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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.

Increasing Efficiency

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. 

Increasing Safety

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!

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.


  • The Progressive Sweater!
    Love it, thanks!

  • One Christmas, when I was young and energetic, I foolishly decided to make sweaters for each member of my family. (Parents and siblings) I started in September, thinking I’d have lots of time. As Christmas approached, I remember knitting through the night, and getting up to work the next day.
    In later years, I have given my husband a partially finished sweater, still on the needles. He was still happy !

  • Best hint I know of is get started EARLY. The holidays are stressful enough. Started in July and I’ve already finished family projects, which leaves time for smaller and last minute projects for friends and myself!

  • Thank you Carson. Watching the tv while knitting helps me look upwards while knitting (straight forward patterns). In future I will set a timer while watching the BBC or use advert breaks as a prompt to do these stretches.

  • Thanks so much!! I needed these tips and have made a note of them. So simple yet very effective. I think I can finish my “to make” list now

  • Thank you, Carson. I need to use this advice for work as well. Sitting at a computer all day, I now understand why some days I just can’t get myself to sit back down to knit.

  • This really USEFUL “self-care”! And I will use these tips not only for knitting but in my sedentary job. Thank you so very much!

  • Jazz hands! This is a great idea to make stretches more fun. Thank you Carson.

  • Eggnog is so too hydration!

  • I’m normally pretty good when it comes to gift knitting, but this year I was sick all October. Now that I can knit again, I’ve decided everyone is getting gnomes this year! They don’t take long, and it is fun to play with the colors! (Check out the lounge.)

  • Boy howdy on that slippery needles with slippery yarn! I thought I would whip up a little vest for a 3 year old grandson with some superwash I had in my stash and size 12 needles. Not. What a struggle. I’m hoping my LYS has some good grippy wooden ones in stock today!

  • One of the best books in my library!!!

  • Thank you Carson!

  • Great advice. My dad’s favorite sweater was the one I gave him for Christmas; the yarn and needles wrapped 7p in a box with the label, “some assembly required”. I did finish it eventually, but he always referred to it as his Some Assembly Required Sweater.

    • Brilliant!

    • My favorite! Assembly required!

    • That’s up in a box.

  • Carson, the wrist exercises on page 212-213 of your book have made a huge improvement in my wrist, forearm, and shoulders!!! If you could e we share a schematic of those they are so helpful! Not only knitting stress but I’ve discovered screen time in my phone was a big problem. Setting limits is the best!!! Thank you!

  • Thank you, Carson. As a retired physical therapist, I also find head rotations and sideways bends with a slow, comfortable stretch during my standing rest breaks. I also make myself look into the distance, as far away as I can, to rest my eyes. How many times have we knitters been in a class, learning a new technique, for an hour and our poor eyes are unable to see to drive home?

  • Thank you, Carson! This is such great advice, and I also need to apply it to computer work. Arm swings with jazz hands are making me very happy… 🙂

  • My family has a tradition of wrapping unfinished projects and putting them under the tree. I tend to avoid deadlines to avoid stressing out. Knitting is supposed to destress me. Now what I do is give a pattern with a note about choosing yarn/colors with the person then even the project can be changed if the person doesn’t like it. This is great when you are dealing with picky people and you get to enjoy the knit and the recipient get to enjoy the finished item.

  • Best advice I’ve received in a long long time. Lately I noticed that I had a few more aches and pains than usual. Now I know they are from the bad habits I picked up during my knitting. Marking the pattern to take a break is what I needed to hear. Otherwise I just keep going like the energizer bunny–but in the end I ache. So thank you Carson for some much needed advice.

  • Best class ever at Cast Away in Santa Rosa! Thank you, Carson! Your pearls of wisdom are far reaching as I have been crowing about your class to everyone! Tips and tricks for making my knitting time the joy I need and want!

  • nice reminders, thanks!

  • Very informative

  • Not to be a grinch, but I keep a very small, zealously curated, knitworthy list. I do a lot of “selfish” knitting because who appreciates it more than the person who did all the work! 🙂

    You do not have to knit things for everybody who’s on your giftee list. Ask yourself early and often- is this person truly knitworthy? Will they handwash the item with Soak and dry flat? Will they delicately remove the pills with a Gleener? Above all, will they wear it or will it languish in a (possibly moth infested) closet?

    Ask, answer, and proceed from there.

  • And also, as one of my work buddies Slacks me several times a day, stop sitting like a croissant! You are not a delicious, boneless, baked good, you are a human being with bones and a spine and all the structure that sort of thing implies! And as I Slack her several times a day, go drink some water!

  • Fabulous advice. Love reading the comments especially “some assembly required “

  • Thank you for the reminder about slippery needles and slippery yarn. I always hesitated to buy new needles for a project because I had so many but I got a set of wooden interchangeables last year (most of my needles are addi turbos). It was an excellent investment since I have been knitting with cotton and silk fibers quite a bit in the past few years. I can knit faster and more comfortably if I take a moment before I start a project to assess the match between the yarn and my needle choices.

  • Wonderful advice! I have to keep reminding myself to take breaks when knitting, it really helps.

  • Great advice!

  • Thank You so much for the Encouragement and Information. I will definitely be doing these exercises.

  • My aunt used to knit for about 40 people every year. She started on Boxing Day for the following Christmas. Sure miss those gifts.

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  • Great article. I could relate to all of it. Thank you for the tips!

  • “Knitters create very personal environments that will be inhabited by those we love.“

  • I had given no thought to the slippery-ness of needles with certain yarns, but it does make sense. As to the exercise necessity, that is more likely to be achieved. Thanks for the reminder.

  • What I sometimes do is gift my loved one the yarn itself—with a promise to make something of their choice after the dust settles. The joy of picking something special for someone, combined with their excitement of having choices in the style of the finished piece, and lots of back and forth conversations about the pattern and ideas, makes the gift so much more meaningful and fun for both sides. The result is always better!

  • I try to take a sip or two of water at the end of each row when knitting – it helps me stay hydrated.
    I do the arm and wrist stretches on long car rides and my husband always asks if I’m okay

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