Friday, December 22, 2006

Knitting efficiently

Today, I’m going to rant on about *EFFICIENCY IN KNITTING.*

My heart leapt when I saw a book called “Speed Knitting.” But it wasn’t about efficiency, it was about big needles and big yarn.

Efficiency is really about ergonomics. How you hold the yarn and needles is less important than how much you MOVE the needle for each stitch. Of course, you may have to move your needles more because you are holding your yarn and needles badly, but the motion is really the first thing to analyze—all else follows.

The very fastest knitters move the needles hardly at all—production knitters in the old times often immobilized their (very long) needles by tucking the end of one or both needles into a knitting belt or sheath. Their fingers carried no weight, but were free to manipulate the very tippy ends of the needles with (evidently) incredible rapidity.

Today’s successors to production knitters are the awsome bloggers who produce scads of garments: a new lace shawl or six pairs of socks with every couple of posts. The rest of us do well to limp along producing as much in a month as these wonders produce in a week. Of course, actual production knitting is by no means dead, either...with all the baggage THAT carries. Check out this link to a truly scary sounding article--can anyone read Polish?

I have never had a chance to watch a true world beater. But the two fastest knitters I’ve ever seen personally (a Japanese lady who knits continental, and a British lady who knits English style) both share several traits: They move their hands very little. There are no grand sweeping motions, their elbows stay down, their wrists flex only slightly. The continental knitter's fingers do not move at all; the English-style knitter's fingers move only in a repetitive, efficient shuttling action. They do not sit hunched, they do not grip the needles with all ten fingers, holding on for dear life. The yarn flows onto their needles.

Because their motions are spare and efficient, their stitches always present at the same place on their needles. This means they’re not hunting for the next stitch—their hands know exactly where it is. Consequently, both of these ladies knit great swathes of fabric while hardly watching what they are doing.

How can us mere mortals duplicate this? Most of us probably won't. But we can walk a short way down that path. Get a drink of water. Sit in your favorite chair. Take a deep breath. Watch your hands, wrists, arms. Can you immobilize a needle by tucking it under your arm? By resting it on a chair arm or table? By tucking it into the cuff of your sweater? Can you stop your elbow from swinging out at every stitch? Can your wrist rotate less and still get the yarn onto the needle?

One reward will be faster knitting. An even better reward will be fewer repetitve strain injuries—the less you move, the less you strain.