Books with Franklin: Knitting Comfortably
(Full disclosure: I was invited to read a pre-publication version of this book, and my name and blurb appear on the back cover. I’ve waited to review the published version until I could read it through multiple times, digest it, and put it to use. The result is what follows.)
In the past six months or so, I’ve noted a steep uptick in the number of students arriving at my knitting classes with extra baggage. Stuff like lumbar cushions, foot rests, little tabletop lights, and document holders into which they clip their handouts.
This should be no surprise. It should have been happening for years. Most of the classrooms in which I teach were not meant to be classrooms. They were meant to be at best hotel conference rooms and at worst livestock pens. The light is dismal. The chairs were designed on Mars, by Martians and for Martians. Certainly no human, large or small, is ever the right shape for them.
To take control of one’s own comfort under these circumstances is common sense. And yet knitters, famously, will endure all manner of discomforts in pursuit of their favorite pastime.
We peruse smelly fleeces in freezing barns. We jostle one another in crowded marketplaces to get at hard-to-find yarns. We ignore aching feet and sore shoulders to tote around works-in-progress, and drag home the supplies we’ve bought to make more works-in-progress. We sit for hours and knit until our butts and fingers go numb to make sure the [important knitted thing] is ready for the [major life event].
You may giggle at our obsession. I often do. But it’s not at all funny when ignoring aches, pains, and numbness leads to injuries that mean one has to curtail one’s knitting or—I hate to even type this—give it up.
I cannot, therefore, overstate the value of Knitting Comfortably: The Ergonomics of Handknitting (Ergo I Publishing), the first book produced by passionate knitter and professional physical therapist Carson Demers. In the months since its publication, his audience has taken it to heart—and therefore, I think, the sudden profusion of cushions and foot rests among the needles and yarn.
Ergonomics is not a subject that turns most people on. Including me. I associate it with mandatory sessions through which I suffered as a university employee. They were all the same. While we slumped morosely munching stale mini-bagels, a woman who was improbably excited about her sacroiliac would tell us how our postures and our work stations were slowly killing us. Then we would go back to our work stations, which the university declined to improve in any way, and slump over our computers.
Demers’s book doesn’t look on the cover like a knitter’s hot read. There are no lolling balls of voluptuous luxury yarn. No doe-eyed model in a cloud of cables teasing the camera with slightly parted lips. You’ve got hands, arms, and one seated posterior with muscles and bones and arrows and curves superimposed. It looks like nursing school textbook.
Read it anyway.
I pushed myself to do it out of pure fear. I knit a lot. When I’m on a tight deadline, sometimes I knit for eleven or twelve hours per day for several days in a row.
I am in decent health and not that old—yet—but I was diagnosed with arthritis in both hands when I was twelve. I am frightened, genuinely frightened, of wearing myself out. I knit, crochet, sew, embroider, weave, and draw for a living. I need my body to cooperate for as long as it possibly can. I knew, because of aches and pains that were growing harder to deny, that I was heading for trouble.
So I sat down with Knitting Comfortably and prepared to tough it out. Not all at once—a chapter a day.
Demers begins by laying out the nature of ergonomics—what it is, what it can do for a person—using a clever metaphor in which productivity, efficiency, and safety are the three legs of a stool that can keep you comfortable in any environment. When all three factors are properly addressed, the stool supports you as you knit without wobbling.
How firm, Demers would like to know, is your stool?
To answer that question, he asks and answers more questions—neatly dividing the material into logical, digestible chapters written in easy-to-follow language. Like a true knitter accustomed to communicating with others of the flock, he often draws on the structure of yarns and the process of knitting to clarify scientific and medical points for the layman. (His comparisons of spinning fibers and human fibers like muscles and tendons are wildly helpful if you forgot your high school anatomy. Or flunked it.)
Which parts of the body, asks the author, are especially vulnerable to injuries from knitting? And why? What sorts of injuries are we liable to? And how do we avoid them, minimize them, or recover from them?
This could be the dullest possible reading—on par with those university seminars—but in Knitting Comfortably, it is unexpectedly fascinating. The topics Demers has analyzed in detail include (this is, believe it or not, only a partial list)…
Needle selection. What are the ergonomic differences among straights, double-points, and circulars? How about among wood, bamboo, and metal needles? Square needles versus circular needles? How might the sharpness of the tips impact your gauge and your comfort?
Handling your materials. Is one style of knitting necessarily more efficient or healthy than another? How does the manner in which you tension your yarn affect your hands and arms? What are the optimal hand and arm positions for various knitting styles?
Light. How much is best? Where should it come from?
Chairs and Posture. How do I know if a chair is a good chair for me to knit in? What do I do if the available seating isn’t ideal? How often should I take a break? What positions are healthiest? How often should I change positions? What do I do if I am a real person with a real couch and not an anatomical drawing perched on a hypothetical perfect chair?
Other Knitterly Stuff. How do I block large pieces without messing up my back? How do I wind yarn without undue strain? What sort of knitting bag is most ergonomic, and how should I carry it my bag to spare my shoulders?
And as most knitters are also computer users, healthy ergonomics at the computer (while, for instance, you have your daily romp through Modern Daily Knitting) are also covered in a thorough “At Your Computer” chapter.
Because Demers is a knitter, and refined his knowledge with not only professional training and experience as a therapist, but also by coaching scores of real knitters at festivals and retreats, he is sensitive to the limits of various body types and the effects of aging.
His suggestions for strengthening, stretching, and avoiding injury are clear, realistic, and attainable. I find that changes I’ve made over these several months, though often sporadic and always imperfect, have improved not only my knitting sessions, but my overall comfort in my own body—especially at work.
That’s what I hoped for. That’s what I expected.
What I did not expect was that Knitting Comfortably is, simply, a fascinating book about knitting. It has made me look more closely at the interaction of my tools, yarns, and body than ever before. It’s one thing to know from experience that cotton yarn can be tougher on the hands than wool; it’s quite another to learn—after decades of knitting with both—why.
Okay, I went over to my library website and put this one on hold! Thanks, Franklin.
Perfect timing! I broke my right shoulder before Christmas. I have slowly picked up the needles again. These questions about needles and tension have been running through my head!!! (Also I knit continental and have found myself lifting that right shoulder and increasing strain!) Checking this out for sure! Thanks!!!
I am dealing with a neck “situation” due to excessive knitting on an old sofa; thus, this book is incredibly appropriate. My neck, shoulders, wrists, back and elbows (and probably other body parts) thank you!
Where can Franklins book be purchased
Neither Barnes and Noble, my library or Amazon have this book . Who carries it ??
I work as an a finer to find my knitting I had a lot of pain in my hands from the knitting and tried to apply ergonomics to ease the pain. I went from English knitting to continental to Portuguese in an effort to gain relief. I can’t wait to see this book!
Crazy auto correct… I work as an engineer to fund my knitting lol
Good one! Thanks, Franklin. The accumulated abuse of simply being unaware of my body mechanics ground me to a halt. I am typing in an immobilizing sling.
I had a large tear in my rotator cuff repaired four weeks ago. I can’t knit. @#$% I’ll be in the sling for eight more weeks. I put off taking better care of myself, because the burning desire to knit, weed, sew or whatever drove me to ignore aches and pains, good posture, core strength, etc.
I have plenty of time to read now and I think this book will help me when I can finally pick up my needles again.
Take good care out there.
I got my copy from Amazon shortly after it was published and I second everything Franklin said. I fell down the stairs and tore the labrum in my shoulder a few months ago and have been able to knit through this partly because I have been trying to pay attention to the tips in the book. There is no stress on my shoulder while I knit now because I have improved my form. The book is pricey but totally worth it.
No problems here with neck, shoulders, back, etc but I have arthritis in my hands. Does this book address arthritis? Because you had/have arthritis in your hands, Franklin, I’m thinking you paid particular attention to that.
Thank you for this review! As important as I know it is, seeing a book on ‘ergonomics’, even if applied to my favorite yet likely crippling passion, my eyes would glaze over. But as I get older and feel more pains and creaks and stiffness, I know I can’t keep ignoring these issues. It’s nice to hear that he makes this subject really interesting and I think this is next on my knitting bookshelf!
just took a class from Carson 15mins into the class I knew I needed the book. it will be a life changing or at least knitting changing experience.
Hi Franklin~ Thank you for this review. I hand stitch for hours on end, and am mindful of my shoulders, but now have chronic pain in my elbows. I’m heading to my local yarn shop today to pick this book up!
I’ve been holding off purchasing this book because it’s pricey & takes away from my yarn budget. I’m also finding that my right hand has been hurting of late & I’m worried that my usual method of treating ailments by just ignoring them isn’t working. I’m going to order the book & see if the author can save me from myself.
I also have arthritis in my hands, which is very scary and extremely disheartening, as I am a musician by profession and have always been a “maker”. I have had to give up crochet and needle work, and do my best to modify sewing projects so that as much as possible can be done on the machine. I have been knitting using the Portuguese method for a couple of years now and it is a lifesaver for me. I now can knit for hours without triggering the shooting pains that would accompany knitting before.
Carson taught at the very first Sock Summit and his classes were one of the fastest filled. I missed out.
I’ve never played golf but apparently this burning pain is Golfer’s Elbow. I have a strange exercise involving a teacloth, that my OH says looks like training for a matador. And advice not to knit ‘too much’. What can this mean?
I just took a course with Carson Demers last weekend at Four Purls in Winter Haven Florida. It was so helpful and he changed the way I knit! His book is so helpful.
Thanks. You sold me!
I have also put this book on hold at my public library, and am already thinking seriously about purchasing it. A side note: I love Books with Franklin, and am always delighted to see that headline in my inbox. Franklin, even though you are not THAT old, you surely remember phone books. You are “that man who could [review] the phone book and make it sound interesting.” Knitting books are better, though, and this definitely sounds as if it is worth the purchase price! Thanks!
I pre-ordered this book and it was one of my best moves ever. Not easy changing a lifetime of poor ergonomics, but baby steps and this book make it possible. So glad others are liking it too!
This book has so helped my neck, my back, my arms, . . . what more is there? I was an early bird on getting this book, and extolled its virtues immediately. (I reviewed on Goodreads.)
It does take time to get through it, bit by bit is best after going first to the areas that explain your “current” problem. Right away I stopped knitting for a month (oh my) when realizing it was contributing to aches. Full disclosure, I do have several arthritis conditions but Carson Demers approaches very distinct areas of knitting problems.
If anything, it goes too much in depth and I could see it putting off some knitters but I feel using it as a reference would be good for any knitting library.
I will be buying this book !
This book has been unavailable at Amazon since last summer. My library system does not own it. But I just spent $60 (price + shipping) to own it. If it helps me knit for as long as it takes me to knit up my stash, it will be well worth it!
I purchased this book from the author through the website. Started reading it – yes, it looks so useful, in fact a life changer. It is well worth the expense if your local library can’t acquire it. We all want to make our bodies last so we can knit forever (or at least until the end!).
It is now July of 2018, and for several months – at least – Mr. Demers’ book has been and is still mysteriously unavailable. Do you know anything about it? Will it ever reappear?
Does this work equally well for crocheting since the hooks are held differently?
So excited to see this today! I’ve been having a lot of upper arm and shoulder pain that coincides with my recent increase in knitting. I’ve been seeing an osteopath but was thinking I might need to put knitting on hold while I try to recover. I much prefer the idea of learning to knit in healthy postures! Thank you!!!
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