"Knitting is my all-time favourite pastime, but I can no longer knit because I cannot see!"
As a vision rehabilitation therapist, I hear this statement from clients over and over again. And later, it is common to learn that many of these same clients used to knit while reading a book or watching television. It always leaves me shaking my head in disbelief, "What do you mean you can't knit with sight loss? Did you try?"
I was an avid knitter prior to my sudden and complete sight loss. It was a hobby that I really enjoyed so I was determined to make it work! Actually, I think I knit better than ever!
If you are an experienced knitter and contemplating taking up knitting again after vision loss, I encourage you to pick up your beloved knitting needles and give it a try following this detailed list of helpful tips:
1. Use contrast to enhance vision. Choose a colour yarn that contrasts the colour of the knitting needles. For example, red yarn against light-grey knitting needles. If you are knitting with a dark-coloured yarn and you are wearing dark-coloured clothing, you might like to place a white pillowcase in your lap to increase contrast with the yarn. You can purchase knitting needles that are made from different materials and are therefore different colours. Keep In mind that different materials have varying amounts of friction, and are suitable for different yarn types.
2. Choose a colour that you can see best. This is not limited to just the yarn and knitting needles. You can buy knitting tools and accessories, like needle caps and stitch markers, in a variety of colours.
3. Try using a task light with a flexible goose-neck. Experiment with different light sources (e.g. incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, LED, full-spectrum or natural daylight). Everybody reacts differently to light. Find the type of light that works best for you and experiment with the placement of the light to prevent glare and shadowing. Research indicates that the light should be coming from somewhere in front of your body, below the level of your eyes, and about 15-20 centimetres (6-8 inches) away from the target or the object being illuminated.
4. Reduce figure-ground or distraction resulting from patterns or clutter in your work area. Imagine that you place a stitch marker on a floral-patterned table-cloth. There is a good chance that you will not see the stitch marker because it blends into the pattern. Clutter has the same effect as a patterned surface. You are more likely to see an object if it is placed on a solid-coloured surface or a surface that is clutter-free. If you use a black cafeteria tray as a work area, you are more likely to see white stitch markers. The raised edge of the tray will prevent loose objects from falling onto the floor. Keep in mind that variegated yarn can also cause figure-ground because of the pattern it creates. As a result, variegated yarn might make it more difficult to see stitches and/or the pattern.
5. Explore options for magnification aids with a low vision specialist at Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada by contacting 1-800-563-2642. Consider magnification aids that leave your hands free. A video magnifier or other magnification aid may be used to read knitting patterns or pick up dropped stitches. Determine what type of magnification aid works best for you!
6. Circular needles are recommended for even the smallest projects. Circular needles are comprised of two pointed straight tips connected by a flexible nylon cable. They can be used for both knitting flat or in the round. You are less likely to drop stitches when knitting with circular needles because you can push your work right off the end of the needle. If the circular needle nylon cable is coiled when you remove it from the storage package, you can remove the coil by dipping the nylon cord into hot water to relax it.
7. Practice casting on and off with scrap yarn in order to perfect your tension. If you have difficulty performing this task, you can always ask a friend or family member to cast on and off for you!
8. Place the skein of yarn in a box or coffee can with a hole in the lid to prevent the yarn from becoming tangled.
9. In the beginning, use larger gauged knitting needles and tightly woven yarn so it is easier to see and/or feel the stitches and pattern. You will be less likely to split a stitch with this type of yarn. Bernat Handicrafter Cotton is a great example!
10. When holding onto the knitting needles, keep your fingers close to the tips of the needles for better control.
11. Remember that your sense of touch is your greatest tool to compensate for sight loss. Use your thumbnail to isolate the stitch that you want to put your knitting needle into. You can also use your thumb or fingernail to count stitches on the needle or count rows you have previously knitted. Keep in mind that it is easier to count rows from the purl-side of a project.
12. Never put your knitting down halfway through a row. You might drop stitches when you pick up the project later. If the phone rings when you are halfway through a row, let the caller leave a voice mail message. You can return the call upon completion of the row.
13. Always put knitting needle caps at the end of the needles when not in use to prevent dropped stitches. Alternatively, elastic bands or a cork can be placed at the end of the needles. Be sure to push your work to the back of the needles before applying the needle caps so you do not drop stitches when the caps are removed.
14. Stitch markers will help you to count stitches. A stitch marker is a circular band that is placed on a knitting needle to aid in counting stitches. When you are knitting a row and you come to a stich marker, the marker is transferred to the other needle and remains in place for the next row.
15. Get into the habit of counting your stitches at the end of each row. It is much easier to pick up a dropped stitch if it is identified immediately! This can be made easier by placing stitch markers every 10 or 20 stitches.
16. Pick up dropped stitches using touch or a magnification aid. If you have a video magnifier, try using this tool to assist in the process. A family member or wool shop clerk can also help with this task.
17. Counting rows can be made easier with commercial row counters, a Chinese abacus, or simply a bowl with marbles or dice in it. as you complete a row, transfer a marble from one bowl to the other. Do not forget to use contrast (e.g. a white bowl with red dice).
18. When passing over a stitch as in "PSSO" or casting off, you might find it easier to use your fingers to pull the yarn over the stitch rather than the tip of the knitting needle. Give it a try!
19. You may like to use variegated yarn rather than a design that requires multiple changes in yarn colour.
20. Yarn ends can be woven in using a crochet hook or sewn in using a yarn or wool needle. If you have problems threading the needle and you would like to learn adaptive skills for this task, contact the independent living skills department at your local Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada office.
21. Label your knitting needles in the format of your choice. For example, the needles can be placed in cylinders with large print, braille, or audio labels. Your yarn can be labelled in a similar way.
22. Record knitting patterns in the format of your choice (e.g. braille, large print, or audio). You can enlarge regular-sized print knitting patterns with a photocopier.
23. Lighted knitting needles are available from some craft suppliers. These needles have small LED lights at the tips of the needles. Some people like the additional illumination!
24. The first time you return to knitting, take some scrap yarn, cast on some stitches and do some straight knitting. If you drop a stitch, just continue on. You might find purling easier, as the process of purling a stitch actually pushes the stitch onto the needle.
25. You may like to have two projects on the go at one time just in case you need to get some assistance. At least you won't be temporarily out of a hobby!
26. Talk to a friend or family member about volunteering their time to assist with any problems (e.g. a dropped stitch). It is comforting to know that you have somebody on stand-by who will help you. The clerk at my local yarn shop told me that she would gladly pick up a dropped stitch if I ever had a problem. It wouldn't hurt to ask if you can do the same.
27. Start with a simple project, like a knitted dishcloth or a scarf.
28. Minimize distractions when first exploring a return to knitting. Turn off the television, turn on the answering machine, and make yourself comfortable!
29. If you become frustrated, put down your work and come back to it later!
30. Do not expect your first project to be a masterpiece -- It will take time and practice to build up your confidence!
Knitting is a great hobby to keep your mind active and your fingers nimble. The sense of accomplishment when you successfully complete a project will be worth all the effort! So pick up a pair of knitting needles, incorporate some of these useful tips into your routine, and give it a try… But don't forget to have fun!