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Archive for March 10th, 2010

Learn to Knit by Touch

March 10th, 2010

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Today’s guest post is by Nancy, our webmaster, who has spearheaded Lion Brand’s efforts to provide access to our patterns and resources for blind and visually impaired knitters and crocheters.

I’m the webmaster at Lion Brand and I want to make sure that everyone who wants to use our website is able to do so.

If you are not blind, you may have assumed that knitting is a hobby only for the sighted.   But, what is the first thing anyone says about a nice piece of work?  They say “Oh, that is so beautiful!  Can I touch it?”

Knitting can be done by touch and is a popular hobby among those who are visually impaired. So, to make sure that our website works as well for those who are not sighted as for those who are, even though I’m a “sightling,” I participate in several Internet groups composed of visually-impaired people who knit or crochet. Many of our customers have commented on the clarity of explanation on the Lion Brand website; much of the credit goes to my Internet friends who have patiently explained to me what does and does not work on a website when the visitor cannot see.

A month or so ago, Davey Hulse, one of the members of the “BlindStitchers” Google group mentioned that he had written a book on how to knit because he’d found the beginning knitting texts so frustrating. I asked him for a review copy of The Touch of Yarn and was delighted to find that Davey is not only an unusually good knitter; he has written an unusually good book.

Lion Brand has long offered all free patterns in both large type and braille format.  It seemed a natural extension to offer a book in the same way. The Touch of Yarn is the first downloadable book that we’ve ever offered and it is available both in Braille Ready Format (.brf) and in large type format (.pdf). As far as I know, we are the only yarn company to ever have done so.

But the book is not only for those who cannot see!

The Touch of Yarn is a beginning knitting primer that offers thorough explanations of each step in knitting.  The step-by-step instructions describe every movement, hand position and what the step should look like, making it appropriate for both sighted and non-sighted knitters.  The author says:

I want your experience to be better than mine was from the first day you pick up your first set of knitting needles, those strange little pointy sticks. I don’t want you to be one of the sad and frustrated people that try with confusing or unclear instructions and wind up throwing the whole wad of needles, tangled yarn and, dare I say it — painfully awful knitting — into a bag and giving it to a thrift store, like I almost did. There is no reason for it…now!

This book is designed to be what I wish I had had when I started knitting in August 2007. I wanted a quick, practical, approach to the basic skills, something that had no jargon and something that made no assumptions. I also wanted something that didn’t rely on pictures or videos. I’m totally blind, so those pretty illustrations didn’t help a bit until I called in my sighted wife who would try to make sense of what she was seeing and then to make a valiant effort to interpret it to me. My follow up questions would usually result in the answer:  “I can’t quite tell from the picture.”

The Touch of Yarn is written in a casual tone and reads almost like the author were sitting by your side. Because the book is intended for beginners who may be working by themselves, it also covers topics that many of us take for granted: all about needles, how to select needles, yarn weights and the fiber that makes up yarn. It also has a section on helpful resources for blind and visually impaired knitters as well as some extremely practical advice on how to read instructions, how select a pattern and how to organize that yarn and needle stash that knitters of all vision and experience levels will find useful!

It is a startling fact that about 3% of the US population under the age of 65 — over 10 million people per the 2000 US census — are blind or severely visually impaired and that the level of visual impairment increases with age.   According to the American Foundation for the Blind, close to 60% of people over the age of 85 suffer severe vision loss and many lose their vision altogether.   The author notes:

It’s important to me that if you are reading this because you’re having vision problems that may  lead to blindness that you come away knowing that there’s a way to do this art form even if you are totally blind. And, the joy in the art form is just as rich even though you can’t visually see the variegations or complex color changes.

Remember this: What do people want to do when they see that scarf or shawl?

They want to touch it.

The Touch of Yarn is sold in downloadable format on

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