Tips for Comfortable Holiday Knitting
Many of us enjoy knitting gifts for giving during the winter holidays. Unfortunately, often October has come and gone before we realize the holidays are only weeks away and our Finished Objects pile is tiny.
This minor lapse in planning has big implications, ergonomically speaking. As I’ve mentioned before, sound ergonomics balance productivity, efficiency, and safety. Facing a wall of deadlines emphasizes productivity at the cost of efficiency and safety.
When we face a deadline, the natural “flight or fight” thing to do is try knitting faster for longer. This creates more errors—errors that need time to be repaired. So much for efficiency.
And prolonged sitting to meet knitting deadlines compromises safety because we’re apt to ignore uncomfortable postures, muscle tension, and stress.
The effects of stress tend to come to our attention when the deadline has passed and we return our awareness to our body. I assume we all want to be knitting comfortably in January, so let’s discuss how to survive the madness at the end of the year.
When one element of our ergonomic trio gets overemphasized, the trick is to amplify the others.
Assess your plan. Sometimes gift-knitting promises are made after a second glass of wine at Thanksgiving that simply can’t be fulfilled without causing a lot of stress. Assess how many hours a day you typically have available to knit each day or week, then think about how fast you knit, and how many items you hope to have available to give by the end of the season. If all that doesn’t add up, give yourself permission to extend your deadline.
Simplify. If your aim is to simply give a handmade gift to someone, and there’s been no promise of what that might be, then keep it simple. A favorite hat or mittens pattern may be familiar to you, but it’s a far-from-boring gift for the recipient.
This is not the time to learn a new technique for your projects. If you have never knit a brioche lace scarf before, and you have lots of knitting to do, this isn’t the best time to learn it.
Consider your needles. In addition to your choice of what to knit, be sure to consider the needles you’ll knit with. If you invest a little time before you start knitting (especially with an unfamiliar yarn) to choose the best needle, you’ll save yourself lots of extra work. The most common problem I see knitters having is using a slippery needle to knit a slippery yarn. This poor combination costs extra energy to keep the project on the needle, slowing you down and making extra work for hands and forearms.
The most important consideration is the amount of friction between needle and yarn. A slippery needle doesn’t make you knit faster or more efficiently if your yarn is also slippery (think superwash, silk, low-elasticity fibers, tightly plied yarns). A needle with a bit more grip will actually allow you to worry less about dropping stitches or keeping them in place. It will also allow you to work closer to the tip of your needle fearless of things slipping off the end and with less movement.
Take little breaks. This may sound counterintuitive, but taking frequent micro-breaks while you knit will improve your efficiency and give your body a moment to recover. A micro-break is a short (minute or less) time where you put down the knitting, stand up and move a bit.
Take a micro-break every 25-30 minutes and please stand while you’re at it. Your spinal discs need a break, too and they get it when you stand. You can also help them by staying well hydrated during your knitting. I don’t think eggnog counts, though.
Get moving. Doing arm swings and jazz hands during these times is a simple movement with a big payoff. It helps get circulation into the forearms and hands, allows your shoulders to experience a large range of movement, opens your chest and encourages you to breathe deeper.
Arm swings with jazz hands
Take the opportunity to do some deeper breathing. March in place, rise up on tiptoes a few times or take a lap up and down the stairs—anything to get the blood moving so your brain remains alert and your arms and hands well perfused. You’ll find simple and effective stretches to work into your movement here.
Horizontal arm swings
Plan your breaks. Mark your pattern as to when you’ll commit to doing your micro-break. For instance, after every round or two, or after a repeat of a pattern. And hold yourself accountable to that.
Take your time. If you have made a promise for a particular item that can’t be finished by the date you wanted to give it, how about giving a snip of the yarn you’re using of maybe even a small swatch along with a picture of the garment from the pattern (don’t copy the pattern though) Let the recipient know this is coming to them soon after the holidays. I’ve done this with my very own mom and she was fine with it. How about a progressive sweater? Fronts by New Year’s Eve. Back by Valentine’s. Sleeves by St. Patrick’s Day.
Knitters create very personal environments that will be inhabited by those we love. You don’t want to make or give an environment that has caused you discomfort or injury. And the recipient would probably not like inhabiting one that they know took you away from your favorite sport—knitting—for a period of time to heal. Invest in your wellness while you’re sharing your love. I want you knitting comfortably in January!