Knitting with a Disability: How I Adapted So I Can Enjoy the Craft I Love

29 June 2022

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Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that “disabled” is a word that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. There are a great many disabled people in the fibre and textile community who will not or cannot use the word to describe themselves, and that’s okay. We all make our individual choices to use a label or not. I also want to mention that while this essay is about my experience with my set of challenges, there are an infinite number of other ways to be disabled. No one disability is more or less than any other.

image description: four pairs of hand covers designed for supporting hands at work, made of different materials

My tools of the trade. Using compression gloves and specialized splints to support my hands and wrists means I knit slower, but I can still keep knitting.

I learned to knit in 1983 and from the minute I picked up those needles, I was hardly ever seen without a project in my hands. Knitting led me to spinning, and spinning led me to weaving, but I always circled back to knitting. I was one of those “never not knitting ” people—it kept me focused and it kept me sane. When I knitted, I was calm and happy.

Then, in early 2013 I started having pain and stiffness in my hands. My wrists swelled up every time I knitted. I was knitting less and less because it hurt. A lot. Over the course of the summer, I developed more joint pain, then other symptoms, and that fall I was diagnosed with symmetric psoriatic arthritis.

My rheumatologist advised me to continue knitting to keep my joints moving and the tendons and ligaments in my hands limber, so I kept knitting. But it was no longer enjoyable. I knitted grimly, with a clenched jaw, until I ruptured a tendon under my thumb. I stopped knitting in early 2015.

Read on for how Michelle came to adjust her perspective on and her approach to knitting so that she continues to enjoy her beloved craft.

All images courtesy of Michelle Boyd.

Copyright © Michelle Boyd except as indicated.

About Michelle Boyd

Michelle Boyd is a Master Spinner, weaver, and writer who lives in Olds, Alberta, located in Treaty 7 Territory, the ancestral lands of the peoples of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Michelle learned to spin in 1995 when her local yarn shop closed, and she became obsessed with the art and science of making yarn. She has taught workshops across North America and instructed for the Olds College Master Spinner Program for fifteen years. She is also a frequent contributor to both PLY Magazine and Digits & Threads and is currently completing her first book about spinning.

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