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Welcome to a new year of knitting opportunities and challenge. I wish the year didn’t start with the challenge of making a resolution. I believe that every day is a new beginning, and you can decide which path you’ll take each day.

Lasting change is best made with a series of little steps. In the world of ergonomics, these steps are called “behavioral controls.” The great thing about behavioral controls is that there are more variables than constants among them—meaning they offer a bounty of opportunity completely in your control.

I meet lots of knitters who have a knitting behavior or quality they’d like to change. These range from speed and efficiency, to fabric quality and evenness, and of course concerns about discomfort. Sadly, they often believe that they need to make a major change to their knitting style to meet their goal—or even give up knitting entirely to be free of discomfort. In truth, taking little steps toward a goal is the more successful path.

Having some support along the way can also make it easier. And I’d like to do just that!

Practice, Practice, PLAY

Performers rehearse. Athletes train. But for many knitters, yarn and patterns are purchased, bottoms plunked in a chair, and it’s off to the races. And somehow we think we should be delivering our best performance—be it efficient technique or a wellness behavior.

So, let’s start by creating a space for learning and practice—a judgment-free space dedicated exclusively to practice, experimentation, and growth. A nurturing space free of negative self-talk, where even trying is its own success. Knitters have had this space forever, but many are averse to the word it’s known by—a swatch—so I call it “the playground.”

Build it by casting on number of stitches to give you approximately 4–6″ of fabric to work. Choose a light-colored, worsted weight yarn for easiest viewing and one that is either leftover from another project or is inexpensive. The goal is to remove any barrier of  “preciousness” that might limit your willingness to let go and have fun.

Two “playground” examples from a cardigan I’m currently knitting. Double-stranding, steeking, texture, color, and motif play too!

There are no mistakes here! Anything that happens happens. Drop a stitch? Leave it? Split one? No problem. Knit on!

Now that we have a space, what are we going to do in it? My first suggestion in your new year of knitting is to use the space like a warm-up before a hike or other exercise. Spend a few minutes in the playground before you pick up your project. You can simply use it as a space to limber up your hands and fingers before you start knitting your project. You can also use it as a judgment-free space to work on implementing behavior and technique changes.

My Top 3 Changes

Neck Posture

If you correct only one postural element, I think it should be your neck. We spend a lot of time with our head down looking at phones and keyboards. This compresses the discs in your neck which require decompression for rehydration and health. Most knitters knit with their heads down to watch that they don’t drop a stitch. (Pairing your needles to complement the friction of your yarn addresses this worry.)

I’m not suggesting that you never look at your work, but spare the discs, nerves, and soft tissue of your neck the strain of constantly looking down to see stitches that are uncomplicated. Start by using the playground to practice knitting garter stitch without watching—there are no mistakes in the playground. Develop your confidence not needing to look at your hands by changing from garter to stockinette. Then 2×2 ribbing and seed stitch.

left: the head in neutral posture with tape along the neck midline. right: When the head drops, the tape stretches and gently tugs reminding you that you’re out of alignment.

Listen to your hands—they are wise and well trained. To help you with this, take a piece of tape and place it vertically along the back of your neck as you’re looking forward (neutral neck posture). When your head drops you’ll feel the tug of the tape reminding you to look forward. It’s very important that when you feel the tug, you respond to yourself with kindness. There is no negative self-talk allowed in the playground.

Think about using the tape technique for any other joint posture you’re trying to improve.


Injuries happen due to frequent or prolonged interruption to circulation both at the gross and microvascular level. Use the playground as a place to incorporate movement to your knitting.

Mindfulness markers are easy and discussed here. You can also mark your pattern to indicate which rows or parts of a repeat you’ll follow with some movement. Of course there are dozens of exercises and stretches you could do, but in the spirit of keeping it simple for attainable goals, just stand up and swing your arms gently for 20-30 seconds as you open and close your fingers. Your hands will feel very refreshed because they are!

Peace of Mind

Psychological comfort is an important aspect of ergonomics that doesn’t get talked about very much. If we are psychologically uncomfortable (stressed), we manifest that by contracting muscles involuntarily (think of those tight shoulders and clenched jaws). Knitters carry this discomfort when they worry about making a mistake while knitting. Use the playground as a space to intentionally make mistakes and learn to fix them with yarn you’re not attached to. It will give you confidence in your project knitting that you can fix any mistake that comes your way, and you’ll relax those shoulders and breathe deeply throughout your project!

I hope you find these tips useful. I wish for you a well-used playground filled with curiosity and self-kindness, and a very comfortable year of knitting.

MDK’s Knitting Comfortably with Carson Demers series is here! You can find him at Ergo, I Knit. External Link. Opens in new window..

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.


  • I like the idea of intentionally making mistakes in order to see how to fix them. When I make my “playgrounds”, I aim for at least 8″ because otherwise the gauge is a liar. The finished playgrounds make a great blanket once you have enough. And calling them playgrounds sounds ideal for a baby blanket.

  • Carson – You’re the absolute best! Thanks so much for all these great ideas!!

  • I have chronic neck and shoulder tension, and I always think “oh, I should take more breaks and stretch,” but it just never happens. But after a week of pain at the start of this year, I finally set a morning and afternoon appointment in my work calendar to stretch, and I downloaded an interval timer to keep me honest in the stretching. I don’t necessarily have to get up at that moment, but I can’t dismiss the reminder until I’ve stretched. Two weeks in and I’m 100% so far! It’s definitely helping. Now I’m going to set the interval timer when I knit! (The one I have is called Interval Timer Plus by Su-Au Hwang, and it’s simple to use and you can save your setups.)

  • I love the tape tip. I recently realized how much I look down while knitting on a very long flight back from Europe. By hour six with three more to go and the seat belt sign on the ENTIRE FLIGHT, my neck started to remind me that looking down all the time is quite unnatural (not to mention the screaming hamstrings and general feeling that I was going to lose my mind). I may throw some washi tape in my knitting bag for long flights and will definitely try the tape trick at home this week.

  • I love the idea of a playground space where mistakes are all just part of the process.

  • Thank you!!!

  • This was a very helpful article. Thank you!

  • I am laid up with a broken leg so I picked up a huge sock that I started and realized the only thing it would fit would be the Jolly Green Giant, so I put it aside. I am now using it as a “playground” practicing with different sized needles, different colors etc. Maybe I will practice a few different patterns as well. Oh well, I have a hard time finishing anything anyway.

    • Christmas stocking perhaps?

    • chuckle! Giant sock gives me great mental picture.

  • Great suggestions and so easy to implement! Thank you….cheers!

  • Thanks again and again and again for your tips Carson. As a former PT I still talk about posture – now with knitting friends rather than work. We sit in good chairs in our knitting group but who knows what happens at home???

  • Carson, you’ve reminded me to pay attention to my watch when it says to get up and move. I’ve been ignoring it lately. I love all of your suggestions even if I am fearful of knitting without looking! Practice is what will help me overcome this. Thank you!

  • Great information and suggestions …thank you Carson!

  • This is so very helpful and gentle, thanks! Somehow I don’t usually think of the small, easy way to make changes, whether in knitting or life. You are so reasonable! I can definitely incorporate this into my knitting. Great and do-able suggestions.

  • Great ideas. I am certainly going to try these tips.

  • I have severe neck issues.Using circular needles, I knit with my elbows settled either side on my belly/rib cage and my hands up in front of my mouth level. That way I don’t need to bend my head to look at my work.
    It’s helped a great deal and arms are supported.

  • Great great article!!! Thank you!!!

  • The tape idea is genius! Thanks.

  • I took one of your classes last year and was so excited with what I learned that day. Huge for me was discovering that I don’t need to look at my knitting as much as I thought I did! So liberating! Thank you Carson!

  • Well said. Now, I must put to practice your valuable suggestions. (A good new year’s resolution).

  • How utterly brilliant to cast this as the kind of practising we know we need to do with everything else.

  • What a great concept and surefire tips for knotting comfortably.

  • I appreciate this article because these are things that I would not think of myself. Thank you. I will try to put these techniques into practice.

  • I love this!!! I keep a ball and needles (and a crochet hook) on the end table to try things out with and The Playground is the perfect name for it. I’ll also add to the list of things you can do with it–yank the needles out and put them back in. It’s so many knitters biggest fear but once you’ve done it, confidence builds. I do it with new knitters all the time. First I do it in front them and then I sit with them while they do it. It’s lovely to see the look on their face when they’ve finished!

  • Thank you for the reminder that we can play! My sister and I are just about to embark on a knitting exploration of different cast on techniques, patterns, etc. Since we knit every day your comment on sitting with properly aligned neck is valuable.

  • I know you’re supposed to sit with feet flat on the floor, but I have to sit in a recliner with my feet raised because of a previous broken ankle. I also suffer from wrist pain. Thank you for the reminder about taking care of my wrists and neck.

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