A Review of “Knitting Comfortably”

I’m an old dog.

Well, maybe not old. But definitely middle-aged! And learning new tricks is no picnic.

Regular readers will know that I have been off the needles again. The knitting needles, that is.

In an effort to reduce discomfort and avoid injury, I purchased myself a copy of Carson Demers’ book Knitting Comfortably: the Ergonomics of Hand Knitting.

It arrived the other day, and I have learned many, many things. For instance…

I’M DOING IT ALL WRONG!

I exaggerate. (But not much.)

Posture? WRONG. Knitting chair? WRONG. Lighting? WRONG. Yarn tensioning? WRONG. Pairing needles and yarn? WRONG.

You get the idea.

Okay, to be fair, it’s not a question of right or wrong. It’s a question of ergonomics, and balancing productivity, efficiency and safety.

A Balancing Act

In his book, Demers makes it very clear that there is no incorrect way to knit: no one method that is superior to any other (though there is one he pooh-poohs).

How we knit is a balancing act, and he uses the image of the 3-legged stool to demonstrate. Ergonomics (or comfort) is the seat, and the three legs are what I mentioned above: productivity, efficiency and safety.

He then breaks down the elements that contribute to each of those three aspects of ergonomics and addresses them in relation to knitting.

My favorite part of this book is that Demers is himself a knitter, and truly understands how much knitters love their craft. He is just as passionate about yarn and patterns as the next knitter is!

He pairs his understanding of the knitter’s psyche with his expertise in ergonomics brilliantly, and the result is an engaging, clear and easy to understand (and apply!) book.

Applying the Concepts

You can start applying the concepts from the get-go. He begins with a discussion of posture, which (according to the physical therapist I saw back in early 2020) is the source of my problem.

What the physical therapist could not tell me (because she is not a knitter and didn’t even pay attention when I showed her how I knit), is exactly how my posture was causing me pain.

One chapter into this book, I already had significant changes I could apply. And since I had been on complete knitting rest for 10 days or so, I was starting with a clean slate and could gingerly experiment.

Here’s where the old dog factor comes in.

Old Dog; New Tricks

You know what they say…

I learned to knit in 2012 or 2013. It’s not like I’ve been knitting forever. But once you get comfortable with it, it then becomes very hard to change how you knit.

I had already made an effort to change the way I tension my yarn (you can see my video in this post). However, that wasn’t enough to remove the pressure from my shoulder.

More drastic changes were clearly in order.

In addition to changing where I knit, I have to change how I hold my knitting. Up until now I’ve tended to hold my knitting up to look at it more easily, but doing so pulls my shoulder forward and puts pressure on both my shoulder and my elbow.

What I need to do is lower my knitting into my lap (or to a cushion on my lap) and try and keep my forearms parallel to the floor. It’s not easy to do this, as my arms have a tendency to creep up as I keep wanting to look down at my knitting.

But part of the exercise is to learn to trust that my hands know what they’re doing, and that unless I’m working a complicated stitch pattern, they can be left to their own devices, with only an occasional glace.

It needs practice, and I must constantly check in with myself to see how my shoulder is handling it. So far, so good.

Don’t Overdo It

Another change is a behavioral one: I mustn’t allow myself to sit and knit for long stretches of time. We’re always told that sitting for long periods is bad for us.

But that’s so easy to forget when we’re doing something as enjoyable as knitting!

I need to set a timer, or simply stand up to knit. I’ve got to remember to give myself plenty of breaks and ease back into it.

Not Just About Knitting

Demers’ observations and advice apply not only to knitting, but to any sedentary activity (think: using the computer, poking at your smartphone, or driving).

All of these activities involve neck strain (looking down), pressure on wrists, elbows and shoulders, and awkward postures.

So this information is not only valuable in the context of knitting, but also for computer and keyboard use, smartphone use and driving.

Final Word

Don’t buy this book unless you’re a knitter. I don’t think it would even be that helpful for crocheters (though you could definitely get some useful information from it).

But if you ARE a knitter, no matter whether you’re experiencing discomfort or not, YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK.

Not only will it help you improve your knitting comfort immediately, it will open your eyes to some potentially unhealthy habits that can endanger your long-term knitting ability.

Don’t risk it. It’s not worth it. If you love your knitting as much as I do, you’ll want to make sure you can keep knitting comfortably for as long as possible.

Click here to visit Carson’s website and order your own copy. (I have not been paid to write this article, and clicking this link doesn’t give me–or Carson Demers–any money. Unless, of course, you buy his book, which would give him money. Not me. But if you want to send me money, I am on PayPal. Just saying.)

The Pain of Not Knitting

Back in February I was ordered off knitting because of pain in my shoulder.

Well folks, it’s happened again.

All that Election Day (and Election Week!) stress knitting took its toll.

Early Twinges

I was already starting to feel some twinges when I finished the Bear’s Flax Lite sweater (it’s now blocked and BEAUTIFUL!), but the flurry of knitting I started on Election Day seems to have been too much.

I don’t feel the pain while I’m knitting. That’s the problem. It’s once I stop that I feel an ache in my shoulder and pain just above my elbow.

It gets to the point where my shoulder and the spot above my elbow become sensitive to the touch, and the whole area is generally achey and uncomfortable.

Physical Therapy

Before the pandemic hit, I did consult a physical therapist at a practice that is supposed to specialize in hand, arm and shoulder care. However, I was disappointed that the therapists didn’t ask to watch me knit, to see what movement I was doing, or observe my posture while I knitted. As a result, they weren’t able to pinpoint the source or cause of my pain.

I went frequently and did the exercises they gave me, but with very limited success in managing my discomfort. When the pandemic hit, I dropped my visits altogether.

More Knitting = More Pain

In periods of less knitting activity, when I’m picking something up and only working on it occasionally, this isn’t really a problem.

But when I’m working on a project I really like, or am trying to finish something by a certain date, I tend to knit more. That’s when the pain and discomfort flare up.

Feeling Deprived

Everything I’ve read says that one of the biggest mental health benefits of crafting is the sense of purpose, the objective you have to work towards. Whether it’s a hat, a sweater or some baby booties, you have delayed gratification while you work towards the final product, and the anticipation of enjoyment once it’s done.

Right now, that feeling of having a goal to work towards is huge for me. With life in limbo due to the global pandemic and my career/job prospects on hold for the time being, knitting has been a beneficial creative outlet.

And now I cannot knit. As I wrote back in February, my productivity and motivation are low, and I feel very little sense of purpose.

That’s not to say that being able to knit solves all problems, but it certainly helps.

Fearful of My Needles

Also upsetting is the apprehension and worry I feel about picking up the needles again once my arm feels better. Will I just hurt myself again? Why am I doing this so wrong that it hurts?

There’s definitely anxiety there.

Looking For Solutions

And so, I have ordered Knitting Comfortably, the Ergonomics of Hand Knitting by Carson Demers, a physical therapist and knitter based in San Francisco.

I learned about him on the Fruity Knitting podcast, and I am hoping that his book will help me answer some of these questions. I’ve also reached out to contact him and ask if he knows any physical therapists in this area that he could recommend. It’s a long shot, but there’s no harm in asking.

Here’s hoping that with rest, icing, warming, massage and then with the help of this book, I can get back to knitting without worrying about injury.

Still Knitting…

This is tense, isn’t it??

Yesterday, it was nearly unbearable. I felt useless, sluggish and distracted all day. I couldn’t focus on anything.

So I knitted.

On Tuesday, I finished off the oats cowl I’d begun on Monday evening, completing it in under 24 hours.

The yarn is acrylic, which is not my favorite, but I am pleased with the (unblocked) result.

Yesterday, I whipped up a swatch for my Santa pillow. This was tricky. I was swatching fair isle in the round, which is never easy, and my stitches went all wonky. Also, I had some long red floats which needed to be caught on the back but showed through the white beard. I’ll need to find a better solution for that on the actual pillow.

The stitches are an absolute disaster. I’m hoping it will be better on the full-sized project when I’m not fussing with a small swatch size.

Next, as I waited for my Santa swatch to dry, I cast about for something else I could cast on.

Stash Diving

At the foot of our bed is a painted and carved wooden trunk. In that trunk are two large and one small sealed storage bags. The largest contains all my worsted weight (heavier) yarn. The second contains all my DK weight (medium weight) yarn. And the smallest contains my fingering weight yarns.

My stash.

In moments of stress and anxiety (like yesterday), I like to open it up and imagine the possibilities.

Yesterday, I stuck to the bag of fingering weight yarn.

I pulled out some absolutely gorgeous hand-dyed merino wool yarn I purchased at a big craft fair in Munich. It’s a German brand, Tausendsch√∂n, and it’s a deep midnight blue in light fingering weight.

Also in my stash is something I picked up at the Virginia Wool Festival last fall (sadly canceled this year). It’s a Shalimar Yarns fingering weight yarn called “Paulie.” The color is best described as a bright not-quite-pink but not-quite-red. It’s called “Tamarillo.” The yarn is a luxurious blend of merino wool, camel, cashmere and silk. It is SOOOOO squeezable!

I have two skeins of each of these yarns, and though they are slightly different weights, I am swatching up to see if I can use them together in a project.

Enter the All About That Brioche shawl by Lisa Hannes.

Photo copyright @maliha on Ravelry.com.

This is a deliciously squishy shawl which I knit for my mother a few years ago. I still own the pattern but do not have a shawl of my own! I think it’s time. The midnight blue and the tamarillo (which looks a lot like the pink/red color pictured here) would look great together.

That should tide me over until the yarn arrives to make the Crazyheart sweater for the Bug!

Other Fanciful Ideas

I was at Target this morning and spotted their multicolored pompom wreath in the newly set-up Christmas section.

(Don’t get me started on how ridiculous it is to have Christmas decorations up in EARLY NOVEMBER. What about Thanksgiving?! Do we just IGNORE that holiday??)

Looking at this in more detail, I decided it would be relatively easy for me to make one myself. All that worsted weight yarn I have in my stash is in mainly Christmas colors. I bought it last year at A.C. Moore when they were going out of business.

It should be easy to build a stiff backing to glue the pompoms onto.

Easy! I have two different sized pompom makers, and have a great technique involving a fork for making smaller ones. Three sizes of pompoms should do it, and if I get started now I should have plenty by Christmas!

I’m going to be SO busy!

And Now

I’m off to check the election results for the umpteenth time today.

I had hoped that writing this article would kill more time. Sadly, it hasn’t taken me all that long.

Today, I Will Knit

It’s been a quiet morning. The Bug is off school, so the boys spent a good part of the morning in their pajamas.

We FaceTimed with Jack (their grandfather), and with family in Minnesota. We chatted with some of the people we love best in the world.

I played the piano, tidied the kitchen, had a cup of tea… It’s been a quiet morning.

And Yet…

Every time I remember what day it is, I feel a stab of anxiety.

Today is Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020. It is Election Day in the United States.

Butterflies flare up in my tummy whenever I think of it. I feel anxious about the results, about when we’ll know the results, about the future… All things I cannot control.

Gearing Up to Election Day

I sent off my absentee ballot in September. I followed up on the Loudoun County board of elections website to make sure my ballot was received (it was!), and since then I have felt somewhat powerless to do much more.

I’ve done a little volunteering at polling sites with the local MRC, but because of coronavirus concerns and having our kids at home, I haven’t been able to volunteer today. I’m disappointed.

I put up a campaign poster in front of the house. My very talented brother designed a wonderful Biden/Harris poster, which I put in our front window. (Click here to download and print them for yourself!)

Find @paperscenery on Instagram.

Mainly, I’ve tried to be a good neighbor. I figure that by fostering a good spirit of community with our neighbors, they might be influenced by that and remember it when they go to the polls.

But who knows if that has any effect? It feels like I could and should have done so much more. This is what I think about as I worry about today’s election results.

And So I Knit

To reduce anxiety and calm my fluttering nerves, I knit.

A girlfriend asked me if I wouldn’t mind making little Oats Cowls for her girls. Since she even provided the yarn, I couldn’t say no! I can’t resist a lovely, quick and satisfying knit like this.

But now I’ve been not-knitting for too long. I can feel the butterflies getting stronger. Time to soothe them (and myself) with some meditative needle clicking.

Go Vote. Please.

Let’s break records. Let’s make this a landslide.

Frogged Again

I’ve done it again. Once again, I have completely frogged a project.

(In case you’d forgotten, “frogging” is the process of ripping out a knitted project in order to correct a mistake, or–as in my case–to completely begin again.)

Thankfully, this time it’s not so bad as the last time I frogged a project. Last time it was a WHOLE. SWEATER. This time, it was just a hat.

Shoulder Protesting

This hat and the huge lace number I worked up for my MIL’s Christmas gift are probably the reason my shoulder finally said:

OH FOR GOODNESS SAKES WOULD YOU STOP ALREADY?

I could feel the ache in my shoulder, and I knew something was up. But I just couldn’t bring myself to set aside a project before it was finished. I like finishing things. I’m one of those knitters who usually doesn’t start a new project until I’ve finished my last one. And I just had… to… FINISH!

Now I’m paying for it.

The Guilty Project

The hat I didn’t want to put down was the Mjolnir hat by Raven Sherbo (free pattern on Ravelry!). I love the way it looked when I saw the photos, and I really enjoyed knitting it up.

However, I knew I was taking a risk right from the start. I started the hat while we were on Christmas vacation in Spain. I had planned to make a different hat pattern, so I only had my 3.5mm needles. Mjolnir calls for 2.5mm for the ribbing, then 3mm for the body.

Already a bit of a risk, but I figured I usually have a tight gauge and generally have to go up a needle size anyway.

Well… not this time my friends.

Ignoring the Voice

Using my absolutely gorgeous Rosy Green Wool Manx Merino Fine (in the Scots Pine colorway), I cast on and blissfully ignored the little voice in my head telling me this was not a good idea.

You know the voice I’m talking about, right? Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (AKA the Yarn Harlot) wrote about The Voice recently.

It’s the little voice of your own experience telling you you really ought to know better. It’s fun to ignore that voice. Until it isn’t and you have to frog an entire project. The hat was simply too big, despite my having a rather larger than normal head (literally: when I buy hats I have to buy a men’s XL).

Moral of the story: the voice is always right! The Yarn Harlot knows it! And now I do, too.

(On a side note, it is rather encouraging to know that I do indeed have such a voice–I’m getting to really know my knitting!)

Back to the Drawing Board (or the cast-on)

So it’s back to the drawing board for my Mjolnir hat. I’ve already soaked and dried the wool back into a hank. I will likely take another stab at the hat, but this time I’ll use the right needle sizes, AND I will make it a double brim hat for extra coziness.

When I eventually get back to knitting, that is…

Ordered Off Knitting!

Stop the presses! I have been ordered to take a two week break from knitting!

I’ve given myself a repetitive movement injury in my right shoulder. Though it’s not terribly painful, it’s wise to nip this in the bud before it gets to be a big problem.

This is, as you can imagine, a blow. Over the past few days I’ve really come to appreciate how important knitting is to my well-being.

Knitting is therapeutic

Between caring for kids, job hunting and running the household, life can get a little dull. Let’s be real, many of these tasks are downright tedious.

Knitting gives me a break from that tedium. Because it’s easy to pick up and put down, I can seize a free moment to go into that meditative and calming trance. Usually I have the radio going, and knitting allows me to keep my hands busy and better focus on what I’m listening to.

But without knitting?

Well, contrary to what I would have expected, my productivity has fallen dramatically.

I thought that without the distraction of knitting, I’d use the time to fill out more job applications, get the chores done and devote myself to my children.

But actually, I’ve found that without knitting, there is no promise of relief from the tedium.

Suddenly all the chores seem so onerous, and the job applications seem too hard. And honestly? I’ve felt more depressed than I have since the period after my mother died.

While there certainly are other factors contributing to that, it seems that not being able to knit has magnified these negative feelings.

Toughing it out

I’ve been reading more, which is great. But while reading is a favorite activity of mine, it’s not as easy to do with kids in the house. Reading requires complete focus, and I can’t engage in conversation or listen to something informative while I read.

*Sigh* I keep telling myself this is temporary, and that with help from an excellent physical therapist (hooray!), I should be able to get back to knitting before long.