Thursday, October 16, 2003

teaching others to stitch

I am making slow and steady progress on the afghan in the post-dinner hours, but little reports on this without the assistance of visual aids is getting boring, I think. So I am going to tell you about my trip to Poland in 1998.

I went to teach English as a Second Language to high school students with The Kosciuszko Foundation; I ended up in Tczew [t-cheff], about an hour south of Gdansk. The coolest thing about this area was that it was held by Teutonic Knights from 1308-1466. It passed to Russia in 1772 and was back in Polish hands just after WWI. The students came from all over Poland. Most came to Tczew because it was the closest they would ever be to the sea. And we did spend some time in Sopot and Gdynia for them.

Each day I taught English from 9:00-12:00. Two days a week, I also had to lead two extra-curricular activities. I chose crafts. It was difficult to bring along materials for too many activities so I focused on cross-stitch and crazy quilting. The trip organizer promised me that the students would be proficient needleworkers. Sue Stokes of the Nutmeg Needle gave me chart packs of one of her lacis designs (defintely for intermediates), a fabric company gave me the cuts I needed for the design, and DMC gave me the floss. Also, many wonderful rctn'ers sent me extra fabric, floss, and hoops. I also brought along two "two hour stitching" books. So I set off armed with my knowledge and three pairs of scissors.

You know something's got to go wrong, right? Well, everyone--including the Polish teachers--wanted to learn Sue's piece. And no one had ever held a needle. So here I am, on my first afternoon of teaching the extracurriculars, with about 35 students and 25 chartpacks. I naively ask how many have stitched before. No hands. I tell them they'll have to learn some basics before I will give them the chart, and that they'll have to commit to three weeks in the class. Only a couple decline. I rush back to my room, thankful that someone sent me two yards of 22 count fabric. I "rexo" (xerox--bad I know, but I was desperate) the "ABC" from the chart so everyone has one. We spend the first week with them learning the ABC. After a few hours, about 1/3 of the class--and all the Polish teachers--can't believe how little progress they made. Many drop. I end up with plenty of chartpacks, but still too few scissors.

The wonderful thing about teenagers (and there is something!) is that they don't have the attitude that they can't: don't want to, definitely; but can't, not so much. So, twenty or so young women show up dutifully for three weeks. They all learn how to do each of the steps. They all get the grid for the lacis wrapped. Many of them decide to skip the last day to go to the pool, but they all get to the finishing point. And one girl completes the whole design. I have the best picture of her--she's so proud.

Others were interested in learning, but not in spending three weeks engaged in one project. So I teach another class on smaller projects. I choose three designs out of the "Two Hour" books I brought, regraph them, xerox them [nb: I really don't advocate this, but there was nothing! nothing! else I could do.] and hand them to my dozen or so students. The only trouble they give me is that I have to remind them to ask for the scissors in English. Many resort to making clipping motions with their fingers to avoid it. A couple of students get really into it and borrow the book. The rummage through the floss and fabric and make the designs using the colors they like. It's very refreshing.

On the last day in camp, my duties are over, so I hightail it to Gdansk with some of the other teachers for McDonald's. I know it's disgusting, but sometimes it feels like home. Especially after you've been so disconnected from your own language. The saddest part is that one of the girls who has borrowed the book has a present for me. She leaves before I get back. She's made a trio of teddy bears and has my name below it. I tear up just thinking about it. I can't believe I wasn't there to receive such a fabulous gift.

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