Friday, March 6, 2009

The Forced Knitting Diet

We blame Dad for the most part.

My sister and I call it swimming in the 'gene pool'. Obesity on both sides of the family along with shortness, thin hair, and unfortunately on Dad's side of the family, arthritis and bad joints. And Dad, said, "Sorry, but we can't put you back."

Over time, my lifestyle, activities and Dad's bad genes were catching up to create some painful consequences.

It started with a bursitis type pain in the shoulder that would come on when I was knitting--and I was always knitting. I would rest it briefly but unfortunately my high pain threshold was getting me into trouble. You see, with an 'A-Type personality' I'd work through the pain and wouldn't stop.
Sometimes a good work ethic can be a real pain, literally a real pain!

The body does talk doesn't it? It let's us know when we need to make a change or stop an activity. The problem was that I had trouble listening. I thought I could ignore it because the issue would go away. I guess for a while it did but of course nothing lasts forever.

I was in my early thirties when it started to become evident that I wouldn't be able to knit any more. The bursitis pain got so bad it would not go away, even after I stopped to rest. I even put away my knitting very reluctantly for a couple of months only to find when I returned to it months later the pain would return immediately. So months of rest didn't make any difference.

I wrestled with this for quite some time. You see, I loved to knit. It was a real passion for me. I couldn't believe this hobby was being taken away from me and I kept trying to come back to it only to find after a few rows or a couple hours that the pain would come back, faster and deeper, taking longer to leave.
So very reluctantly I quit knitting. It was very frustrating to be so obsessed and then not be able to participate in what is probably one of the healthiest hobbies in the universe. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't upset.

At first I kept my Knitters magazine subscriptions going and I'd even buy wool and patterns to tuck away in my stash for 'some time later'. I guess you could name that the 'denial phase'. Then after a couple years I would take out my knitting and start a garment, only to discover after a very few rows that the pain hadn't left at all. it was only hiding, waiting for that repetitive movement to reveal itself again.

I'd wait another two or three years and try again, all with the same results. Eventually I let my magazine subscriptions discontinue and I stopped going to yarn stores entirely. It was just too hard to face this severe a restriction--this total diet. Like an alcoholic staying away from the bar or a Weight Watchers' dieter staying away from The Mandarin buffet, I stayed away from knitting and pretended to myself that I was never a knitter. It was easier to forget. It helped to stave off the pain of losing an awesome hobby (torn from my cold, numb painful fingers would be a more accurate description!)

I even bought a knitting machine, a good one. I used it too and it worked very well, but it was cold metal and a handle to push back and forth. I missed the feel of the fabric through my fingers, the whole tactile experience of knitting was missing. And then there's the portability, taking my knitting to the doctor's office or on the bus. The machine just didn't fit the need, the craving.

Then over the next ten or so knitless years my life and career changed dramatically and I became a web developer and software teacher, working a great deal on the computer. This too began to create havoc, but with my hands and arms. I learned to use voice recognition software and had all kinds of ECG's, MRI's and CAT Scans, physio therapy, chiropractor and massage.

In the end they said I had a really small spinal canal and with age, genetics, etc., I was "at risk". They were reluctant to describe exactly what at risk meant, but I can only presume nerve damage or at worst partial or full paralysis. So I learned to curtail my other hobbies such as gardening and web site design. I got out of chat rooms where I'd be typing away for hours and avoided the computer whenever I could in the evenings because I was on it so much during the day.

Then I saw a copy of Knitter's Magazine (1999). It was the commemorative issue for Elizabeth Zimmermann (1910 to 1999) showing her Mitered Mozart cardigan. It was LOVE at first site. I had to knit it. I just had to.

So I made a plan. How could I slip this whole knitted cardigan by without my right hand finding out about it? What if I did only 2 rows a night? It might take forever but at least I'd be knitting.

I had to order a copy of the magazine from the publisher because all the shops were sold out. Then I went to the local yarn store ( and ordered the wool. Now the wool for the cardigan is made by Mission Falls (, a Canadian company that creates awesome patterns and yarns.
I was so happy. I would knit again. The rules would be different but I would be knitting again. I started the cardigan and got most of the back done before right hand started to really react, getting stiff and numb, and the shoulder was beginning to squabble. I realized it was probably too much straight speed knitting--all garter stitch and if I had fallen in love with an intarsia design I would probably have knit slower.

But we don't always get to choose what we fall in love with.

The sweater was put up frequently while I rested and slowly a few years crept by. Every now and again I would get it out and knit again... same results. But at least I'd learned not to go so far to a painful level.

I must have complained to someone about not being able to knit and they suggested that I learn European knitting because it used primarily the left hand. At that time my right hand was most problematic. In fact, my right arm and hand was so problematic I was in the process of becoming left handed by doing most tasks with my left (I bet my brain had fun growing all those new neural pathways!).

I got my books out, my Knitter's Companion, and learned how to knit European. WOW! What an economy of movement. It's remarkable. I don't think all those English style knitters out there realize how much less movement is required to make a stitch when knitting European. Sure my tension was a little loose, but I WAS KNITTING!!! Also a change to circular needles helped because they were more ergonomically shaped for the hands.

So, I mitered on happily and rested when I felt the signals. I could switch off too from left hand to right hand knitting--the heck with tension--I was just grateful to be knitting!

Now I know I'm on a permanent knitter's diet. I realized that it's better for my 'I don't want to stop just a few more rows' personality if I knit small projects. That way they are finished before I cause myself too much trouble.

Despite everything I'm grateful. I'm grateful for the little bit I can do. And I LOVE the groups and blogs. This provides me with another way to connect with knitters and hang out with knitters even when I can't knit. God bless Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot ( for her books - I have almost all of them - and her blog and I can SO identify with everything she says :)

Even if I can't knit whenever I want, I can at least connect to a community of knitters and I know they understand exactly how I feel.

1 comment:

Jan Mader said...

Creativity comes in many your blog. I'm going to share it with my sister-in-law, Sandy.

She's awesome with a crochet hook or knitting needle!

Come back and visit me more! Jan