Welcome to 2007 at Knitting for Change —
the year of women’s health.
This year, I’ll be posting every other month instead of every month, because I’m very busy with writing books and I’ll be traveling a lot to teach knitting workshops and to do research for three different future books.
For our first topic this year, I’ve decided to write about keeping our hands healthy as we knit. Because so many knitters are women, I think this fits into the women’s health theme, although it applies equally to any men who knit or do fine work with their hands. Knitting injuries can be as benign as blisters or scratches, and as severe as needle puncture wounds or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but whatever damage we do to ourselves with our knitting should not be ignored! Knitting should be a fun, relaxing hobby. It should contribute to our well being and improve our health. We should never let it hurt our bodies. I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic for a few weeks, and I decided to stop thinking and stop writing today, when I saw a sidebar on the same information in the Sports issue of Knit.1 magazine. It’s obviously a timely subject.
Last December, I spent three or four days in a row doing data entry because I’d procrastinated so much on my part-time bookkeeping job during the fall while I was traveling to Alaska and other places to promote Arctic Lace. After the final day of punching data into Quickbooks, I noticed that my left arm (the cut and paste key hand) started aching. I wasn’t finished with the job yet, but I decided that I’d better take a break from full time typing over the holidays. In the meantime, I purchased an ergonomic keyboard and a pair of Handeze therapeutic support gloves to wear whenever I worked on the computer. (I bought these gloves at Office Depot but Patternworks carries a similar product called Theragloves. They also carry velvet covered Comfort Cuffs that can be heated or cooled and worn to soothe tired wrists. Even if you don’t feel any pain or stress, these are delightful wraps filled with flax seed and scented with lavender essential oil.)
Then, I took some time off from the computer. I worked for a few hours between New Years and the TNNA show in mid-January, and hoped for the best.
My hand felt much better, even after finishing up the job after TNNA (I broke it into 1 or 2 hour segments instead of trying to finish in one more marathon of a day), but I still am having a little weakness in my wrist and the occasional twinge. I spoke to my physical therapist about it and she showed me some exercises to help strenghten my wrist. Still, if my hand is not totally better in a week or so, I’m going to make a doctor’s appointment. I don’t want any permanent damage. Why? Not because I really care that much about typing, but because I don’t want to risk losing the ability to knit (of course!).
So, with my recent personal experience of what happens when you don’t take care of your hands, here are some tips.
Start and end each knitting session with hand stretches
In addition to stretching before and after you knit, you should also take frequent breaks while you are knitting. I know it’s easy to get into the groove and before you know it, you’ve knitted straight through three hours and have gotten up to the armholes on your sweater. But this is not the best way to care for your body. Instead, knit a few rows and take a short break, pick up a glass of water, eat a carrot, scratch your head. Anything to move your hands into different positions than knitting. And don’t forget to pay attention to your posture. Bad posture puts stress on all different body parts.
There are several websites and books that include good hand exercises for knitters:
- Hand Stretches from Berocco
- Exercises to Injure-Proof Your Wrists
- Carpal Tunnel Info (scroll down for info about exercises)
- The Pleasures of Knitting by Ann McCauley
Here’s one very easy exercise from The Pleasures of Knitting:
Touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your little finger. Don’t squeeze, just hold them together lightly touching for a few seconds or until you feel the pulse in your fingertips. Then move your thumb to the tip of your next finger, and repeat on all fingers. This simple exercise works wonders when your hands get tired from too much knitting!
Ann is a professional dancer and she teaches dance and movement at the National Theater Conservatory of the Denver Center for Performing Arts. After writing her book, Ann developed a workshop for knitters that “explores how awareness, alignment, body mechanics, and self-help hand care can play a very active role in allowing us to knit or engage in other types of handwork with comfort, balance, ease and well-being. [In the class, students] utilize techniques and acquire take-home skills that dynamically improve posture and the movement of energy throughout the body. Class material is accumulated from experience with many movement disciplines and hands on modalities.”
If you ever hear of this class being taught in your area, be sure to sign up! You won’t regret it. It’s appropriate for knitters of every skill level, so don’t be intimidated if you’re new to knitting.
Use ergonomic tools
If you crochet, use ergonomic hooks such as Clover Soft Touch Crochet Hooks. These hooks make crocheting much easier on your hands, because they have a large, soft handle. Crocheting is often harder on your body than knitting because of the way you twist the hook to make the stitches, so the availability of these ergonomic hooks is fantastic.
Alas, there are no special, ergonomic knitting neeldes, but pay attention to how your hands feel when you knit with different kinds of needles. I used to love the shiny, nickel-plated needles because they are so fast to knit with. But a year or so ago, I started noticing that my hands hurt when I used these needles. I’m not sure if it’s because they are cold or because they are so hard, but I feel much better knitting with wooden and plastic needles now. Even though they are a little slower, the improvement in comfort is well worth it. Most of my needles are from Brittany, because they’re economical, but I also love the new gorgeous needles from Lantern Moon. If you knit with very small needles, try bamboo or plastic becasue the thin wooden needles are more prone to break during use. (These hooks and neeldes are great if you have arthritis, too.)
Knitters can also try different ways of holding the needles and switching between Continental and English style knitting to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries.
If you have persistent symptoms, see your doctor!
Over and over again on the Knitlist, Knit-U, and other online knitting discussion groups, I see people asking what they can do about having pain in their hands, arms, shoulders and necks. There is only one answer to this question: see your doctor. If you ever have a pain that lasts for more than a short period of time, you should not risk permanent damage. It is better to waste some money on a visit to your doctor than to end up being crippled for life because you are feeling stubborn or because you don’t want to spend the money on a doctor visit. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish about your health!
Pattern: Fingerless Gloves for Hand Health
I made these fingerless gloves to cover up the ugly Handeze therapeutic gloves I wear now whenever I work on the computer. These also make good gifts, for friends, loved ones, or as donations to homeless shelters or any place that collects warm woolies for those in needs. I especially like the idea of giving pretty gifts like these to single moms at the holidays. Chances are they’ve spent any spare change the could dig up on gifts for their children, and didn’t have a dime left to treat themselves to an ounce of luxury.
Women’s S (M, L), to snugly fit a hand that measures 7 (7.5, 8) inches around the base of the fingers, just above the crotch of the thumb.
5.5 (6.5, 7) inch circumference
These gloves should fit snugly. If you’d like them to be a bit looser, go up a needle size and work at a slightly looser gauge.
Approx 150 yards of worsted weight wool or wool blend yarn.
A small amount of faux fur yarn, 12 or 15 yards should be ample.
I used Plymouth Galway Worsted (100% Wool, 210 yds/100g ball) and Furlauro (100% Nylon, 82 yds/50g ball)
Set of 4 or 5 size 8 U.S. double pointed needles
5 sts = 1 inch over St st using worsted-weight wool yarn
With fur, CO 28 (32, 36) sts. Distribute sts evenly on 3 dpns. Join to knit in the round, being careful not to twist sts. Use yarn tail to keep track of the end of the rnds.
K 3 rnds.
Change to wool yarn and beging 1×1 twisted rib patt as follows:
Rnd 1: *K1 through back loop to twist stitch, purl 1. Rep from * around.
Rep rnd 1 for patt.
Work in rib as est until cuff meas 2 1/2 inches or desired length to wrist.
Change to St st and AT THE SAME TIME begin thumb gore as follows:
Rnd 1: K1, p1, m1, k1, m1, p1, k to end of round.
Rnd 2: K1, p1, k to next p, p1, k to end of round.
Rnd 3: K1, p1, m1, k to next p, m1, p1, k to end of rnd.
Rep rnds 2 and 3 until you have 9 (9, 11) sts between purls.
Work even in St st, maintaining columns of purls on the sides of the thumb gore as est until hand reaches the crotch of your thumb. Glove should measure approx 5 (5.5, 6)” from CO edge.
Place 2 purls and 9 (9, 11) thumb gore sts on a piece of scrap yarn. CO 3 sts over gap and knit 4 rnds in St st.
Change to 1×1 twisted rib. Work 6 rnds of twisted rib. BO loosely.
Put 11 (11, 13) sts on hold for thumb onto dpns. Pick up 3 sts over gap at base of thumb–14 (14, 16) sts.
Knit 1 rnd, decreasing 2 sts–12 (12, 14) sts.
Work 6 rnds of 1×1 twisted rib. BO loosely.
Weave in ends, closing holes at sides of the base of the thumb if necessary.