On the Nest

snow-goose-bird-stands-on-nest-with-eggs-725x484.jpg

If you're like most people around the world, you're losing sleep wondering, "Hey, why hasn't this guy posted anything in the last two years? He has so much to say and, gosh I really miss his cheeky outlook". Contrary to what the tabloids have been asserting I have not been a 'living la vida loca in a tropical paradise'. Nor have I become a reclusive monk high atop a Tibetan mountain top (although that's a little closer to the truth).

No friends, I have been pedal to the metal working on my book. Yes, that book. The one I've been telling my classes and friends and anyone who will lend an ear about for longer than I care to admit.

Unless you've gone through this process yourself you probably wouldn't believe the learning curve and the endless number of steps and processes involved in writing and self-publishing a book. And that's a good thing because if you did, you probably wouldn't do it. While I've never given birth I would imagine it's similar in that respect. Seriously (and forgive the overused metaphor), this book has been an amazing journey. I will not bore you with the details but suffice to say I have more grey hair, and a higher BMI than I did when I started this. But I also have learned tons of stuff and made loads of new friends and relationships and for that I am truly grateful.

Perhaps best of all is that it's finally finished! Did you hear me? I said, "It's finally finished"!  The book is called Knitting Comfortably The Ergonomics of Handknitting. I'm so happy with it and I know you will be too. With the brilliant Ann Budd on your team, the amazing photographic, graphic arts talents of Zoe Lonergan (of Sandra McIver's  knit, Swirl and several of Hunter Hammersen projects), and the incredible artwork of Susan Szecsi how could a fella go wrong? Oh, and I'd like to say that I know a thing or two about the topic which I can't wait to share with you.

Book Cover

 

I'll share more about this journey in future posts, but for now I hope you'll pop on over to my Knitting Comfortably - The Book page and have a look. The book is hardbound with over 250 pages and as many color illustrations and photographs. It's currently being printed and will arrive around the end of March. I'm offering FREE SHIPPING in the US until March 15, 2017 to help promote the book and earn funds for printing and distribution costs. Heck, why not buy a copy now - maybe a couple for your friends.

Knitting is still our safe and happy space.  My book will help you keep it that way.

 

 

There's a Monkey on My Back

Miriam-Webster describes the word "obsessive" as, "thinking about something or someone too much or in a way that is not normal". I'm not really sure who gets to decide what's a "normal" way or amount to think about something or someone, but I get the gist so I can roll with it. They describe the word "compulsive" as, "caused by a desire that is too strong to resist : impossible to stop or control" and, "very interesting". I have been (not falsely) accused of being a little of both obsessive and compulsive. I don't mind. I take it as a compliment, especially the bit about "very interesting". Why thank you, I like to think so. But I don't know that there's anything particularly special or unusual (i.e., not "normal") about it. I think that I probably share this distinction with most of you fiberistas. We have our own special word to describe it - "stash". So I'm sure most of you will understand the drive to think about something in a way that is not normal (and here I'll add "for non-fiberistas" to the definition) I'm also pretty sure that "desire that is too strong to resist" is something that you not only understand but have experienced and enjoy. Of course you do. Just look in your closet. Yarn, yarn, yarn! You know it. I know it. The clothes that should be hanging in there but instead are on the treadmill know it. I'm not judging, I'm just saying. You might as well own your compulsion.

I have another compulsion besides fiber and yarn. Its kind of secret so I hope you'll be as non-judgmental of it as I am of your stash (and mine). Its office supplies. Specifically writing tools and paper. Ever since I learned to hold a crayon I've just been madly attracted to tools that make marks and the stuff you mark upon. This came in very handy when I was in art school. Perhaps I should say that art school came in handy as it allowed me to indulge my little secret. But I don't paint any more and my drawing is pretty limited to patterns and  designs so its kind of rare that I go to a store that has this type of candy. Understandably I thought I had the addiction under control. That is until my recent visit to my Besty, Madame Huff pictured below in front of one of her most clever designs and books.

Noted author, relentlessly talented designer, and evil enabling super genius, Mary Scott Huff. Cute but dangerous.

Noted author, relentlessly talented designer, and evil enabling super genius, Mary Scott Huff. Cute but dangerous.

 

One morning I was sitting at her desk, kvetching about its poor ergonomics I'm sure  (will she never listen to me?), when I discovered an artsy little container filled with fountain pens sitting beside the computer. Beads of sweat formed on my brow. Then I started to worry, no panic. I have this thing under control, right? I don't need to touch them. I have my own fountain pen and while its one of my favorite things I am its master, not the other way around. I don't need to see what its like to use another fountain pen.

So Huff says with faux innocence, "I see you've noticed my fountain pens. Do you like them?" More beads of sweat. "How about my (pause) mechanical pencils?", she said breathlessly.  If she had a mustache like Simon Legree she'd have stroked it. She knew she'd hit a nerve. And I knew I was about to be tied to the railroad tracks unless Dudley Dooright were to come along. "Have you ever shopped on the Goulet Pens website?" she purred. "How about Levenger or Jetpen?" The next thing I remember we were on the couch our hands filled with iPads which we feverishly stroked while looking lustfully at page after page of pen and paper porn. I'm not going to lie, it was heady. But I resisted and walked away with my dignity and wallet intact. 

So this week I'm minding my own business knitting on a sweater and using my mechanical pencil to update a chart, as I always do, when suddenly the pencil breaks. Totally broken -  beyond repair. It was an inexpensive but effective pencil and I got years of service from it, so no tears really. But then I realized I'd need to replace it. My hands got clammy. There are those damn beads of sweat again. There must be another way. I'll use a wooden pencil. I have one on the desk. I sprinted the two feet from my chair to the desk and grabbed it. Holding it with just the right amount of grip I moved it across my chart. It dragged clumsily.  It's body, too thin for my manly grip, lacked contour and caused my hand to strain. It's eraser, hard and smudgy gave me no satisfaction when I made a correction. This wasn't fun! Who was I kidding? This was never going to work. "Its me, not you, pencil. You see, there was another." And it must be replaced. I knew I had to go inside the belly of the beast - the art supply store.

Loins girded I set off this morning after a hearty breakfast for Flax Art and Design which is  one of my favorite store of all time. I felt they knew I was coming, too, and they were ready. Entering the store the first thing I encountered was a huge case of fountain pens and mechanical pencils. More beads of sweat. ("You can handle this".) I was sure I'd be dead in the water. ("You're in control") Putty in their hands ("The power is in the moment!"). But then suddenly, not just pens. Look at this wall of ink!

Just a portion of the wall of ink at Flax. I can't breathe, OMG, I can't breathe!

Just a portion of the wall of ink at Flax. I can't breathe, OMG, I can't breathe!

Through the kindness and expertise of these two talented and knowledgeable folks I manged to emerge with just want I needed.

Lani (left) and Stephanie (right) know everything in the world about pens, ink, and paper. They totally rock!

Lani (left) and Stephanie (right) know everything in the world about pens, ink, and paper. They totally rock!

Okay, more than I needed. But it could have been so much worse. And tell me you could resist this fountain pen and pencil. And as the theme was red I was in for some Noodler's Red Black ink as well. Delicious!

I used a red mechanical pencil throughout grad school and ever since. So glad they had the Kerry in red!

I used a red mechanical pencil throughout grad school and ever since. So glad they had the Kerry in red!

Now, what in the world has this to do with knitting? Everything! Tools inspire us to work. They are a part of the very experience of every part of knitting. Tools need to be comfortable to work with and, in my not so humble opinion, joyous to hold and use. They need to excite you. I'm sorry, but I won't apologize for not compromising on this and I hope you won't either! Everything from your needles to your stitch markers should be things that you enjoy. I'm not saying form over function (necessarily) but I will go down crying that if you don't love what you're working with then you shouldn't be using it because you won't enjoy the work. Nothing is more dissatisfying than knitting with needles that don't feel good in your hand. Or yarn that doesn't drape or display stitches as you wish it to. Why would you bother? Its the same with writing instruments, ball winders, bags, everything! In my mind, there are things you can skimp on with an eye toward economizing, but tools that I plan to spend time with are not among them. (I feel similarly about chocolate and wine. Life's short - enjoy!) And since I'm an accidental writer of sorts I get to have nice writing tools, too.

So with that in mind you can look forward to some posts in the future about Carson's favorite fiber tools and supplies. And if you have a favorite fiber tool - or writing implement - won't you share it with us in the Comments section below?

Until then, Knit Comfy!

Knitting allows me to experience the joy of other hand workers products. Ergo I Knit.

The Rest of It; or, My Endless Summer

Truth be told, Labor Day bums me out a little. It signals the impending end of summer, fewer sunlit hours in the day, and reminds me that winter lurks not far away. It all just gets me a bit melancholy. Perhaps its the vestiges of a childhood-dread for back-to-school. Unlike summer autumn and winter feel so dutiful. A time full of preparing for the dark and cold, not at all like the carefree spirit and light of summer. Now, I live in California so I can hardly call the my winters cold and dark, but I did grown up in New England and these things get engrained in a person. You'd think that as a knitter I'd be excited about winter but honestly, not so much. Its rarely too warm to wear knits in San Francisco. Given my bleak perspective wouldn't it make sense to squeeze out the last sweet juices of summer by doing something big and fun for Labor Day?  You'd think. But somehow, at least for the last few years, my Labor Day weekends have not been spent with any fanfare.

My friend and former neighbor Tom, however, has taken a different approach to the long weekend. For six years he's been attending the West Coast Men's Fall Knitting Retreat, held these last seven years at the Dumas Bay Centre on the Puget Sound in Washington. Tom would return from the retreat each year to regale me with stories of how beautiful the location is, telling me how much fun I'd missed and encouraging me to join him the next year.  So enthusiastic were his reports that last year even his partner, who is not a yarniac at all, went with him to see what all the commotion was about. Tom wasn't the only one coaxing me. Mike Wade, a.k.a. WonderMike of Fiber Beat fame and also a pal of mine, has organized this event for years. Whenever I'd see Mike (which isn't often enough despite living across the bay from each other) we'd decide that this was the year. But when fall rolled around it always seemed like there was a competing priority. You know how it goes.  The combination of a continent between me and Tom, and Mike's announcement that he would no longer be organizing the event made me realize that this year I had to go.

And so I did! And of course, these guys were right. Where to begin?

Welcome to the 2014 Men's Fall Knitting Retreat!

Welcome to the 2014 Men's Fall Knitting Retreat!

Walking into the meeting room we were greeted by a wall of beautiful pottery created by one of our fellows, Charan Sachar, of Creative With Clay. Charan takes his inspiration from embroidered Indian fabric and his work is simply beautiful. I labored (no pun intended) over the weekend to decide which piece I'd take home. Of course that meant four pieces ended up in my bag, one of which now sits with me at my desk when I'm writing. Did I mention Charan makes yarn bowls, too? Its all over my holiday list.

One of the beautiful tankards I purchased from Charan.

One of the beautiful tankards I purchased from Charan.

The retreat location is just gorgeous. The Dumas Bay Centre is literally on the Puget Sound and the gathering room overlooks it with full windowed walls. The cost of the retreat includes all your meals which brought delight to the palate and woe to the waist line. Each day had planned activities for those who wanted to attend and if you didn't, no problem. This was truly a retreat- an amazingly peaceful time to be off the grid and spend time knitting - with men.

Now, dear Female Reader, please don't be offended by my enthusiasm about this. I love knitting with my gal pals and I always will. But believe it or not I've never done it before with guys. At least not with this many at one time. Knit, I mean. What were you thinking? There were 30-plus guys from all over the country and Canada in attendance. All with amazing projects on their needles and a willingness to share skills and talents. Everything from Niebling to double knitting; mosaic to shadow knitting. And there was more than just knitting, too. You'd have seen men crocheting, tatting, card weaving and spinning.  It was inspiring and affirming. And when we weren't knitting or eating you might have found us at Skacel's Marker's Mercantile. If you haven't been to the Mercantile its a must-do the next time you're in the Seattle area. If the yarn doesn't get you the gluten-free pastries will. Karin and her staff will surely greet you with a great big smile and a wealth of knowledge. We were there to buy fiber for our indigo dipping extravaganza which happened on Saturday of the retreat.

Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors was on hand to give us a lesson in Shibori and prepare vats of indigo for yarn and tee shirt dyeing.

Kathy shows us how to create a Nigerian Shibori effect.

Kathy shows us how to create a Nigerian Shibori effect.

Saturday was a drizzly, grey day which set a perfect atmosphere for our drying hanks of yarn.

Mood indigo. I'm sorry, but it was!

Mood indigo. I'm sorry, but it was!

My lace weight Merino/silk hung to dry.

My lace weight Merino/silk hung to dry.

I am so smitten with this yarn! I carry it around the house with me just to look at it. It likes to go for car rides. It's allowed at work and in public buildings and I take it there. It will be great to have a garment made of it but I don't think I'll get tired of just looking at it any time soon. I also dyed a skein of lace weight 100% Merino (equally gorgeous) which I'll knit up first. I'd love to have it done for the Knitter's Review Retreat but there's lots to do before then so no promises.

There's lots of tradition among the MFKR community and I love this bit especially - there is an Ashford Traditional wheel that comes to the retreat with the sole purpose of seducing some unsuspecting (or not) man into the web of spinning. The wheel goes home with that person or persons, as was the case this year, so they can learn more about spinning before buying their first wheel. How cool is that! The wheel bit hard this year. Two naturals were in our midst and by the end of the weekend they were hooked. Fortunately, they're a couple so the wheel went home to two spinners this time. I can hardly wait to see what they learn this year and what they will bring to next year's retreat.

How fortunate for them, and indeed all of us, that we were visited by Judith Mackenzie! Judith gave a talk on this history of textiles as well as a spinning demonstration. She didn't need to persuade these guys to become spinners, but she certainly sealed the deal.  And in Judith's ever gracious manner she gave them a lesson. What an entree into spinning, lucky ducks.

 It was sad to say good-bye on Sunday morning but alas, life beckons and there's lots to do. And that's a good thing, even in the absence of long sunny days. I have an amazing fall in store! Have you checked my teaching schedule? Pretty sweet. Kind of like summer.

Men's Knitting Retreats are held in other areas of the country and throughout the year. Check out their website to see if there's one handy to you. 

Knitting teaches male knitters to be true to themselves, to challenge fear and convention. Ergo, I knit.

 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I live near an elementary school. Like many buildings in San Francisco the school is built into a hill. Its a sort of woodsy hill at the back of the school and there are trails going down the hill through the woods to the playground. Every weekday morning when Lily and I are out for our walk we see the smallies on their way to school.

Oh yeah! A stick! Sweet. So glad I got up today.

Oh yeah! A stick! Sweet. So glad I got up today.

Along our route we see the kids usually take the trails to the schoolyard. I love watching the morning rituals that the families have. The trails present these families with what I'd consider to be milestone moments in child rearing. Sometimes I can tell that its really hard for the moms or dads to let that little one walk down the hill alone. Sometimes you can tell that lessons in independence and separation are being learned. Sometimes you can tell that the child has passed the time when its cool for mom or dad to walk down the hill with them ("Stay there! You're embarrassing me.") And sometimes you see a parent walk just out of their child's line of sight and watch them get all the way down to the school. Its a great and affirming to see these acts of love first thing in the morning. I have to admit that I sort of miss them when they're gone for the summer even though its a quieter morning when they're gone.

This week they returned and with them came the nice weather. Kids in San Francisco get a foggy, windy summer. The nice weather comes in late August and September. I was thinking that if I were a kid I'd be really bummed out if the nice weather finally returned and I have to spend the day in a classroom. I can say this because I'm bummed that I have to spend these nice days in a windowless office. Yes, windowless. Such are the tender mercies that keep me from knowing what I'm missing outside.

Its been a long time since I was a kid the ages these children are but I do remember that summer vacation was the absolute best time of year. It seems to me that today's children don't get as much summer vacation as I did and I find that a little sad. What could have been sweeter than sleeping in late on a summer morning after staying up late the night before. On a "school night" thank you very much!

We as a culture do not seem to value rest. We're driven to be productive and some how that got translated into meaning you can't have any down time. An ergonomic dilemma! Being productive is fine but it comes at a cost which seems to not enter the equation sufficiently. Our muscles, brains, and mind need to rest so that they can recharge for the next event. Failing to allow this rest compromises personal health and safety because our bodies regenerate during our rest cycle. Our muscle tissue regeneration requires a cycle of inactivity. During this cycle cellular damage is repaired. The repair process is catalyzed by inflammation within the tissue. Its important to let the tissue complete the full cycle so that its ready for new work and physical challenge. If it doesn't get the full cycle we are setting ourselves up for injury. Its a little like sending an injured athlete back into the game before she's fully healed. Odds are pretty good that she'll be injured further and perhaps more severely.

I know this stuff and yet I must admit that I'm really not good at taking time off. I work full time at my day job.When I get home from that I work on writing projects, class development, pattern design, and other things that allow me to bring classes and information to you. I'm not saying this to sound like a martyr but just to say that there's not a lot of down time in my house. Even my vacation time from the day job is spent teaching throughout the year. So its was a big deal for me to say that I was going to take some time off this summer and just relax. Not once, but twice.

Some friends of mine told me about a spinning retreat that Judith McKenzie was teaching at a beautiful and secluded area just outside of Portland, Oregon. The event was all about spinning "luxury fibers". How could you go wrong? I was totally on board, To really gild the lily I decided that I'd crash for a few days with my Bestie, Madam Huff and her family on both ends of the trip. I should tell you that I had made a vow at the start of the year that I wouldn't buy any fiber this year because my little apartment is about to burst with what I have already. But how could anyone resist these?

Baby camel, Merino, and silk. Two bumps, please.

Baby camel, Merino, and silk. Two bumps, please.

Or how about this?

Cobalt and teal angora and merino blend. I spun a sample of self-striping yarn which you see around it.

Cobalt and teal angora and merino blend. I spun a sample of self-striping yarn which you see around it.

But wait, there's more!

50/50 baby alpaca and silk. 3 bumps artfully put up to look like flowers by Mary Reynolds.

50/50 baby alpaca and silk. 3 bumps artfully put up to look like flowers by Mary Reynolds.

Judith dyed all of these except the angora. Her colors are always so beautiful I could weep. I've become beyond smitten with this sort of acid green-yellow lately and I'm working on a cowl that I'll show you soon of the same color. Fortunately it's happy with my go-to blues which I don't think I'll ever get tired of.

Just so you don't think it was just a shopping event here are some samples I spun.

Luxury fiber sample skeins -everything from silk, suri, and yak to camel, cashmere and quivut.

Luxury fiber sample skeins -everything from silk, suri, and yak to camel, cashmere and quivut.

If that wasn't fun enough I got to hang with the Huffs again after the spinning retreat. We took a trip to Mt. St. Helens which was nothing short of breath taking.

You can imagine the once-upon-a-time peak fitting atop Mt. St. Helens.

You can imagine the once-upon-a-time peak fitting atop Mt. St. Helens.

This is an inspiring and beautiful place. So many colors and textures that I'd love to see in a sweater design (check out my "Inspiration" page for more photos). Mary and I saw a new butterfly that had just emerged from its chrysalis.

Newly emerged and drying its wings. Welcome, butterfly!

Newly emerged and drying its wings. Welcome, butterfly!

And what trip would be complete without an elk burger?

No thanks, but the Hufflets enjoyed one.

No thanks, but the Hufflets enjoyed one.

I love summer! And best of all, I'm taking another trip!

A perfect summer day spent with dear friends.

A perfect summer day spent with dear friends.

.

Hold Your Head Up

Don't you hate it when you get a song stuck in your head? For the last two days I've had Hold Your Head Up stuck in mine. Not the Macklemore song. No, I've got the ubiquitous 1972 Argent anthem stuck in there. I was in junior high school. This song was a staple for every cover band that ever played a high school dance through out the 70's. If you wanted to be cool you had to like this song. Whenever it started to play the cool kids instinctively bobbed their heads in rhythm with a feigned lack of self-consciousness and a false sense of bravado. Party on! I wasn't much of a rocker when this song debuted. Who am I kidding, I've never been much of a rocker. But I remember listening to the 8-track tape in the back of my cousin's RV when we were on summer vacations in upstate New York. Oh yeah, baby! Green shag carpet, contact paper that looked like wood covering the cabinets that doubled as a twin bed for three of the kids, and 8 track tape players in the front cab and  the back. When the grown ups were gone we'd listen to the rock 8 tracks, and play Pitch. Bitchin'!

I used to know someone who could plant a song in your head just by saying he was going to do it. In fact he called it "planting" and it was his super power. He had a gift for the power of suggestion. But that's now how this song got stuck in my head. I think it's there because I woke up a couple day ago with neck pain. Trust me, there's a reason we call annoying things 'pains in the neck'. Neck pain is a pain in the neck. You can tell them I said so.

"But I know I'm not alone", he said bravely as he looked out over the horizon toward the rising sun. Indeed not. Studies have shown that 5 in 1000 people over 50 have symptomatic spinal stenosis. Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal (which houses your spinal cord) or the lateral foramen where the nerve roots exit as they begin their journey to your (in the case of cervical nerves) arms, and hands. The narrowing can be the result of a number of causes. These include thickening of ligaments within the spine, osteophytes (bone spurs) along the margins of the vertebrae, bulging spinal discs, and thickening of the cartilage that line the joints of the spine. Studies that looked at the incidence of spinal stenosis in asymptomatic individuals have shown up to a 35% occurrence in subjects under the age of 30 years. Yowzah! Keep in mind that these folks didn't have symptoms which suggests that many people are stenotic and just don't know it. Hopefully they never will. The symptoms that stenosis can create range from joint stiffness, to local pain with movement, to irritation of the nerve root and the myriad symptoms of discomfort that can cause. If you'd like to read a scientific article about spinal stenosis and access the extensive reference list that it resulted from, then please have a look at this:

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1913265-overview

Spinal stenosis may be caused by trauma or genetics but it's clearly linked to the aging process; bad news for accident prone Boomers like me whose genes swim in a murky pool. Regardless of its origins, or whether or not you're symptomatic the research would indicate that it behooves us to treat these tunnels and canals with loving kindness and respect. After all your very nerves depend on it.

I can tell you from the biomechanical point of view that movement changes the amount of space in these tunnels. Looking up, bending to the side, and rotating your head narrows the space that nerve roots exit and creates tension along certain ligaments in the spinal canal. It also compresses the spinal facet joints on one side while it gaps them on the other. These movements can be painful depending on where the stenosis is located and what is causing it. Bending your head forward (flexion) compresses the front of the spinal discs causing their inner nucleus to move backward and to the side. This can contribute to narrowing of the space where the nerve roots exit and can be painful. It can also produce pain to the disc itself in the presence of pathology.

So why do we knitters and spinners give a wooly sheep's behind about this? Because most of us spend far too much time looking downward when we knit or spin! I totally get it. We feel this reliance on our vision to make sure our hands are doing the right thing. We're terrified that we'll drop a stitch and the Rapture will commence. We are sure that if we look away from our hands while drafting the wheel will spontaneously change its brake tension and globs of precious fiber will be yanked from our hands and wound into a twisted snarl on the bobbin. All the sheep will die. There will be no more yarn. Children will starve all over Europe. It will be dreadful!

My mission this year has been to get my students to stop doing this.  And I've been pretty successful. Here's a group that attended a class earlier this year. They're not only walking while they knit (a feat I also taught them) but they're looking up as they do it. And they're in a beautiful Marin County forest.  (I have a tough job.)

The Marin Gals loving the forest as they walk and knit.

The Marin Gals loving the forest as they walk and knit.

Don't they look like they're suffering?

Lest you think that this is a skill only the women in Marin County possess, here's another group from a class I taught at Stitches West last February with students from far and wide in attendance.

Swatchbucklers at Stitches West 2014 led by my favorite gal from Georgia.

Swatchbucklers at Stitches West 2014 led by my favorite gal from Georgia.

How did these folks manage this feat of daring do? Simple, they swatched for it! And that's what I want you to do. You CAN do this. Trust me, but more importantly trust your hands. You've been training them to knit or spin for years. They know how to make stitches without you watching them all the time. Helicopter knitter!  Tiger spinner!

For knitting, start with a bit of yarn that isn't terribly dear but that is cooperative (i.e., not prone to splitting, not novelty, etc.) Get yourself a set of needles that pair well with the yarn and, while sitting, knit yourself a garter stitch swatch without looking at your hands. If this is too much and you're getting hives at just the thought of it then start smaller. Only look at every 3rd or 4th stitch. You'll soon gain confidence and comfort, I promise. Remember our knitting ancestors knit complicated garments while walking and working. You can handle garter stitch on your couch. Once you get comfy doing the knit stitch, then turn the swatch into stockinette. Use this technique when you're swatching more complex patterns that you'll use in an upcoming project so you'll be comfortable looking away once in a while.

In spinning, start with a fiber and a drafting technique you're comfortable working with. Establish your wheel settings and the diameter of singles you want to make and spin a few yards. Then look away. Keep spinning but look forward. Listen to your hands - they're pretty smart. Look down when  you need to join your fiber supply or check your bobbin, but try not to spend your whole experience in this head down posture.

Of course there are times that we need to look at our hands and work. My point is that we don't need to witness the miracle of birth of each stitch or draft we make. We look down so much these days! Tablets, smart phones, hard copy on desks and tables - why add stress where you don't need it?

There are so many benefits from looking up from our work. We can breathe more fully because we're not hunched. We can relax the strain on our necks and shoulders. We can watch the movie on TV and not just listen to it as a sound track. (Did you know there are moving pictures that go along with Harry Potter? ) You'll see if your S.O. is giving him or herself more wine than they give you. So hold your head up! And rock on.

Knitting helps me look forward. Ergo, I Knit.

 

Its a New Day, Its a New Blog

Patrik
Patrik

I've already confessed that solving software related problems is not my forte. So even though I've wanted to change the look of the blog for some time now, I've felt overwhelmed at the thought of doing it. With all due respect to the good folks at Word Press who strive to make their product easy and intuitive to use, the idea of changing my blog page it still scares the be-jiggers out of me. Thank goodness for my friend Patrik.

Patrik is amazing! He's probably best known for his work as a jeweler who works with precious metal clay. He's a teacher of the art as well and he's just self-published his first book - Woodland Chic - Metal Clay Jewelry as Nature Intended which is gorgeous! Please check out his blog www.woodlandchic.net. Some day I'll commission him to make me some buttons or a shawl pin, but today he generously shared his talent as a graphic  designer and helped me to update the look of my blog. What do you think? I love the lighter more colorful look. I'm also happy (and many of you will be too) that the text is now black on white. Much less eye strain, don't you think?

Patrik is an amazing artist, but his office ergonomics leave something to be desired.

Patrik's desk
Patrik's desk

Check out the awkward angle of his monitor in relation to his keyboard. Check out the distance to his mouse. How can we make this a more comfortable and safe place for Patrik to work? Let's get him to sit squarely in front of your keyboard and position the monitor squarely in front of the keyboard. Patrik's keyboard and mouse are, to my mind, too small for him especially because he uses his hands for very fine work with small tools. The smallness of the input devices require his fingers to be in an awkward posture. I say, save those awkward postures for when they're unavoidable with your craft, not when they are avoidable at the computer. Now, what a rude guest I am to be critiquing Patrik's ergonomics after he so generously created my blog's new look. I'm even drinking his champagne as I write this. Be assured this is just tough love. I'll get him all set up before I leave (and before I have another glass of bubbly). In the meantime check out your computer set up and if there are things not positioned correctly, fix them. Its all for the cause of more time knitting comfortably!

Comfy Knitting!

Back in the Saddle Again

Can it really be 2 years since I've posted an entry here? Yes! Yes, it can. And yes it has been. I want to thank you early readers who've hung in there patiently waiting for me to write again, and those of you who recently stumbled across my blog and who have also encouraged me to start writing. I also want to thank Stephanie Pearl McPhee who so kindly mentioned my name in her blog last week which directed some of you my way. For those of you who read Steph's blog (and who doesn't?) yes, its true I do carry a human spine with me when I travel to teach some of my ergonomics classes. Fear not! It wasn't actually ever alive. Its just a plastic model. That said, it has raised eyebrows going through security at many an airport. I recall in particular going to teach at Sock Summit in 2009. My spine was sharing the suit case with a whole bunch of metal knitting needles poking in every direction around the spine. As the suitcase went through the x-ray machine the security agent stopped it with a puzzled and slightly horrified look on his face. He called for back up. "Rats", I thought. "They're going to confiscate my Addi's". The second security agent arrived and looked at the image of sharp pointy things aimed at and apparently through the human spine-like thing. The two looked at each other and shook their heads in an, "I don't want to know" kind of way and sent the bag on through. So, you might well ask, "What have you been doing that stopped you from posting for two years? Its not like no one was reading". To which I'll simply reply, "living and learning" - some of it the hard way. I've also been flogging myself for taking so long to start this up again and finally caved under the weight of my own nagging to do so. Many things have changed in my life. I'm experiencing a lot of new beginnings after a lot of sad endings. Its time to begin writing to you again because too many of you are still getting hurt while you knit or spin. It causes me to lose sleep. I can't afford that.I need all the beauty sleep I can get.

So let's talk a little about something that several people have written to me about. Its called De Quervain's Tenosynovitis or De Quervain's for short. Its a painful inflammation concerning the tendons that run along your forearm to the base of your thumb and allow it to extend and move away from the hand. These tendons travel through a tunnel or sheath which becomes inflamed with over use, repetitive movement, and working in an awkward wrist or thumb posture.  Our thumb has a unique, saddle shaped joint at its base which allows the thumb its great range of motion, especially opposition or the ability for it to cross our hand.  Since its our thumb's unique anatomy that helps put us at the top of the food chain, we're rather fond of using it to do most of the things we do. So you can imagine then, that having De Quervain's is at the very least inconvenient. Symptoms of De Quervain's include pain with moving the thumb or wrist - especially pinching. It is possible to have swelling around the wrist at the base of your thumb. Stiffness with thumb and wrist movement is another common complaint.

But wait, do knitters ever employ repetitive movement? Do they ever work in awkward wrist or thumb postures? Do they ever just not know when to put their needles down? Not on my watch, soldier! But seriously, before you blame your knitting look at the bigger picture of how you use your hands and wrists. New moms and dad's often experience De Quervain's from they way they lift their child. I remember seeing more than one patient with it after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out. Why? Because its a thick heavy book and no one could put it down. Holding a big book pinched between your thumb and the rest of your fingers is a good way to stir things up for these tendons. I love J.K. Rowling and no one is a bigger Potterhead than I, but honestly! Lie the book down or use a book rest instead of pinching to hold it. De Quervain's prevailed in the clinic until everyone had finished reading Deathly Hallows.

If you peruse the internet you're likely to see that the chief demographic to be afflicted with De Quervain's is women between 30 and 50 years of age. We all know that everything on the internet is true, but I've got to tell you that in my purely anecdotal experience this problem seems more prevalent among 20 to 30 year-olds, regardless of gender. What are they all doing that curmudgeons such as I aren't? Texting, my friends. (Not my friends. Their friends. You're my friends - never mind.) Thumb texting is the perfect movement to irritate this tendon. So too are the awkward wrist postures caused by laptop computer use and for many, the use of a mouse.  So before you blame your De Quervain's on your knitting ask yourself how much of these other things you might be doing. And then observe yourself to see if you're doing them with awkward postures. Neutral wrist posture is one in which the wrist is not extended, or flexed. It is not deviated toward the thumb or little finger. It is neutral. It is difficult to knit some stitches with a neutral wrist posture but it is entirely possible to compute, read a book, lift a child, and use a wand with neutral wrist posture and without exerting too much force from the thumb. The problem is that we're often not aware of the awkwardness of the posture (until it hurts) because we're used to it. So try this. To give yourself a little feedback on your wrist or thumb posture, put the joint into a neutral posture (as described above), The easiest way is to simply rest your hand and forearm on a table so they are both in contact with the table and the wrist is straight. Then use your other hand to put a piece of cellophane tape across the wrist about an inch or so above and below the joint. Now when you move the joint out of neutral the tape will pucker or pull and remind you that you're not in neutral. Do this during computer use or if there is another repetitive task that you perform where you may fall out of neutral posture. If you observe good posture during these tasks you'll likely be able to afford a little awkwardness in your posture when you need it for knitting. I'm not saying that you should not pay attention to hand posture while knitting or that knitting can't contribute to the problem of De Quervain's. I am saying that if you invest in good postures during activities where they are easier to maintain you'll have less strain on the tissue when an awkward posture is difficult to avoid, and thus you're less at risk for injury.

So. pay attention to how you're gripping things - knitting needles included. Work close to the needle's tips to decrease the fulcrum effects of a long needle. For those of you who spin, pay attention to how you're controlling twist's entry with your drafting hand - particularly during short forward, worsted drafting. You needn't put a death grip on your drafted fiber. Simply hold it firmly enough to keep the twist from entering.

If you do find yourself in the situation where you suspect you have De Quervain's I know you'll be wise enough to rest your hand. That includes putting down the needles, roving, spindles, and computer until things calm down. Rest is a key ingredient to treatment. Sometimes a splint called a "spica splint" is indicated. I've had patient's casted in a thumb spica to force rest of the tendons. Doctors and physical therapists will likely recommend cold packs or ice massage to the area and some doctors may recommend medications. You should always talk to your doctor before self-medicating. The acute phase of this injury is NOT the time for stretching or exercise. Let it calm down and then, preferably under the guidance of a physical or occupational therapist, gentle stretching, and range of motion exercises can begin.  Be patient! Rushing back to tasks before you're healed will only extend the process. As difficult as it may be, please remember that your body is meant to heal. And it will! Soon you'll be back in the saddle again, too.

Comfy Knitting!

Every stitch is a new beginning. Ergo, I knit.

Like the Gristmill of My Mind

Having just celebrated a significant birthday that ends with a zero, I've been told that I now qualify for full membership in the Society of Curmudgeons. I must confess that I used to worry that this would happen. But as time went on I realized it was a losing battle. I think its part of my New England upbringing. We're trained from an early age. So I began to embrace the idea, even aspire to it. Secretly I've been practicing  for years. What does membership offer? Lots! My favorite thing is that you get to be opinionated. Period. No name calling, no questions asked, no judgment passed. Not once you're a curmudgeon. It’s just a given that a curmudgeon will be opinionated. And now that my age ends with zero again, I've come to realize that I've got plenty of them. Now, you must know that I wouldn't bring this up if I weren't going to take advantage of it and offer you an opinion or two. So here goes. You know what gets my (cashmere) goat?  (Curmudgeons are always complaining about their goats being gotten.) New Year's resolution!  Why? Because too often, these goals are so lofty and life altering that they simply aren't realistic. "I resolve that I won't eat chocolate in 2010." (Words you'll never hear me say.) "I'll have washboard abs by Valentine's Day". In Ergonomics Land where I live, I often hear people talking after one of my classes about how from now on they'll always sit properly when they knit. Or, that they'll stand or walk while knitting every 30 minutes. Or that they'll always have a balanced project diet so that they don't strain themselves. These are wonderful goals but, depending on the individual, they may be unrealistic. The problem with a "resolution" is the living with it. That is, you have to change your behavior. And depending on the behavior, that's not always an easy thing to do. And there's more. We feel guilty, even defeated, if we slip from the goal, even a little, which we're very apt to do when making a behavioral change.  And once we feel defeated, we often give up. So I, a fully vested Curmudgeon, say to you, "Don't beat yourself up!" (Curmudgeons often pepper their speech with directives and exclamation points.) My wish for you this year and forever more is that you won't strive to be perfect! Instead strive to be better. If bad posture is what makes you hurt, try using better posture more of the time. If you're getting out of shape because you sit to knit too long, try standing (even a little) while you knit - or walking, or making bigger movements when you pull yarn off the skein. And then acknowledge your accomplishment! A little self-appreciation for your "betterness" will motivate and encourage you to continue. So now we have started a new year and one of my goals is to send tips your way about how to improve your knitting ergonomics - it's safety, efficiency and productivity. But please just take small bites, chew them thoroughly so you can digest easily, and then come back for more.  And remember that if you slip, it’s no big deal. New Year's resolutions are for amateurs. Real pros know that the changes happen every day, not just December 31st. Take it from me. I'm a curmudgeon.

Knitting teaches patience. Ergo, I knit.

The Spice of Life

Those of you who have become devout readers of both my postings will recall my confessing that I like to tell stories. You’ll also recall me say these stories almost always have a point, but that they sometimes need a little sharpening at the end. Such is the case of last week’s posting. First of all, I’m feeling much better. Thank you for your concern. Pay no attention to the lingering cough. The doctor assures me there’s no cause for worry. He has clearly never tried knitting with size 0 needles while coughing so hard you can hardly find the stitch to enter. But I digress.

Last time I talked about the benefits of having a well rounded group of projects on your needles. I even gave you a little ergonomic blessing that there is nearly scientific merit in doing so. I want to talk a bit more about why this is true.

Last week when I was sick I had this craving for chicken soup. Go figure. I ate it nearly everyday. But I’m here to tell you that after about the fifth day of it I didn’t care if another chicken ever swims in hot water again. I’m not interested. Now why is that? The quality of the soup hadn’t changed. It’s simply that I wanted, no needed, variety. Let’s continue the food analogy (because I’m eating lunch while I write this) and imagine a fantasy diet of only pizza. I know you’ve dreamed about how you could easily survive on pizza. It’s got all your favorite food groups. The crust group. The cheesy goodness group. A rogue veggie or two may find its way on top. It’s practically the perfect food.  But then there are those pesky carbs we hear so much about. And I’m told there’s a high fat content in pizza which isn’t so good for you. So armed with this knowledge most of us abandon the pizza diet after college or when we start to look like one. What’s this got to do with knitting? Here comes the part where I sharpen the point.

Like adding variety to your diet, you have the option to expose your body to a variety of knitting postures which require a certain amount of muscle energy. It can be a one-note diet, or a symphony. You only knit with size 1 needles, or you have a bunch of projects on various size needles. Please consider the position your hands and wrists in while you’re working on your knitted projects. Let’s look at some photos to help make the point.

Resting hand posture
Resting hand posture

The first picture is my hand in its neutral, resting position. Try it. Just let your hand fall to rest in front of you. You’ll notice that in a neutral posture, the fingers do not touch the thumb. Getting them to do so will require muscle energy. How much? Look at the picture of my hands working with size 1 US dpns making this lovely sock from Chrissy Gardiner’s Toe Up book. (Which is fabulous. Thanks Chrissy!)

Knitting with size 0 US needles
Knitting with size 0 US needles

The size of needle is a clue as to how much muscle activity is required to hold them. The smaller the needle, the greater the difference from resting posture and the more muscle activity required to simply grip the needle. Now look at the picture of my hands working on size 9 US circular needles.

Knitting with size 9 US needles
Knitting with size 9 US needles

(Isn’t this yarn cool? I wish you could touch it. Very soft merino and I love how the knit-one-below pattern adds vertical dimension to the color way of this yarn.) Because the needles are thicker there is less grip distance to traverse from neutral posture to grip position. This allows the muscles to work closer to what we Physical Therapy geeks call “mid-range” which is where muscles have their greatest strength and joints are under least stress. Simply put, it’s easier to grip something that is close to resting posture size that something that is smaller or larger than resting posture. It seems obvious when you’re working in the kitchen to use utensils that are easier to grip.  But you can't always do that when you're knitting.

The amount of grip strength required to grip needles with diameters smaller than our resting posture grip position may seem minimal, and admittedly, it’s not huge. But how long are you going to knit? How often do you use tools this size? And how challenging is the work for you. These three factors: frequency and duration of exposure (to a posture), and the intensity of the activity you're doing influence the amount of ergonomic risk you are exposed to.

There are certainly factors aside from needle size which affect the amount of overall work your hands are required to do while knitting. Project weight, yarn/needle pairing, fiber type, and yarn dimension are others to name a few. I’ll certainly discuss those in future postings. But for now consider the variety of grip (or lack thereof) you expose your hands to while knitting. And ask yourself if you’re knitting posture is like the pizza only diet. If it is then your muscles and joints are crying for variety! If this is your knitting diet then let’s do something about that because I want you to knit forever! No, you don’t have to stop knitting your favorite things on your favorite small needles! You just need to provide your muscles and joints with a variety of movement and position. In short, you need to stretch.

Stretching should always feel friendly. This is not a “go for the burn; no pain no gain” activity. It’s gentle, often  passive movement. Simply opening and closing your hands and fingers will do the trick. But practice this magic every 15 to 20 minutes while you're knitting. Increase the frequency if you're using small needles or if you're prone to stiff joints in the hands, fingers, and thumbs.

Variety is the spice of life. Even your joints and muscles like it. Be a spicy knitter and knit safely!

Seemingly as if by magic, a single strand can be knitted into something beautiful and unique to warm and nurture a body. Ergo, I knit.

Knit one, Sneeze too

One of the perils of traveling is being exposed to the cornucopia of germs and/or viruses that book passage on the same flight, or stay in the same hotel as you just waiting to find their way into your nasal passages where they will set up camp. This is especially true at this time of year when the array of microbes is as diverse and plentiful as a Thanksgiving table. Mind you, I'm not a germ-a-phobe. But, having just spent the last week in bed with a nasty bug after returning from Rhinebeck and Stitches East, it does give me pause. Do you know what I hate most about being sick? Well everything really, but the worst part for me is that my already impaired patience disappears completely. Why aren't I better yet? Can I go to work now? Isn't there anything on TV besides the Golden Girls? (Forgive me Bea!) Plus its hard to focus when you're achy, coughing, and sneezing. And if the needles aren't giving me love (what do you mean I need to rip it out? Again!) then it just makes my temperature go even higher.

But there is an solution to this plight, and an ergonomic one at that. When I can't focus on a project for more than 10 minutes then I make sure I have about 10 projects to work on. Now some people  don't understand that one does not need to work a project until its finished before starting another. "That's why God invented stashes", I explain. Indeed, I've met serial knitters in my classes who see a project through until all the ends are woven in and the blocking is complete before they even consider their next project. "Knitting monogomists" I call them. Bless them. I wouldn't change them for the world. It just doesn't work for me, and not because I live in California. So with this bug depleting my patience and and further shortening an already dangerously narrow attention span my solution was to embrace the project polygamist that I truly am. A toe up sock - ten minutes. "God I'm bored!" A cabled vest - 15 minutes.  "Not the Golden Girls again. Better start some mittens for Christmas." That shawl I started last winter - 20 minutes. "Time to design some winter hats." By day five of hosting this wretched bug I finally felt well enough to get out of bed. Huzzah! If I can sit, I can spin. (Don't go there! This is a knitting blog.) "Okay, that was good for half an hour. Maybe I'll work on that sock again." I pulled out my EZ books to learn some new tricks. I pulled out my Priscilla Gibson Roberts books to learn some old tricks. I pulled out my new Mary Scott Huff book to learn a tricky tubular cast on.

I will admit that this abbreviated attention to any of these projects isn't a very productive way to work. And those of you who have come to my class know that productivity is an important part of ergonomics. It is equally as important as safety. (I'll give you a cough drop if you know the third ergonomic consideration!) However, the benefit of having lots of projects to work on and different crafts to engage in is that my muscles get lots of diverse movement, my joints get a varied range of motion (important considerations if you've just spent five days in bed with the flu), and voila injury is prevented. Not to mention it keeps me entertained and quiet which makes certain people around here very happy. Yes, there is an ergonomic advantage to having a variety of projects to work on!

Now if you're a knitting monogomist, good for you! There is nothing wrong with that. You just need to make sure you're giving your body the variety of movement and position changes that your knitting project isn't. Stand up more frequently. Stretch a little more. And if you're a project polygamist and that special someone in your life doesn't get it, you tell them that its to help you prevent injuries. And tell them I said so!

Today I'm feeling better. The books have been returned to their respectful places in the library. I'm deciding which of the 30 new projects will be finished and which will turn back into balls of yarn. And nothing hurts. Except my nose which, from all the blowing and sneezing, is red enough to stop traffic.

Stay healthy and knit safely!

Knitting can calm the soul and excite the mind. Ergo, I knit.

Blog is in the air

Let me start by confessing that writing the first entry to what I believe is the first website dedicated to the ergonomics of hand knitting, hand spinning, and the fiber arts is scary. Weeks of agonizing over the perfect entry made my head hurt and my confidence wane. The first entry needs to tell you what you'll find here. Information about tools, fibers, posture, injury reduction strategies - it all needs to be talked about. I get these questions everywhere I go to teach. Its probably because I'm a physical therapist that I'm driven to give you all this information in a neat little package to take home and use. So after months of paying for a domain my BFF (and recently my Stitches East students) have pushed me off the cliff and here we are free falling and waiting for a splash or a thud. And all I can think to to tell you about is my recent east coast adventure. I admit that I like to tell stories even in my classes, but they almost always have a point even if I need to sharpen it a little at the end. This story begin with me flying to New England at an hour not usually seen on my clock. I rented a car in Hartford and drove to Massachusetts to pick up my mom. We were headed to the NY Sheep and Wool Festival at Rhinebeck where we'd meet up with my BFF and partner in fiber crime, Mary Scott Huff (who is now a big fancy published author and the sassiest  gal I know). You need to know that when Mary and I went to the Black Sheep Gathering this year she did nothing to to stop me from buying not one, but three of the most beautiful unprocessed fleeces I've ever seen from Island Fibers. Well if one is good, then two is better, so three must be best. Sold. I bought them because I want to be involved in all phases of the fiber production and because they are gorgeous and because one of my fantasy projects is to knit a traditional Gansey with wool that I've prepared and spun. Its good to give those small hand and wrist muscles a break by doing some of the fiber processing. Let the big muscles do some work sometime. Its now months later and I haven't finished cleaning the first one, but I maintain it was still the right decision to buy three. I did however make Mary sign a pact that if she ever sees that glassy look in my eyes again while I gaze at a fleece she is to strike me with the nearest heavy object until I regain my senses.

But Rhinebeck was different. I was on a different mission. For the last year or so I've been foaming at the mouth wanting to try a Norm Hall spinning wheel. It was a total long shot that he would even have one there to try. And he's not taking orders at this point so I could forget ordering one even if I fell in love with the wheel he might not have for me to try. But St. Fleecia was smiling upon me. He did have a wheel to try. And it was love at the first draft. The orifice is perfectly in front of my hands. The treadle is designed so that its axis is exactly under the axis of my ankle with overhang for your heel so that both the up and down movement of your foot are effective. You can start the wheel by treadling without having to reach out to turn the wheel. This machine is so smooth that you'd want to drink it for breakfast. And can we talk beauty? A work of art. Its made of zebra maple and cherry. It even sounds delicious - except for the zebra part. How could I walk away without buying it?  Impossible. So I did. Of course I did. Would I tell you all this and end by not buying it?

So what's all this got to do with knitting? Well, spinning makes yarn. And spinning is another opportunity to change up the postures and movements that we knitters all too frequently employ. That's partly why I do it. And our tools are important for all phases of fiber work. We should choose tools that fit us and that are comfortable to use (and if they are works of art so much the better). We should choose tools that optimize the natural forces of gravity and friction. They should always help us to make work easier. I promise to tell you more about how to do all this in upcoming posts. But for now I've got a fleece or three to wash.

What was that sound?

Knitting connects me to the hands and hearts of those who have taught me. Ergo, I knit.