Alison McKie is a former lawyer and now a Knitting For All teacher in Glasgow. As well as teaching children at her regular Kids Knit classes, she also helps a group of deafblind adults to knit.
Deafblind Scotland is a charity that supports the needs of deafblind adults at their national centre in Kirkintilloch. Their aim is to enable deafblind people to live as rightful members of their own communities, campaigning for the rights of the deafblind people and providing a range of services, support, training and information.
When the charity contacted Alison to ask if she would be interested in teaching knitting and crochet to a small group of deaf blind people, she was delighted. With plenty of experience of working with a variety of groups previously, she was confident she could offer them something that they would enjoy. However, initially she was wondered how she would be able to communicate with them.
“I was assured the guide who was with them would help with communication, and am happy to say I needn’t have worried. Almost everyone has their own guide, (and yes, there is one guide dog there too, who sits quietly in the corner) and I just talk normally!”
Many people who attend Alison’s group have had some knitting and crochet experience in the past and she was struck by the beauty of their work and their keen desire to learn new skills.
“It is inspiring to see how people overcome their difficulties and focus on their abilities, not disabilities. One thing I have noticed is that folks’ tension is often excellent – and I am sure this is because their sense of touch is finely honed.”
When Alison meets a new member of the group, she takes the time to find out a little about them, what knitting experience they already have and what they hope to gain from the group. Some people bring an existing project with them, and they often have ideas of what they want to learn and the skills they’d like to improve upon.
“I was asked to run my classes as I normally would when facilitating an adult group of knitters, and I do. We use Rowan wool – Pure Wool Worsted for the finer projects, and Big Wool for the chunkier projects. The latter is very popular as it is a great yarn to use if you are working largely by touch. Also, its vibrant colours appeal to those with limited sight. We make some soft toys – I have a popular Knitting For All pattern for a teddy, and one of the members has produced a number of “Trauma Teddies” – a similar teddy bear pattern. Hats, scarves and fingerless gloves in Rowan Big Wool have also been popular, and one member is knitting hats for the homeless. It is heartwarming to see dual-sensory impaired people knitting for good causes – again another example of focussing on what you have, not what you don’t have.”
Both the participants and guides in the group almost always know each other from previous events and activities they have attended.
“There is always lots of chatter both verbally and, simultaneously, signed. As a result it is a very friendly group and the social aspect is every bit as important as the knitting (as in all knitting groups.) I have begun to pick up a smattering of British Sign Language, and am grateful to the guide who taught me how to sign the numbers 11-20, having worked out myself how to do 1-10!”
The programme is a huge success and Alison is already making preparations for her third year of classes in 2020.
Gillian Mooney, the Development Officer at Deafblind Scotland says “Deafblindness is a very isolating condition which can cause extreme loneliness. The weekly knitting class has enabled deafblind people the opportunity to enjoy friendship through the shared experience of learning the skill of knitting. More importantly the classes have given our members something to look forward to each week which gets them out their house, meeting new people and experiencing a sense of achievement from the items they make. One member commented that she ‘tried to learn knitting at school and I couldn’t do it. I’m so proud of myself after one session I can knit. I’m going to knit a cover for hot things (drinks, kettle). I’m so proud of myself. I can do it.’ The classes have had a huge impact on our members wellbeing.”
If you like the idea of sharing your knitting skills in diverse and varied settings, please get in touch with us at Knitting For All. We are always keen to recruit capable and enthusiastic knitting teachers so that we can further spread the message that knitting is indeed for all.