“Handwork” or, as we say here, “stuff to do.”

Using a needle threader, which she also taught her older sister to do.

Tonight, Ms 6yo Z asked if we could “do stuff in the basement.” She explained saying that she wanted to, “you know, knit and weave and sew and stuff.” On Saturday evening, her 10yo sister and her and I sat downstairs and, well, cross-stitched and sewed and wove and stuff. Apparently, it made quite an impression because she was asking to do more of it. Later on, she referred to it as “girl time”, which isn’t entirely correct because her dad was the one who actually taught her how to cross-stitch even though he didn’t participate in the memorable and aforementioned Saturday night session beyond the periodic check in on how everyone was doing.

The girls have been knitting (the older on bamboo needles and the younger on her own fingers) for a while now. They even gave me a handmade coffee press “cozy” this Christmas, which has worked a charm. Plus, it has the added bonus of being a team project, each member of the team working at their level to contribute. (The younger finger knitted the “sash” while the older one knitted the larger piece with needles.)

A French press cozie. Handmade.

One of 10yo A’s gifts Christmas gifts this year (from her cousin) was an embroidery kit and soon thereafter we got her a “beginner loom” for her birthday. Her little sister has been hot on her heels with the cross-stitch and pulling out her finger knitting and even trying her hand at embroidery with materials her sister lent her. In the first week of the new year, we spent a few evenings, huddled together in the family room, listening to music doing these various needle-centric activities (and, at least one evening, two of us learned a new board game that had been another holiday season gift).

My own desire to knit has been re-kindled as the girls rummage through my materials and notions. I picked up my needles right before Christmas and have been working on my own first pair of socks. I’m using a lovely wool “Happy Feet”. At a local yarn store, an employee introduced me to the idea of “magic loop” knitting, which basically uses a modern materials advancements (ie plastics mean it’s possible to have two needles attached to each other with a long, flexible “wire”) to knitters to knit back and forth to create a tube (like a sock or hat) rather than using four needles to knit around in a circle. They had me at “magic”. I “magic loop” knitted the first one and, initially “just for kicks” am now doing regular old double-pointed needle knitting on the second one.

Weaving, which I do not think her FitBit calculates as “activity time.”

I’ve only finished the cuff of the second one but I’ve already decided that I prefer using four double pointed needles over “magic loop”. At first, magic loop seemed really fantastic. It felt faster and less “fiddly” than having to negotiate using four needles simultaneously with only two hands. But now, having used these lovely chiao goo metal double pointed needles, I definitely prefer the double pointed needles. I used to be intimidated by metal and by double pointed needles; the metal can be so slippery, if you’re not careful you can lose stitches or even drop a whole needle-full. But I think that’s why I prefer the metal double pointed needles: I’m forced to focus and be careful. But there are also built in opportunities to double check work three times each row as I switch needles. So the going is much slower. But the pay-off is that I have fewer mistakes, I think my tension is more consistent, and, perhaps most importantly, all that focus and attention to what I am doing makes it more enjoyable. And I think that, as we have our “girl time”, my kids also pick up on my focus and attention to this task. And vice versa. I think I’ve learned about the value in opting for the more challenging option that requires more focus — sometimes over the faster option — from watching them.

These are just a few of the types of lessons and learning that go on when we pick up our needles. Of course, there are the obvious fine-motor skills they are strengthening. (Did you know there are thirty muscles in the hands and fore-arms?) Also, on A’s loom, she is learning basic physics and engineering, not to mention all the specific vocabulary words associated with each craft. They are constantly comparing and contrasting the different tools and construction involved in each. And they are starting to get into planning bigger projects and seeing them through to the end. (See the picture above of their Christmas present.) They have to work with numbers, measuring yarn and deciding on the lengths and sizes of things they are making. Sometimes there’s even a little multiplication and division involved. And it truly is gratifying to watch them complete projects, knowing that they can create things with their own hands. They chat or listen to podcasts while doing these “tasks” (which are so much more than that word suggests). Sometimes they teach each other things or just enjoy each other’s quiet, comforting focus. On Saturday, Z sat at the sewing machine and did a few straight lines on her own for the first time. It might not seem like much is going on, but there’s achievement in there.

Tonight, I picked up my sock and double pointed needles, A cast on a few stitches for Z to make her first go on two bamboo needles. Z made a good go of it, but then decided to return to the comfort (and rapid progress) of finger knitting. I tried to offer her a few encouraging words about trying the needles, but she knows where she is and what she needs. She quickly had a few feet of finger knitted yarn. “Look how much I did!” she exclaimed as she held it up. A was planning on doing some weaving, but she pulled out her book log instead. I suspect she was writing up her thoughts on The Hunger Games (which will, no doubt, include her opinion that Suzanne Collins went a “little heavy on the romance) with Adele (her choice) playing in the background. Dear reader, I do not intend to make you jealous with this vignette, but if you are, I can assure you, you need not be. There’s nothing “special” or unique about our family or our situation that allows us to have evenings like this. As GK Chesterton said, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.”

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