Taking a break from tax amendments. A story about unknitting and teaching as an act of deconstruction.

Cat Bordhi, knitting teacher, who died September 19th.

I’m taking a break from politics and taxes today because Anne pointed me to a New York Times obituary of Cat Bordhi (pronounced bord-ee).

Cat Bordhi was a knitter

For a while, so was I. I also taught knitting to my fifth grade art students.

We made our own knitting needles out of wooden dowels, a school pencil sharpener and some sand paper.

Then a little piece of sculpey glued to the other end of the dowel and skeins of yarn I hustled from a Rogers Park knitting store because school yarn was impossible.

I came to knitting in an odd way.

Anne and I were in Cambridge, Massachusetts where her mom was in hospice. I would take some time to wander around Harvard Square.

I walked past a knitting store. Curious, I went in and the two women owners, once they heard I was an art teacher, insisted I teach knitting to my students.

“But I don’t know how to knit,” I smiled.

“No problem, We’ll teach you!”

After a half hour lesson, they handed me needles and a book and sent me on my way like a new recruit to a wooly army.

Reading Cat Bordhi’s obituary I discovered she taught using the idea of forensic knitting.

The ultimate goal is not to accurately reproduce them and “get it right,” although that is acceptable; but to be fortunate enough to misinterpret a challenging texture and in so doing land in new, related territory. The best swatches have been misinterpreted in so many ways that they seem to be on fertility drugs.

Brilliant.

Because looking back, I think I was a forensic art teacher.

Like with first graders.

I handed out swatches of burlap to teach weaving.

But first I taught unweaving, which burlap makes it easy to do.

“Grab a string and pull,” I would say and suddenly the over/under pattern would become clear to my first graders

The “awesome” response was always a good evaluation of my teaching success. Much more effective than any principal observation with rubric and clip board.

More string pulls would create new patterns in the swatches of burlap and more awesomeness.

For the next step I would hand out embroidery needles and colored embroidery floss to weave back in to the burlap, the over/under pattern now nearly a piece of cake.

Without knowing it at the time, it had a name. I was teaching forensic weaving.

Then forensic knitting. Or deconstructed knitting. Unknitting.

Fifth grade knitters would take a piece of knitted material, and grab an end to watch it unwind.

Unknitting made explaining to knit and purl so much easier.

We would spend a couple of sessions knitting in class and then my fifth grade students could knit as long as they wished on their own time, bringing it back to me to help cast off.

I must admit that some stitches were dropped along the way and the finished products took some of the most unusual shapes.

Each class produced a range of knitted shapes as if they were on fertility drugs.

But the take away lesson for me, and I hope for my students, was that teaching and learning often is first of all an act of deconstruction.

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