My grandma is getting old. She loves her knitting and needlework. Especially with less visitors coming to her retirement home in Covid times, it keeps up her spirits. But now she tells me her fingers are becoming too "crummy". What other kinds of handiwork are there that might be suitable when one's dexterity declines? Ideally (but not necessarily), it would be some textile work that is easy enough to pick up. (She has been knitting, sewing, crocheting, and even knotting at various points in her life; but I suppose all of this is becoming too difficult for her). I would love to give her the necessary equipment for her upcoming birthday.
If she has rheumatic arthritis, the best thing she could do is continuing knitting and crocheting for short periods. Many movements that are done during physio therapy for arthritis of the hand are actually very similar to the movements during knitting. I found this pilot study The knitting community-based trial for older women with osteoarthritis of the hands: design and rationale of a randomized controlled trial that writes (emphasis by me):
Although exercise therapy has been shown effective in reducing symptoms and disability associated with HOA [Hand Osteoarthritis], adherence to treatment programs remains low.
The premise behind the knitting program is to use a meaningful occupation as the main component of an exercise program. The knitting program will include two components: 1) bi-weekly 20-min knitting sessions at a senior’s club and 2) 20-min home daily knitting sessions for the five remaining weekdays.
Unfortunately the study is not executed or not finished yet, so the results are not available.
To make her life (and hobby) easier, there are a number of tricks that people with arthritis or other disabilities utilize:
- Consciously knit or crochet very loosely to reduce muscle strain. Choose thick yarns and lose patterns. This also reduces the dexterity required to work. source 2
- Try birchwood or bamboo knitting needles. Those are lighter and warmer to the touch and more flexible than metal needles, reducing strain on the hands. sources 1 & 2
- Use a "circular" or "cable" needle, even for flat works. That way the part of the work you're not actively knitting can rest on your lap or a table and your hands don't have to hold the weight of the whole work. sources 1, 2 & 3
- Switch between several projects requiring different techniques. You can knit a sweater for half an hour, rest, then switch to crocheting a doily for 20 minutes, rest again, then switch to cross stitching a table cloth for half an hour. That avoids excessive, repetitive strain on your hands. sources 2 & 3
- Rest often while working. If your hands hurt or get stiff after working too long, consciously schedule short rests. If that means one minute of watching TV and stretching your hands after each finished row, let no-one stop you from taking those rests, not even yourself. sources 2 & 3
- Use acrylic, wool or wool blend yarn, because it's more flexible and forgiving. This also reduces strain to the hands. sources 1 & 3
- Use a wide flat crocheting hook instead of a rod-shaped one. Wood is the best material because it's sturdy but flexible and warm to the touch. source 1 I've found these advertised as "Bosnian" or "Japanese" hooks. Here's one random example from Etsy (the top part is the handle and the bottom tip is the actual hook):
- For embroidery or cross-stitching, try a leather or rubber thimble instead of a metal or plastic one. That gives your finger more traction to pull the needle through without requiring more muscle tension or strength. sources 1 & 2
- If your hands hurt or are stiff, soak them in warm water for a few minutes before starting to work. That loosens up stiff muscles and reduces rheumatic pain. sources 2 & 3
- Use fingerless compression gloves or special knitting gloves. These put gentle pressure on your hands, which might (depending on the person) reduce pain, relieve tension and improve wrist posture. They also keep your hands warm. sources 2 & 3
- Stretch your hands after working. Here's a link to special stretches to relieve knitting pains. Maybe you can print some instructions for your grandma.
Source 1: Smart Tricks to Make Needlework With Arthritis Finger-Friendly by the Living With Arthritis Blog
Source 2: The "Knitty" Gritty: Crocheting With Rheumatoid Arthritis by Everyday Health
Source 3: How to Knit With Arthritis; What To Do When It Hurts by Scarf Knitting
If she has other problems like a tremor that impacts her fine motor control, there are some other crafts that don't require too much dexterity she might be interested in:
- Shuttle Tatting can be used to create lace, doilies and other decorative textiles. You can easily 3D print or buy tatting shuttles in different sizes and (at least in my personal experience) once you get used to the motions the technique doesn't require much dexterity or strength.
- Making yarn bowls or lamp shades or other objects with yarn. She can use glue or the more traditional method or stitching the layers together.
- Making bowls or objects with paper maché over a balloon. She can then add a layer of yarn on top of the paper maché like a yarn bowl.
- Making Pompoms that can be used as ingredients for other crafts.
- Making a seasonal wreath by wrapping yarn and ribbons around a cardboard disk or styrofoam ring. She can then add other seasonal decorations.
- Punchneedle work is something of a trend lately, but you have to understand the technique and have the right kind of fabric for it to work. Please consider watching some review videos online. You can use it to decorate things like pillow cases, rugs or wall decorations.