Frequency, duration, intensity... Knitting Comfortably with Carson Demers

Knitting Comfortably by Carson Demers

As many of you know, I was an occupational therapist for 17 years and still hold state and national licenses. I have seen so many fiber artists and crafters with injuries that meant they had to scale back or stop their beloved fiber activities that I have used my therapist expertise to address these issues in the tapestry workshops I teach. So I was completely thrilled to see the book I'm reviewing here hit the shelves. I did a little dance when I saw it at my LYS last week (Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder has some copies--go get one or ask your local yarn store to carry it).

Ergonomics is just a fancy word for how we interact with the environment. It addresses how we use our bodies for safety, comfort, health, and productivity. And as a fiber artist, how I use my body is of paramount importance especially given all I know about what can happen when we don't take care of our most important equipment. I spend a lot of time every day in activities that are very repetitive (including typing this) and I bet you do too. 

So when a new book about ergonomics and fiber art came out earlier this year, I was ecstatic. I pre-ordered and waited expectantly for this book to arrive. When it did, I was immediately over the moon with Knitting Comfortably: The Ergonomics of Handknitting by Carson Demers.* This book, which was edited by Ann Budd with a forward by Cat Bordhi, is stunning (with back cover blurbs by Clara Parkes, Amy Singer, Franklin Habit, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee if you weren't convinced already).

Carson Demers, Knitting Comfortably, page 17, example of images in book and how faulty technique can lead to cumulative trauma

What I love about Carson's writing is that he has an astounding ability to explain physiological concepts in a way that anyone can understand. He pairs superb writing with excellent graphics. Take this image of a person knitting with the bone and tendon structure overlaid on the photograph for example. He is illustrating how a particular way you hold your yarn may lead to tendinitis. In my career I have read shelves and shelves of books about anatomy and ergonomics and I have never seen such good descriptions of how anatomical structures interact with specific activities. (This fact is obviously especially thrilling for an occupational therapist who is very concerned about functional activities!)

He has chapters about anatomic vulnerability, posture, forceful exertion, repetition, effects of light, sound, and temperature, tool use, and how to take care of yourself.

He talks specifically about different tools and what sorts of stresses they put on our bodies. He also discusses matching the tool (mostly knitting) to the type of yarn. For example, if you pair a slippery yarn with a slippery needle, you're going to have to work harder to keep the knitting on the needles which increases stress on your body.

Carson Demers, Knitting Comfortably, page 35, Using yarn to describe the effects of an open or closed anatomical tunnel

Carson includes chapters on how to prevent overuse injuries and he has a really nice chapter on self care. He gives us ideas about how to prevent injury through reducing exposure to risk factors and encourages exercise and stretching. He gives us an excellent section of stretches which includes how to do the stretch effectively including photographs. I really appreciate descriptions like this:

Sit tall and imagine a piece of yarn tied to an imaginary button on the top front of your shirt. Imagine the yarn being pulled gently toward the ceiling, raising your chest and rib cage until your spine feels erect, then tuck your chin back (like a turtle going into its shell) to make a double chin. Feel the stretch at the back of your neck. Breathe and relax.
— Carson Demers, Knitting Comfortably, Chin Tuck stretch page 198

Carson Demers, Knitting Comfortably, pages 20-21

The photos in this book are exceptional. They are clean, clear, and illustrate the text very well. The book size is large, the print font is lovely and very readable, things are well spaced and located on the pages, and overall the book feels approachable both in the content and in it's physicality.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the chapter about computer use. In this age of constant technology use, computers have a big impact on our bodies. Carson reiterates throughout the book the additive effect of the activities we engage in every day. Many of the postures and upper extremity use that is necessary at the computer is the same kind of motion needed for fiber crafts. This activity is cumulative, so adding computing time to fiber time increases the wear and tear on our body structures and he discusses how to address this problem. Carson talks about setting up a computing station with special emphasis on body position in your chair. This information is not only useful for computing but for any chair you're sitting in! He includes a wonderful multi-page table with ways to adjust your furniture or environment to optimize your posture and comfort while working. He also talks about laptops and tablets.

Carson ends the book with a chapter which encourages us all to take the next step. He gives us tips for implementing change and encourages us to take care of ourselves. So if you knit or crochet, there is no question that you need a copy of Knitting Comfortably. But I'm going to take it a step further and say that if you do any kind of fiber art, you need this book. 

For weavers, he has a lot of information about posture and seating including how that impacts arm use. He doesn't specifically talk about weaving and especially not on floor looms, but much of this information is directly applicable to managing yarn at the loom as well as posture and seating. Some day I will write an article specifically about seating and floor looms unless, and my fingers are crossed here, Carson beats me to it. Until then, you'll find a whole lot of relevant information in this book written for knitters even if you have never knit a stitch in your life.

As an experienced occupational therapist, I was impressed at the way Carson imparts therapeutically based knowledge in ways that anyone can understand. His information is not only accurate but he does such a good job describing anatomical issues in simple ways that I am still impressed every time I pick the book up.

The most recent issue of Ply magazine (Autumn 2017, the Semi- issue) has a column by Carson where he talks about how to use different spinning techniques to take care of your body. I think this Ergo Neo: New Ways to Work column will be a fixture in Ply. It certainly will keep me subscribing all on it's own. Check it out if you're a spinner.

Bottom line: read this book.*

It'll make you think about frequency, duration, and intensity and apply these concepts to everything you do.
You can find it on his website here:

*I do not know Carson. I've never had a class with him and I've never met him online or in person. But if I get a chance to take one of his classes, you better believe I will. I've heard stories of knitters in his classes wandering around convention centers knitting as they walk, chat, browse in the vendor hall and I aspire to that kind of comfort with my own knitting and spindle spinning. The class list is out for Ply 2018 and Carson is on it... perhaps an ergonomics for spinning class is in my future?? Want to meet me there?