It was not surprising that a few students straggled into the Top Down Sock 101 class late, since it was the first session Vogue Knitting LIVE weekend in New York and many attendees were coming in from out of town. Toronto resident and sock expert Kate Atherley took it in stride. "Welcome! Come sit over here. I just need you to cast on 24 stitches and we are joining them in the round. You'll catch up."
Atherley had a way of making the students feel that they belonged in the class, not because everyone needed help making socks, but because everyone could walk away from the class feeling like their fee was a true investment in both the education and the teacher-student relationship. "These are from my sock drawer," said Atherley, holding up two piles of socks that were split-in-half pairs to send around the room in two directions. Everyone in the class, whether they wanted to or not, pictured a giant, beautiful drawer of nothing but colorful hand-knitted socks. "If you are allergic to dogs, some of them may have a dog hair or two; she is cute, but she sheds."
The students were asked to bring worsted-weight yarn and comparable needles to the class so they could make a sock during the three-hour session. Their first sock contained every basic sock element to practice so the lessons could be translated to larger socks at a later time. Atherley referred to the project as both a practice sock and a sandbox, using the metaphor to remind her students that class and practice is just play, with no damage done if a mistake is made. The students also left the class with three free sock patterns, including both a sock-weight and a worsted-weight basic sock. The third pattern was for the training sock, so students did not have to write everything down as the class progressed; they could just knit.
One challenge many instructors face is that there are students in the class from every skill and experience level, but Atherley treats this issue like a non-issue. Her goal was to make sure everyone left her class with the knowledge to knit a top-down sock, and she repeatedly and consistently checked every individual student's work and asked for a group-wide update to ensure nobody was left behind. "I haven't knitted in about thirty years," said a student in the front of the room. Atherley used the analogy of riding a bike, but took it a step further. "Yes it does come back to you just like riding a bike, but it is also like riding a bike in the sense that at first, things are just a bit wobbly."
Humor kept many of the students from becoming frustrated, which is a common reaction to getting used to knitting on double-pointed needles. When a student asked how to know when she was at the beginning of a round, Atherley demonstrated using the tail as your marker, and then showed the students how a non-clip stitch marker will take a flying leap off of a double-pointed needle if an attempt to use it is made. "Everyone is quiet all of a sudden," she said at one point when everyone was knitting. "I want to just make sure it is a 'good' quiet, and not silent weeping."
When asked as a group if anyone had knitted socks before, a few students reluctantly raised their hands. One student said she started a pair of socks and then said to herself, "I think I need someone to help me," so she signed up for Atherley's class. By the halfway point of the session, she had completed the heel turn without any individual help. "Give yourselves a pat on the back," said Atherley. "Because that was supposedly the most difficult part about making a sock!"
Atherley's engaging, almost theatrical but completely genuine delivery of her lessons can make even the most reluctant of sock knitters look forward to the heel turn. For now, though, at least one room full of students at the New York Marriott Marquis is patting themselves on the back, thanks to their instructor, and they were able to leave the class knowing that if they can make a practice sock, they can make an entire pair, heel turn and all.
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