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.