the brain. The feeling is impossible to describe but when you are helping to manipulate someone’s hands into the right movements, both the student and teacher can feel that click. It really is magical.
Craft is best taught, not from in front of a class but intimately, one on one. Hands teaching hands, and eyes meeting eyes; with talk, laughter, tea, breaks, and lots of praise for each small success to sooth the frustrations that are inevitably part of learning a new hand skill.
If it works with toddlers it’ll work with anyone
I suppose this style of teaching comes naturally to me. I have spent over 20 years working with preschoolers; mostly infants, toddlers, and kids who have special needs and developmental delays. In fact, it was very rare for me to work with anyone who could speak! So now I still teach the same way, with lots of friendly talk (I always modelled speech and with non-verbal kids I learned not to need much response!), a very warm style, with gentle touch, lots of patience, a slow comfortable pace, and friendly respectful hands touching hands.
Respect The Hands.
I do have one very important caution. Someone letting you touch their hands is a profound act of courage and trust, so treat it like the precious gift it is.
No one is obliged to let anyone touch them, and if your student seems uncomfortable at all take your hands away. You can teach with demonstration and verbal instructions only, and you should if your student would be more comfortable that way. In any event, use touch only the minimum that is needed. The goal is for the new crafter to become comfortable with the motions in their own hands.
I cannot repeat this enough; Be Respectful!
I facilitate and teach in a drop-in art/craft program on a centre for adults with mental health issues which is lucky for me. It has given me many many opportunities to learn exactly how to help nervous beginners become comfortable, successful, and mindful with their chosen string craft.
I am very privileged to be able to share something that is so powerful and healing, not just for the students, but for me too. I hope string things may bring each of you the same blessings!
With all of my love,
Baba Stringthings (aka Renata from Winnipeg)
PS. Please let me know if you liked this post. Or not! I hope to hear from you and hear your thoughts and experiences with opposite-hand teaching and learning. I’d love to hear from fellow lefties too!
PPS. Here, as promised, is a link to my Pinterest Board of Weaving Goddesses. Habetrot and her Sisters can be found here. Enjoy 🙂