I hope you're taking precautions to protect and take care of your most important knitting/crocheting tool. What is it?
It doesn't matter what kind of needles you use or what you use to measure your gauge swatch (well, it matters a bit on each of those). If you aren't taking care of your hands, you're not going to be using those needles or measuring that gauge swatch (because I know you always make a gauge swatch, right?). So what can you do to make sure your hands are in the best shape possible so you can keep knitting and crocheting in the years to come?
When the weather is cold, I notice that the skin on my hands really dries out and cracks, which makes knitting uncomfortable. The best thing that I've found to help my hands is O'Keeffe's Working Hands Hand Cream. I put it on my hands right before I go to sleep and by morning, my hands are so much better.
During the day, if there's a particular spot that's bothering me, I use Everything Balm from Goodies Unlimited. (That stuff is great for a number of issues!)
What about while you're knitting? You don't want to put on any type of lotion usually because it can make your hands feel greasy, which isn't a good feeling when you have yarn running over them. Instead, use a lotion bar. For example, I carry a sample size Lo-Lo Bar in my knitting bag. I can put it on a spot that's bothering me and continue to knit without that greasy lotion feeling.
Sometimes the way we position our wrists and hands while we are knitting or crocheting can bring about pain, both short term and long term, in our wrists, hands, or fingers. If we're not careful, the long-term pain could make it so we are unable to continue knitting/crocheting. Don't let this happen to you.
The best thing you can do for your hands is to make sure that you are holding your needles and yarn in a manner that doesn't add additional stress to them. I highly recommend a book by Carson Demers called Knitting Comfortably: The Ergonomics of Handknitting. Actually, highly recommend isn't strong enough. Click the link and buy this book now. (Yes, I know it's fairly expensive, but trust me, you need this book in your life if you knit. Not all of it will be relevant if you primarily crochet.)
Here are just a few suggestions from this book:
- To check to see if you are holding your hands in a manner that is not putting stress on your wrists, put some highlighter tape on your hand (in two places, so it goes over your wrist -- the book has images on page 76 to show you exactly where to put the tape). As you knit, the tape should remain smooth on your skin. If it starts to pucker or stretch, you're putting additional stress on your wrists. You should practice holding your hands in a different way until you can work without affecting the tape.
- Use a cushion on your lap as you work to support your hands. (This also helps your shoulders.)
- Get rid of those long straight needles, especially for big projects, and use circular needles instead. Having to support a heavy project (such as a blanket or sweater) on straight needles puts stress on your hands. The circular needle allows you to distribute the weight of the project.
- Let the needles do the work, not your fingers. This means if you are a "pusher" (someone who pushes the stitch off the needle with your finger), you need to train yourself not to do this. (The book offers several helpful suggestions for how to do this).
- How you tension your yarn makes a huge difference in how much stress you are putting on your hand. The book shows suggested ways to tension your yarn whether you hold it with your left hand or your right. (And it goes into details about the most likely stresses put upon your hands based upon the style of knitting you do.)
- Diversify your projects. I know some of you are monogamous knitters, but it is really helpful to your hands to rotate between at least two very different projects. Have a lace shawl on your teeny tiny needles? Make sure you have a worsted weight hat also. Changing the needle and yarn size helps give your hands a break.
- Do some exercises/stretches for your hands. My favorite suggestion (though I'm not sure if I'll do this in public) is to "make jazz hands every time you pull a length of yarn to work off the ball."
The above is just a fraction of the information you'll find in this book, but it should give you some ideas for getting started in making sure to take care of your most important crafting tool.
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