Friday, June 18, 2010

Knitting with Arthritis

That title is about the mechanics of how I knit, as well as the plan to use knitting for my life with lupus. I know, with me it's never just one thing. Can't help it, that's what the brain does - leading me here and there, tying together things that I find along the way.

This week the wonderful hat anthology that Annie Modesitt put together is being released. 1000 Fabulous Knit Hats is exactly what it sounds like, with gorgeous photos of hats knitted by scores of knitters, and ten special hats that were chosen as the best original designs. The patterns for those ten are included. Eleven of my hats are included. They are scattered through the book but can be found in the Contributors index, where I found my name under "W" for Woods Bruell. I don't think Daddy understands the significance of my persistence with my maiden name - his name - but it means a lot to me. I was stunned to see a detail from one of my hats on the Introduction page. It was such a tangible proof of my involvement there. I will probably have palpitations when the books actually arrive. You can see them here on, where there is a hefty discount.

I hope the book sells a million copies. The editor, Annie Modesitt, is a legend in knitting circles. She is an innovator , teacher, designer and writer. It takes big work to share your thoughts and designs in the huge way that she has. Her combination knitting techniques have revolutionized knitting for many of us. On a personal note, I would not be pursuing this second career without it, as those innovations have made it possible for me to knit well and endure longer knitting sessions, even with my painful arthritis. Annie has recently come to understand the endurance barrier herself, as she has dealt with severe symptoms of fibromyalgia. She writes honestly in her blog about everything in her life, including her husband's ordeals with cancer, her travels, and her feelings about her own new illness. She is deserving of every success.

I don't profit from the 1000 Hats book. It's just one way of showcasing what I love. I always enjoyed tangible proof of my work. Seeing a patient make progress, getting an education certificate, signing the payroll checks in my office - I had those in medicine. Now it's the printed pattern from Cherry Tree Hill Yarns, the calls for my custom work, counting the till at the end of a good market day. A long time ago I considered a research career. At the end of my Hopkins training I accepted a fellowship at the University of California San Francisco. For all the wrong reasons ("love") I decided to come home and continue in clinical primary care medicine. The outcome was fortuitous - instead of spending countless hours in a lab, putting tubes in the throats of lab rats, I started my family and my medical practice. I was infinitely better suited for the latter. The wonder of watching my child grow up, and the day to day satisfaction of working with people in a field that required creativity and constant change was satisfying in a way that research couldn't match.

Right now I have two custom projects under way, with a third waiting in the wings. I'm having to use all that I know about knitting with arthritis in order to run this stretch. In addition to combination knitting, which allows me to form stitches without undo twisting and turning of my needles, I have placed every project on circular needles, which keeps the weight of the growing fabric resting on my lap. When I discovered that one project was a third wider than necessary, I took off the 4 inches of work and began again. I figure this saved me at least 6 hours of extra knitting, even though I had pangs over the work I lost. I am using smaller needles than necessary on one project in order to maintain the gauge I want without having to knit very tightly. Knitting looser keeps a lot of strain off my fingers. It is especially helpful when there are intricate stitches like twists, cables, and even knitting two stitches together. That little bit of extra room to maneuver makes a huge difference. I discovered that one of my twists had moved over a stitch, and (GASP) I left it there. It was only visible to the closest inspection of a discerning knitter eye, and I didn't feel the need to undo many hours of knitting to fix it. Sometimes perfection is not the perfect option. I take frequent breaks, massage my hands, stretch, and get up from my chair. Arthritis involves more than just my hands, and my knees and hips and feet need a break, too. I keep water on my side table and take frequent drinks. It's easy to neglect hydration when you get involved in a project. My sketch book is also on the table so I can transfer those random ideas quickly as they occur to me. A few days ago, I had an idea for a sock pattern. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't put it directly into the book-I really don't do socks. Anyway, knowing that I don't miss any ideas keeps me from being anxious and tense while I'm knitting.


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