Cross-stitch matures the I. Handwork in class 4

Anette Sigler

“Good morning dear Mrs Ziegler,

Unfortunately I failed to listen to you and did not take the sewing thread with me so I could not do the sewing.”

One school morning I pull this letter out of the handwork bag of a class 4 pupil. She is one of those who works at full speed, rushing from one piece of work to the next. Now she is looking back to the last lesson – alongside the clear regret I, as her teacher, also read the anger with herself between the lines. The letter shows something typical for this age which is also new in relation to the previous years: that pupils can look at themselves and in doing so can get upset about their own behaviour. Naturally not often balanced in such a sober assessment as in the above lines but nevertheless over and again in such a way that they experience questions with regard to their relationship with their surroundings.

The previous years were quite different: without concerns the children worked in the momentum and flow of the group. Here a flash of enthusiasm, there momentary displeasure. But then it was already history and the throng in great outer and inner flexibility as if in play turned from one lesson subject to the next. And now the more alert look in greeting, this completely new encounter from person to person and also this more conscious awareness of oneself alongside the ordinary events in the classroom. If the class 4 pupils can now be ironic or “put on a brave face” then they can distinguish between two things: content and form. In class 2 pupils the expression of emotion also always corresponds to their mood – they simply cannot manage a smile if they are disappointed. They are always undivided in their being.

This development also allows for a new teaching method in handwork: form and content begin to separate, two different tasks can be worked at alongside one another but with one objective in mind. This means, for example, that the pupils can

  • overlay two layers of material and make sure that they do it precisely, well and with the appropriate stitch,
  • produce a workpiece not just with the right technique but simultaneously shape it artistically in accordance with its use and purpose.

This step is only feasible because the pupils can now be asked not to lose sight of the objective, namely to bring these quite different tasks together. They must therefore concern themselves with “content” and “form” and combine them again into one – and how does that work?

If I follow two different ideas about a task in my thinking, I always have to keep comparing them to make sure that they still fit together, are still compatible. To do that I keep having to let the trains of thought which arise come into contact with one another, find a point which they have in common, at which they can be superimposed like at a crossing. That is exhausting, but only when I have found that point can I be satisfied: now it is right! And this satisfaction unconsciously gives me a boost: it was I who realised the goal set out above.

Finding the middle

Such “superimposition” in the thinking is practiced in the main lesson subjects of class 4. Handwork opens up the opportunity to practice the appropriate meeting place through movement of the hands, through practical activity, and thus to strengthen the child at a deeper level. Even class 1 pupils have to combine certain things: after all, in all handwork the right and left hands make different movements. But the early lessons do not yet consciously emphasise the meeting place of right and left but select such activities in which the single point – as in knitting or crochet for example – takes a back seat in comparison to the loops and circles of the needles to make the stitch.

When now in class 4 the superimposition – the crossing – is made into a central part of the lesson, the pupils should specifically direct their attention at this connection between right and left. This is necessary, for example, for knotting, weaving and specifically centred braiding with more than three strands: the centre is formed by the inner strand which – coming from the right or left edge – has to cross here. If it does not do that, the braiding falls apart or gets holes. So look out! Is the centre also properly in position or has it slipped towards the edges? Was the one side perhaps heavier than the other? In the same way a well-seated middle is practised in knitting with the cross or Russian stitch .

For the pupils it is not so easy to begin with to knit a cross and then a whole series of crosses whose bars should always lie across one another in the same way. That requires sustained concentration and constant judgement. That cannot be done on the side but requires their full attention. And if such knitting lasts for four weeks, then they have constantly practised a specific gesture in doing so. This allows each pupil to experience beautifully that it is they themselves who can give themselves a coherent feeling of life – but now at a new level. “Someone who draws a cross, be it with a pencil, as a movement or just by looking at it, touches the ego feeling which forms in space and time. Anyone who implements their I as the place where they grasp themselves as a spiritual being in search of itself takes responsibility for what they do in the world; for them what they do in reality becomes a deed by which they can stand” (Frimut Husemann).

Then I can also channel the annoyance in my own direction which sets in when I – perhaps because I wanted to get out into the playground too quickly – forgot to take the sewing thread and am now sitting at home unable to do my handwork.  

About the author: Anette Sigler is a teacher at the Kassel Waldorf school and a lecturer at the Kassel teacher training seminar.