her to knit," her mother told me, "But she says she wants to learn."
I wasn't going to write about this because I didn't have the permission of the girl involved. I didn't have the permission of her friends or the other people involved either. I do now.
And that matters.
The girl in question is blind. She apparently has some sense of light and dark but that is all.
Her mother can't knit but she enjoys other crafts. Mother and daughter went to a woolly event recently. I was there. We met and later her mother asked if I would teach her daughter and two other girls to knit. The other two girls have intellectual disabilities and some manual dexterity issues. All three were on a school holiday art and craft program. The organiser was struggling to find something R... (who has the vision impairment) could do and something that might engage the interest of the other two.
I swallowed hard and said I would try - and I knew that failure was not an option.
R... is of at least a little above average intelligence. She's a really lovely girl who has, according to her mother, "tried everything".
"If you don't know where to start then show me and I'll help," her mother said.
No. If we were going to do it we would do it in a way that R...and I felt comfortable with.
I suspected R...would really make an effort but she still needed a small project she could finish quickly for her first attempt. The other two also needed a small project for the same reason. I made inquiries about the Downunder passion for sport and which football teams they support. Simple, they all support the same one...navy, red and gold colours.
I hunted out a pair of very large needles I have and some thick cotton cord. I also took along smaller needles and thick, but not too thick, wool in the right colours. I made what I planned they should make.
Teaching R... was an experience. I first got her to feel what she was going to make. Then I had her explore the large needles and the cord. The other two were keener to start than I thought they might be. For them I decided to cast on the stitches. If they managed to learn to make a stitch we would have achieved something. But R... wanted to know how to start as well.
I showed her on the large needles, getting her to use her fingers to follow the cord around. I went back to the other two while she was doing it and then saw that she had tried to cast on a stitch. I guided her fingers through it again. She made another attempt. We tried again...and again....and again. Eventually yes she did it. Five stitches was all she needed. Then we went through the process of making a stitch. I had to be conscious of the fact that her experiences of the terms "over", "under", around" and "through" would be different from mine.
That was as far as we got on the first day. Achievement? Yes, I think so.
The other two had done two uneven rows by then - with a lot of help. They wanted to go on.
R....was absolutely determined to go on. Yes, I told her, I would be back tomorrow.
We went through the same process the next day.
"So I remember," she told me. Fair enough. She had remembered but it was still awkward. I told her we had limited time but now that she knew someone else could help if she wanted to cast on again, "But make sure they let you do it because you can," I told her.
We went on to the knit stitch. Again I had her feel her way around the big needles so she knew what she needed to do on the smaller needles.
"Relax," I told her, "You know you can do it and it will be much easier if you relax."
She managed four rows - a mere twenty stitches but an entire garment of concentration.
I helped the other two change colours. Their work was knitting of a sort. It wasn't wonderful but they were achieving something even if I had to put the stitches back on the needles and sort out the tangles and more.
R....had no tangles. She felt each row as she finished it. Five stitches meant five "overs" she could feel each time. The third day meant a few more rows...and some frustration when she accidentally pulled the entire row out. Helping her to pick up the stitches (because she had to do it herself) nearly reduced me to tears of frustration for her but we got there.
Trying to explain to the other two how to count rows was too much for them. They were taking in about as much as they could hope to achieve. We measured their knitting instead - 5cms and they could change colour.
R...could learn to count the rows by feel I decided - and she did. First feel for the "right" side and then feel for the ridges. I gave her a piece of card I had cut with a notch at 5cms. How many rows to the notch? Change colour when she reached it? We were in business.
Her mother turned up on the third day and asked me for some instructions she could put into Braille. I said R....should do it herself and that I would see them tomorrow. It was tonight's homework. Her mother hesitated but I said,
"If R....writes them she will remember them."
R.... got her own back by telling me, "You need to read it then, not Mum."
And yes, I checked her work - and told her she had a spelling error.
My ability to read Braille is very limited. I have forgotten the contractions but I can remember enough to do that.
On the fourth day we changed colours - twice. R...told me that there was a different feel to the darkest colour. She was counting rows and stitches. When she lost a stitch she persisted until she had it back on the needle.
On the fifth day she had knitted the 15cms of 5 stitch rows in three different colours. I taught her how to take the stitches off the needle by threading the yarn through with a very large wool needle she managed to thread herself. That was something she had done before under her mother's tuition.
We tied the ends off because there was no time left to learn more. The other two tied their ends off as well. Their work was not nearly as neat but they were pleased with themselves and I was pleased for them. R..s mother sewed the ends together for everyone at the end of the session.
But R....? Pleased with herself? Yes, I think so. Wanted to try more? Absolutely.
Now that she has the basics someone else will help her do some more. She has her football bangle. Now she is going to make a cover for her phone.
Soon she will be covering herself.
Her work isn't perfect but it is better than most beginners.