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We’re delighted to welcome Carson Demers to MDK. In his many years of teaching and through his invaluable book, Knitting Comfortably: The Ergonomics of Handknitting, Carson has devoted his skills as a physical therapist to improving the lives of knitters all over the world. And knitters love him for it!

We are honored that Carson has chosen MDK as a way to share the ways and means of more comfortable, more productive, and more enjoyable knitting. Today he begins a series of bi-monthly articles to share practical wisdom with MDK readers. We’re all ears!

—Kay and Ann

Have you ever heard a knitter wish they could knit faster, or who thinks they should abandon the style of knitting they initially learned because they’ve been told another style is more efficient? I can almost guarantee you’ve talked to a knitter who has complained of aches, pains, and even numbness throughout their upper body. Even lower back pain can plague knitters while they work with their innocent sticks and string.

If you have taken part in any of these conversations, then you’ve talked about ergonomics. And there’s never been a better time to talk about ergonomics than now in our nearly-post-Covid, digital age.

Where I’m coming from

I’ve been a physical therapist for 30 years and a knitter even longer. In my professional career I have focused on study and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries and ergonomics. About 25 years to be exact, with nearly 15 of those teaching ergonomics to knitters around the world.

I’ve been fortunate to teach thousands of knitters the importance of understanding ergonomic risk in modern knitting, ways to lower their exposure to it, and even to lower the risk itself. I educate knitters to knit more comfortably, productively, and efficiently—regardless of learned or used style. This goal is easier for a knitter to attain than they might think, and almost always more fun than they imagine. 

What’s involved is an understanding of the work we do (yes, knitting is work!) and the forces that work applies to our tissue. Knowing these forces, we compare them to how much force our tissue can tolerate (that is, our personal fitness, health, and wellness) and then look for ways to reduce those forces.

That’s where I usually come in. Most knitters don’t know they’re applying force to their tissue, and (here’s the headline) they don’t know they’re doing too much work! This simple truth prompted me to write my book Knitting Comfortably: The Ergonomics of Handknitting

A bit of knitting history

To understand why now is an important time to have a conversation about ergonomics and knitting, you have to understand how and why we used to knit. 

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, knitting was often done as a supplemental source of income. If you wanted to make money at it, you’d need to be efficient, productive, and work in a way that doesn’t cause discomfort. So, knitters used “traditional” techniques (regardless of style) based on simple principles of all tools.

When humans develop a tool system, it is comprised of a stable element and an active or moving element. For example, you hold the bread and move the knife through it. Work is easier to do when that which is being modified is still, so the tool can do its job. This creates both efficient and safer work. (Think about cutting the bangs of a squirming child.)

Optimally, the working yarn is in the Z position.

This is true of knitting as well. In traditional “English” style knitting (a.k.a. “throwing”), the receiving needle (usually the right) was stabilized, and the “giving” needle moved toward it, surrendering the stitch to the needle to be knit. The job of the receiving-side hand was to stay relatively still to tension the yarn and wrap it around the tip of the needle. Here, the left hand is more active than the right.

Optimal yarn/needle positions for an English knitter (“thrower”) with the x-axis (right needle) at relatively a right angle to the y-axis (left needle) and the working yarn positioned along the z-axis in the THIrd dimension (here away from the knitter for a knit stitch).

In the traditional “Continental” style of knitting (a.k.a. “picking”), the needle in the hand that is receiving new stitches (usually the right) actively moves to retrieve yarn from the stationary giving hand. The job of the left hand is to tension the yarn and remain still, so the right needle can get in and out of the stitch easily. 

Optimal Continental yarn/needle hold with the x-axis (right needle) at relatively A right angle to the y-axis (left needle) and the working yarn positioned along the z-axis in the third dimension (here away from the knitter for a knit stitch).

In both styles, holding the needles optimally, they are at relatively right angles to one another. A consistent method of yarn tensioning positions it in the third dimension from the needles, making the task of stitch creation easier, faster, and with minimal force to the knitter. Because these systems utilize “landmarks” for how the needles and yarn are held relative to one another, and how the yarn is tensioned, the fabric will be consistent and even.

This is not how most people knit today.

What happened?

The loss of repeatable, consistent landmarks and tensioning makes swatching crucial to modern knitters. With no consistent method of tension, including how much yarn is held under tension, the task of getting even fabric across a garment can be challenging, to say the least.

And when knitting instruction is less often done at the knee of a knitter experienced in traditional techniques, errors get passed down through the ranks. Too often a new knitter will learn to make a knit and purl stitch but never revisit technique except to learn a new stitch. Modern knitters’ hands are working too hard!

Finally, modern knitters’ hands work harder, because in the digital age we find ourselves using the same postures and muscles to operate keyboards, touchscreens, tablets, etc. that we use for knitting. This tissue is working much longer and harder than it did even a few short years ago. Just think of all the knitting classes you’ve done online in the last three years, Zoom meetings for work, and time spent on social media.

So that’s why ergonomics is important to any knitter who wants to keep going without discomfort and with increased efficiency and productivity. 

A little homework

Until next time, take time to notice (not criticize!) how you work, and you’ll be better prepared to work with the observations and suggestions I will offer to help you knit more comfortably.

For future reference: Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

A physical therapist with over 30 years’ experience studying and treating musculoskeletal injuries, Carson has brought ergonomics to knitters around the world both in workshops and in his path-forging book Knitting Comfortably.


  • This couldn’t be more timely for me. It made me realize I had completely reversed the motion of my hands, creating all kinds of pain. Thank you. You’re a great addition to the MDK list of contributors.

  • I knit portuguese style, I’d love to see a comment on it, and how ergonomic it is (or could be).

    • I also knit Portuguese style (I was taught to keep the yarn around my neck) so I’m also curious to learn ergonomic tips.

    • I just happened to take a full day class with Carson last weekend. He’s the best! So much practical wisdom, delivered in a fun, kind manner. Looking forward to this new feature. Thanks Carson and MDK!

    • I learned Portuguese style when the arthritis in my left hand got really bad (I’ve since had surgery). I found it allowed much less movement of my left hand and created real ease.

  • Very much looking forward to your future articles. I’m sure they will be educational and informative. An excellent addition to the MDK family!

  • I knit Continental and find that I grip the needles way too tightly. I have thumb issues from a lifetime of pipetting in the lab, so when it hurts, I know to loosen up my death grip!

    • Lisa- I am entering a decade of pipetting, and I have thumb issues as well- I’m curious to know how you’ve managed to loosen up your death grip? I’m still learning that piece.

    • Hello fellow pipetter! I also grip my needles too hard. I’ve been out of science for a while, but have fond/not so fond memories of all that fun. Thanks for the reminder!

    • I hold my needles in my lap and hold the needle with my small finyside of my hand and manipulate with my thumb and index. Changing position of my fore arms and wrists to give my muscles a break

    • I love this daily bit from MDK! Sometimes it’s a recipe, sometimes a TV recommendation, gift ideas, something thought provoking, and now Carson Demers. So good. Thanks, MDK!

  • This is fantastic! I eagerly await the next installment. Thank you.

  • Very much looking forward to hearing more about this subject. I’ve looked at this book many times (online) but haven’t bought it, yet. It may be time to do so now that I’m retired and spending more and more time knitting. Very glad to see Mr. Demers will be contributing regularly to MDK!

    • The book will help you knit longer, safely and injury-free!! Not your typical knitting book – mine sits next to my knitting chair and is indexed with post it note tabs!

    • As a dental hygienist by profession (now retired) and someone who knits and quilts I found the book to be a valuable resource. Definitely worth purchasing!

  • I knit for many hours a day. Before the Holidays I knit way to much and now have terrible shoulder pain. Haven’t seen the Dr because I know she will tell me to stop knitting! Hoping to learn what I can do to relieve my pain.

    • Ginny, I second Trudy’s comment about physical therapy. Ask your doc to refer you. I had bad shoulder pain, and my PT told me it was partially because of low upper body strength. He gave me some simple exercises to do with resistance bands, and they helped tremendously. Also, the number of migraines I got decreased significantly, and I do feel that having more strength and mobility in my shoulders lessened the muscle tension that is one of the triggers for me.

      • As a retired Dental Hygienist, I started Pilates and have mostly corrected the repetitive motion/static position injuries I acquired during 45 years of work. Cannot stress enough to do something to relieve the pain and injuries of past work so we can enjoy our retirement and ‘golden’ years! I have no intention of giving up the joy I get in creating stuff with yarn!

    • Ginny – if you go to your doctor, she may prescribe physical therapy – which will alleviate the pain. Don’t let the pain get worse!

  • So glad you are a new contributor. Looking forward to your future articles!

  • I was fortunate enough to take your class at VOGUE NY and it was the most worthwhile class I have taken there. Every technique class I took – brioche, entrelac, lace – was made easier by the foundation you provided. Looking forward to your future articles.

  • I’m currently knitting TAAT patterned socks and have become so aware of how I knit because the knitting isn’t sitting flat. I went back to basics, picturing in my head how I’m handling the yarn and what happens to the yarn on the needles as I knit. And there’s an improvement in my tension … and it’s fun to keep analysing the actual process of knitting. Looking forward to your future articles

  • This is an awesome article. Now I need to pay attention to the way I knit. I am looking forward to future articles. Thank you.

  • Great article. More, please

  • Kay and Ann- brilliant addition to our wonderful group. This is a much needed aid and I lol forward to more instruction!!

  • So glad you are writing for MDK. There is always something new to learn here, so welcome! I so hope you will address purling in the next article. Even though I am a looong time knitter, I know there is a more efficient way for my hands to “work” while purling. I am a “flicker”, not a thrower. At least for me, flicking is easier on my hands while doing the knit stitch, but I would love to learn better and speedier mechanics to purl while “flicking”. Thanks again for your article!

  • I knit continental but learned English method first. With English method I used to have hand and arm pain, but never with continental method. After reading this, I think I’ve been naturally holding the yarn and needles in the recommended position. I’m going to pay attention next time to be sure.

  • Your book and your help during an online class have been just essential to me! I am so looking forward to reading your column!

  • Ok! Will definitely observe and wait for the next installment!

  • This is very helpful! I’d like to learn more about good head and neck posture when knitting as well.

    • Yes, I second Bridget’s request! I’m sure Carson will address neck and head posture while knitting. I am a continental knitter, and have good speed and consistent tension with no pain in my hands or wrists, BUT . . . I have a bad habit of hunching over while I knit, and that leads to tension in my shoulders and neck — not fun dealing with that!

  • What a timely article! I, too, am looking forward to reading more, esp. about purling. I taught myself to knit, and then changed to Continental knitting but arthritis in my thumb has caused me to quit knitting (plus neck and shoulder pain).

  • I’m just finishing up your book, Carson, and applying that to my work as a software developer as well. I even took the arms off my chair. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!

  • Yay, so happy to know Carson will be posting articles. His book has been most helpful! It gave me a new awareness of how interconnected our body parts are, from head to toe and making even a minor adjustment to position can make a big difference!

  • Although I find it challenging to change how I knit, I’m learning to use the Shetland knitting belt as a way to change up the stress on my hands. It keeps the right needle stationary and the left needle does the work. Yarn can be held any way you like. Some people just put the right hand needle under their right arm to hold it steady. I’m thinking that only moving one needle will make me more efficient and cut down on muscle strain.

    • I also knit too much the last few months and have pain to prove it. I just ordered a knitting belt and am anxious to try it. I am a self-taught from a book back in the ’60s, basically a flicker. I have tried continental and Portuguese methods. I row out with continental no matter how much I try to keep even tension. Using different needle sizes for knit and purl didn’t work for me either. It is ugly plus it hurts my wrist. I love Portuguese because my knit and purl stitches are so balanced. However, the Portuguese style causes pain and numbness in my thumbs, probably due to my arthritis. I hope that learning to use a knitting belt will give me enough pain relief to allow me to continue knitting for at least a few more years. I realize that will take some time to comfortable and proficient. Knitting is my happy place, so I am willing to try anything. I don’t want to quit! I am eagerly awaiting the next article in this series.

  • This is so exciting to see! I’m having problems with my pinky fingers while knitting, I’m wrapping them around the needles when knitting, so I’m looking forward to learning how I can recify my bad technique!

  • Very cool information, thank you, Carson. I knit a prodigious amount but always with very minimal movements, how I learned from my mom as a child. I’m a fast thrower but knit colorwork two handed and have never had any pain or fatigue. I guess I have the three axes as I should.

    The diagrams and explanations are fascinating!

  • Thank you.

  • I need to get this book! It would be nice if you could provide a video, of what we should be doing.

  • Wonderful!!!!! Your book sits by my knitting chair, with tabs. Your exercise program and recommendations really helped me recover and return to knitting when I retired and totally overdid it! I review it regularly along with my exercise program, because my whole knitting movement chain benefits from better knitting practices and the specific exercises in your book. THANKS and welcome!

  • Carson Demers is the voice of reason I have waited for through my 69 years of knitting. Yes, knitting is work. Hard work at that. Sometimes, muscles are strained, but most times, they shouldn’t. If we damage some muscles so severely that we have to « change hands », there is something we do terribly wrong and the new method will only result in different muscles being abused. We must learn to know our bodies the way athletes do and treat them well.

  • I purchased his book a couple of years and I refer to it frequently!

  • Carson is the best! I can’t wait to take an in-person class with him.

  • I would love to find out about any upcoming classes on the east coast.

  • I’m always interested in knitting ergonomics. I hope future contributions recommend simple stretching exercises for the hands and arms to do before and during knitting. There seems to be some differences of opinion about what makes a good stretching exercise for knitters. Thanks.

  • I would like to see a video of your technique.

    • Me, too! That would be very helpful.

  • Is there a video to accompany this very important information? Hopefully it’s just me, I can’t find it.

  • Oh no! I’m doing it all wrong. I knit English style and my right hand is doing all the work and movement.

    • I’m the same. Thought it’s interesting he is saying the right us stable when that’s the hand that is doing work wrapping the yarn. I must experiment! I’ve always had left needle stable and I got doing everything.

  • Has anyone used knitting rings and are they ergonomic?

  • I’m
    Very interested in these future article! Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge. Everyone will benefit.

  • Cannot wait to learn more! My style is continental- but my tensioning hand ( left) is the one that has started to bother me

  • Great piece! Looking forward to the next one.

  • Really appreciate these insights as I begin to experience more discomfort knitting due to arthritis. Looking forward to Carson’s contributions to MDK!

  • Thank you so much for this information. I knit both ways, English and Continental, depending on what I am knitting. I must get this book. I hope that it has some tips for maintaining good techniques. I seem to drift back to old habits as I go along.

  • Great article. I also look forward to more. Interestingly I’m an English style knitter and have always had the left needle be the stationary stable one. Here he says it’s the right needle that is less active even though it’s the right hand that’s wrapping the yarn. So maybe my habits are the wrong way around? Something I can experiment with! So thanks!

  • I am so excited to see this! I have a lot of joint/pain issues and I’m a slow, awkward knitter.
    I finally got a rare copy of Knitting Comfortably as a Christmas present & it’s as good as the reviews promised.

    Welcome, Carson, help me fix myself!

    • Carson told us in class that his book is rare if you look for it on Amazon because he doesn’t sell it there so there are only resold copies and they can be very expensive. You an get it easily on his website.

  • You only have to experience tendonitis once to appreciate how invaluable Carson’s book is. Looking forward to more articles!

  • Please continue this subject with the purl stitch.

  • Thanks so much for this Carson. As a PT in my former life, I endorse all of this. As you so rightly say, even back pain can plague the knitter. As we know, sitting properly is the basis of doing all upper body tasks correctly and safely. Could we have an article on correct posture that I can pass along to my knitting group please? I am too busy teaching knitting to do that!

  • It is a very timely price of info since I am experiencing pain in my hands; I am a thrower

  • Ah! This is a reason to actually have learned to knit left handed. I knit oddly to accommodate my left hand doing most of the movement but I now realise that is having a negative impact and must be why it hurts after a while. Not sure what to do about that now though, haha.

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