Knitting Comfortably: The Ergonomics of Handknitting by Carson Demers

Imagine being told by your doctor that you can no longer knit. That you’ve damaged your body and must stop doing what you love.

It sounds like a horror story, but it’s entirely possible if we fail to take care of ourselves. Knitting is fundamentally a repetitive, manual activity that many of us do while seated and staring down for long periods of time. It has all the ingredients for physical harm.

Many years ago, a doctor actually told me that I should stop knitting. And playing the piano.

Instead, I left the writing job that was causing the damage, and I’ve been attentive to my hands ever since. When they begin to ache, I remember the doctor’s words and I start to worry.

Which is why I was so excited to meet Carson Demers.

Carson is a trained physical therapist with a specialty in ergonomics. That’s his profession. He is so good, a major San Francisco medical center trusts him to keep its own staff ergonomically healthy and whole.

Carson’s passion, however, is knitting and spinning. In the pursuit of these passions, he has spent a lot of time around knitters, observing our habits and most likely being shocked at how terrible our ergonomics tend to be. Admit it, we splay on couches and in armchairs, feet propped, glass of wine by our side, luxuriating in endless “just one more rows” while our body slowly implodes.

Help! Help!

Lucky for us, Carson decided to apply his professional knowledge to his passion and create what are now wildly popular ergonomics workshops for knitters. I brought him to my Knitter’s Review Retreat for several years, and while I was never able to take one of his classes (that’s what happens when you’re the event organizer), I did once pull him aside for advice. My hand was beginning to hurt badly when I wrote—and I write all my first drafts by hand. The prospect of no longer being able to do this was even more frightening than not being able to knit.

Carson asked me to write a few words on paper so he could see what I was doing. After 30 seconds, he explained precisely what posture and movements were causing the pain and suggested an alternate way of holding the pen. It felt foreign and my handwriting looked terrible but the pain went away. Instantly.

A Trustworthy Voice

Many years in the making and finally now available, Knitting Comfortably distills the heart of the knitting ergonomics matter into some 250 beautifully illustrated, photographed, diagrammed, and written pages. It is gorgeous and immaculate, edited by Ann Budd, with photography by Zoe Lonergan and the most ingenious illustrations by Susan Szecsi. It would appear that no expense was spared, no shortcuts taken in the making of this book.

Which is why I feel comfortable telling you, point blank: get this book. Read every page (multiple times, even). Take notes. Study the pictures and diagrams, and by all means try all of his “swatchortunities” (clever “don’t believe me?” exercises to drive home each point). Take a rigorous look at your knitting style and the space in which you do it. Then, incorporate his recommendations, stretches, and exercises into your daily routine.

Do this, and you’ll have the very best shot at knitting comfortably for the rest of your life.

Looks Like a Textbook, Feels Like a Friend

Carson writes both as a trained professional and as a comrade in yarn. He uses wonderful metaphors that make sense to us—like comparing the movement of our spine to the crimp in wool, for example. He also throws in charming little phrases or words that remind you he’s one of us, and he really does care.

Perhaps most important of all, Carson is able to explain potentially dry, complicated matters of ergonomics and physiology with lightness and ease. The book looks serious and weighs a ton but is easy and energizing to read.

At a Price

This book is $46.95—or $60.55 with shipping if you order directly from Carson. I gulped when I first saw that number. Then I started doing the math. Depending on the venue, a three-hour workshop with Carson will cost you at least $60. Here, you get a printed, illustrated version of his workshop that you can refer to again and again for about the same price. For the cost of a few skeins of yarn, you can make sure your body will be able to knit forever.

Carson sells the book on his Website, but he also sells wholesale to yarn stores. If money is tight and this feels like a leap, find a yarn store that carries the book and give it a closer look. If you like what you see, perhaps start saving your nickels, or consider going in on a copy with a friend, at least until you can get your own.

Breadth of Information

The book covers a ton of territory beyond how to sit and how to hold yarn. (Speaking of sitting, he urges us to get up and walk with our knitting, reminding us that this is how it was often done before the industrial revolution.)

As a spinner, Carson also understands how fiber and yarn will also impact the ergonomics of knitting, and those sections are equally wonderful. He even goes so far as to explain the amount of energy required to knit a woolen yarn versus a worsted one, and how that impacts your hands.

Just when you think you can close the book and get to your ergonomically correct knitting, Carson leaves you a gift for a lifetime: 21 pages of easy, helpful stretching and strengthening exercises. Some of them stretched muscles I didn’t even know I had. And many of the stretches can be done while seated at your desk. (Which he also talks about, too: proper ergonomics when at the computer.)

Gimme More

The act of knitting is one of the most difficult things to photograph because there are so many discrete movements. Which is why it would be insanity for Carson to try and photograph all possible tensioning techniques and knitting postures out there. And yet I still found myself wanting more. The explanation of the optimal tensioning technique for continental knitting, for example, had just four photographs that left me wishing I could pull him aside for another consult.

Bottom Line?

Knitting Comfortably is intended to help us begin to get a grip (pardon the pun) on where, when, and how we knit, with an eye toward making small ergonomic and lifestyle changes that will keep us knitting comfortably forever. Best of all, you won’t be scolded for eating gluten or dairy or the occasional donut. And you won’t be told to take up jogging or yoga. His advice is gentle and reasonable and backed by facts.

The bottom line? We want our hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and entire body to be able to support our knitting passion until our last breath. And this book will go a long way toward making sure that can happen.

Source of review copy: Carson Demers

 

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My only wish is that I could afford to share copies of Carson’s book with all of my knitting friends, both those I know in real life as well as those on Ravelry. I have a BS in Exercise Physiology & Biomechanics and feared that the book would be more technical and textbook like and I was so wonderfully surprised. I’m thrilled to learn that you too Clara have found a wonderful resource in his book!

I bought this, despite the steep price, as soon as I heard about it on the Fruity Knitter podcast and it is worth every penny (and I do not say that lightly, it is expensive, even with free shipping on Amazon Prime). I agree with everything Clara said about the book. In addition, I appreciated the range of ideas. For example, when he discusses tables and chairs and such, he tells you what to look for if you are acquiring a new chair but also how to make your existing chair work with materials such as a rolled up towel… Read more »

Just took Carson’s class – it was great! He has wonderful mastery of both knitting and ergonomics. His advice is wide-ranging and useful to everyone, even if you’ve never had a twinge of pain. Laurie Hack, PT

I bought this book at Stitches Midwest after taking Carson’s workshop. It’s cheaper than even one session of PT, and totally worth it.

Unavailable on Amazon now. Guess he’s only selling on his website??

I bought this book at Black Sheep Gathering from Carolina Homespun. Such a huge amount of helpful information included – worth the price.

As always, your opinions are so helpful. I have this book, but you have encouraged me to pick it up and open it again. I would love an IG post of all of the cider donuts you get at Rhinebeck! 🙂

I’m going to suggest my local public library add carson’s book to their collection. The purchase price is beyond my means and I’m certain other knitters in my area will want to explore carson’s book as well. (so far, my public library has purchased every book I’ve recommended = Library love!

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