Daily Living

8 tips for knitting, crocheting and quilting with arthritis

A ball of yarn and needles

If you love popular fibre arts such as knitting, crocheting or quilting, you may wonder how you can keep up with your favourite hobbies if you have arthritis in your hands, neck or other joints. The good news is that there are many ways to manage pain and stiffness while doing fun, creative handiwork. Here are 8 easy tips to keep in mind.

1. Warm up

Add some gentle exercises and stretches to your pre-crafting routine. To maximize mobility and decrease pain, warm up your hands by smoothing on some mineral oil, sliding on oversized rubber gloves and going through range-of-motion exercises in a basin of hot water. Or, use a microwavable warm pack to gently heat up your hands. Here are some useful exercises. Gentle shoulder rolls and gradually moving your head from side to side and up and down helps with shoulder stiffness, too.

2. Practice good posture

"The nerves that help us move our hands all stem from the spine, so I talk to clients about stacking and aligning the spine properly," says Danielle Hogg, an Arthritis Society Canada occupational therapist. This means sitting in a comfortable chair that supports your back and allows you to place your feet flat on the floor. Your hips should be at a 90-degree angle. The chair should support your arms, and if it doesn't, place pillows under your arms to take any strain off them and your shoulders. Sit up tall, all the way from the base of the spine up through your chest. Kristin Bouma, an occupational therapist in Hamilton, Ontario, agrees: "The hardest thing to do when you are really enjoying an activity, is paying attention to your posture. But it's one of those things that really helps to reduce pain and conserve your energy."

3. Brighten up

"Make sure you have really excellent lighting, because that's going to reduce the need to bend forward to see the work, and that's going to help with eye pain, neck pain and upper back pain," notes Bouma.

4. Set a timer

When you're immersed in a project, it's easy to lose track of time or "just do one more row." That, of course, can lead to stiffness and pain. Try setting a timer on your phone or stove—say, 20 minutes—to remind yourself to stop while you're still feeling good, or at least to get up and move around. Or, commit to crafting during a podcast or TV show with a set time, and then stopping your work. "Any time you can pace or alter your movements, you're just adding some longevity to your task," says Hogg. "Stop and take a little break and give a chance for your hands and back to rest and recoup."

5. Consider types of yarn and projects

Experiment with a variety of yarns to see what works for you—chunkier yarns are likely easier to grasp and manipulate than fine or slippery ones, and wool or acrylic is stretchier than cotton yarns, which can be more difficult to use. Think about the kind of projects you want to work on. A smaller project like a scarf is lighter and easier on the hands than an oversized blanket. Many fibre artists have a variety of projects in progress, and that is a smart move when it comes to arthritis, because you can work on a piece that works with how you're feeling on that particular day. Similarly, knitters and crocheters should consider a project that uses a variety of stitches, so you aren't making the exact same movements many times in a row.

6. Choose your gear wisely

Go for wood, bamboo or acrylic knitting needles or crochet hooks, because those materials are warmer in the hands than cold metal. Choose a chunkier needle or a faceted style that has three or four squared-off sides rather than the traditional smooth cylinder. You can also build up the section you hold with hockey tape, elastics or a pencil grip, or check your go-to store for ergonomic versions, says Hogg. Knitters can get special tools (look for a "knitting aid" or "Norwegian yarn thimble" for example) that are designed to reduce the strain on hands that can come from holding your work or your yarn. Similarly, quilters can opt for ergonomically designed tools such as a rotary cutter with a chunkier angled handle, or an iron that automatically lifts up as soon you stop ironing your fabric, saving strain on your hands and arms. Sharp, quality scissors are a must to spare your hands as well. Your local yarn store, favourite online crafting forum or local fibre arts guild are all good potential sources of gear and information.

7. Cool down

When you're done with your crafting, check your posture. Are you hunched over, sore or stiff? Do the same routine that you warmed up with, to get your body ready for what's next in your day, advises Hogg.

8. Embrace the process

Bouma remembers a client with a great outlook." She said, "I had to slow down, which allowed my creativity to flow. I had to pace myself so much that I was able to embrace [the idea of] where do I really want to take this pattern? What are the colours I really want to use?' It was less about the act of knitting and more about letting creativity just blow up and expand. I like that."