Yesterday I taught my first class at the Pittsburgh Knit, Crochet, & Fiber Festival, and thank goodness, it was a much better experience than my last class!
Since many of you are called on to teach small braided rounds at events such as this, I thought I would share some of the teaching tips that I think made it successful. If you’re not a teacher, these tips will be too detailed and precise to bother reading! I really enjoy figuring out the details, and I lay them all out.
But first, I want to brag about my city a little bit. Yes, I know, I usually can’t bring up Pittsburgh without talking about the lake effect giving us 287 cloud-covered days per year (I still miss the sunshine that I grew up with on the eastern part of the state) …but today I’m going to focus on something good about Pittsburgh.
When people think of Pittsburgh, those of my generation and older grew up thinking of it as a “dirty city.” An older lady told me that after going to school and running outside as a child, she would come home with her white Peter Pan collars gray from the pollution from the steel mills. And many remember how the center city region was always “dark,” because the pollution blocked the sun.
But in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, all of that started to transform. The steel industry in the US was collapsing (surprise: foreign-made steel is much cheaper) and people were losing jobs like crazy. The city was dying. Many families were supported by the steel industry, and now the income-earners were being laid off. As the steel struggled to survive, it was cheaper to have a machine perform a job than an employee, so a lot of the job losses were due to mechanization. Eventually, Pittsburgh eliminated all steel mills from the city (a few still exist just outside the city) and focused on cleaning up and building up its other assets.
Today, the major employers in the city are colleges/universities, the healthcare industry, technology – importantly, green technology — and banking. The U. of Pittburgh Medical Center is the largest private employer in the city (I used to work at one of their hospitals: Magee Womens Hospital). Whatever your political orientation, most people I’ve talked to in Pittsburgh roll their eyes about “bringing back the steel industry” the way Trump talked about when he spoke here – it’s ridiculous. You’d have to first eliminate all the foreign competition, and all of modern automation, to get the well-paid blue collar jobs that people want back again.
In any case, the Pittsburgh Knit Crochet and Fiber festival was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. This is a really cool place. It sits right on the edge of the Allegheny River, and when the 1,500,000 square foot area opened in 2003, it was the largest “green” building in the world. It got a “gold” certification from “LEED,” Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a worldwide rating program developed by the US Green Building Council. Interestingly, 4 states in the US have effectively banned use of LEED certification because those states consider the rating system to be too stringent (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Maine). But, here in Pittsburgh, with our new “clean and green” focus, we like it.
The coolest thing about the convention center is its roof: its curves remind me of white sails that are billowing in the wind. As I drive home from the north hills of Pittsburgh, my route takes me across the Allegheny River and I see the convention center at the river’s edge, with the city’s skyscrapers in the background. My class yesterday was held in one of the rooms off a hallway next to the River, with large glass windows in the hallway slanting diagonally outward over the water.
But now to braiding. Yesterday, I taught 12 women “Skills for Round Rug Braiding.” One of the conference organizers told me that I couldn’t call it a “mug rug” class, because she had found that classes with “mug rug” in their title were “out.” So I focused the class on the fact that when you start a … ahem, coffee mat… you can add more strips and end up with a round chair pad, and with more strips, a room-sized round rug. I think it’s a good point, and there was one student who decided not to finish her coffee mat, but bought 1.5 yards of fabric and said she would add on strips and continue braiding.
Some of my tips for teaching this 2.5 hour class:
Kit prep. The kit contains: 3 strips of wool, each 72” long, and pre-pressed and rolled up. The 3 strands are sewn into a T-start, all of which I do on a machine because otherwise it’s too tedious. I include 80” of lacing thread wrapped on a cardboard spool that I cut from pretty cardboard tissue boxes. When I teach at other venues, I also include a #16 tapestry needle, a clothespin clamp, a safety pin for marking the row change site, and a plastic 6” ruler cut from gridded template plastic (for measuring fringe). And a handout.
The pre-pressing is really critical, and really awful. It’s terribly time-consuming, but the hardest step to braiding is getting those raw side edges folded inward. I’ve thought of just having people borrow braid-aids, but I make up so many kits ahead of time and with the T-starts already sewn… the braid aids would have to be on the strips already. If I have 30 kits ready, I’d have to have 30 sets of braid aids… that’s a lot of money hanging out in a box for my next class. So… I pre-press.
Teaching Steps. The first thing I do is NOT to start with the double corners in a round. Instead, I have students: 1. Make the initial flip-turn to get all of the strands facing left and, 2. Straight braid for 6-8”. I have found that orienting people to straight braiding, correcting all of the plait-ers, and tightening up the too-loosies, is necessary. Warn people not to go to far, though, or there’s always someone who will braid the entire length while you’re not looking, and they get mad when they have to unbraid the whole thing.
3. Practice braiding the right-right-left double corners. 4. Unbraid back to the Start, make the flip-turn, and then make 5 double corners. 5. Straight braid to the end. 6. Put a Row Change Marker safety pin horizontally through the second outside loop of the 5th double corner (loop #10 on the outside of the braid).
7. Lacing. Everyone laces a round center differently, but what I do is to bury the knot in the 5th inside loop, and then lace a draw-string through the flip at the Start and the next 6 loops. This takes them around the center and 2 loops beyond the initial loop where the knot was buried. After tightening, they can then start lacing back and forth between the outside loops of Row 1 and the inside loops of Row 2.
Two tips for this process: a. I don’t express row counts in terms of 9’s and its multiples, as those who are experienced braiders do. When talking to experienced braiders, I say that Row 1 is 9 loops and Row 2 is 18 and Row 3 is 27… this is the standard for butted rows, certainly, but we’re teaching a continuous round. I thought it would be easier for beginners to understand if Row 1 were 10 loops, Row 2 were 20 loops, Row 3 were 30, and on up logically like that. I braided a chair pad based on a row-change marker at loop #10 and changing my lacing style (skip every 3rd loop in Row 3… to skip every 4th loop in Row 4) at the 10-loop row change. It worked just fine – no rippling. So, because it’s easier to comprehend, I’m changing to rows of 10’s for beginners.
b. I found there was a little greater comprehension of the correct direction for the needle to lace under loops if I changed how I described it. I used to describe it as coming down from the rug and up from the new braid, but students always mixed up which part was up and which was down. Then I tried describing it as “into the crevice between the rug and the new braid”, which helped orient people because “into the crevice” described the direction without saying up or down. Yesterday I tried saying, “lace from the inside OUT and from the outside IN,” and I think I had a little more comprehension than usual. So I’m going to stick with that.
8. Finishing. It’s not possible to also teach a taper in 2.5 hours. So, I finish by wrapping the braid 10 times with lacing thread, turning to the back of the work, lacing once under a few of the wraps, and tying a knot between a loop of not-pulled-all-the-way-through-lacing thread and the end of the lacing thread. Trim the ends. Unbraid back to the wraps, and fringe the strands. I do try to make time to demonstrate a taper.
Finally, I have chair pad kits for purchase that are fabric only: three, ½ yard pieces of wool and wool blends, torn selvage to selvage, with snips every 1.5 inches for tearing, which will result in 12 strips of each of three colors. I thought about putting all of the accessories (table clamp, hemostat, braidkin, braid aids, lacing cord, etc) in a kit, but it became too expensive, and some people have one item or another already. So I sold everything individually and students chose what they wanted.
I was so pleased: a few of my students went and told one of the conference organizers that I was a great teacher and please have me back for next year! What a relief after all the frustration when I taught in Harrisburg and had that awful woman I wouldn’t fit into the class rant about me to everyone. After the class, I signed up for a soap-making class for me and my braid-buddy Wanda this afternoon, and the organizer gave me a discount on the cost of the class as a thank-you for being a good teacher. How nice!