If arthritis has forced you to put down your needlework, take heart. Better yet, take notes. Helpful tools and smart tricks can help you meld arthritis, knitting, cross-stitch and crocheting. You’ll not only create sweaters and afghans, you also might increase hand dexterity, says Theresa Leto, an occupational therapist and instructor at the University of Findlay in Ohio. 

Leto suggests approaching needlework as an athletic event. “Warm up your hand in some way first.” Soaking hands and wrists in warm water prior to picking up a needle helps some of her patients. Then approach the activity like a sprinter, not a marathoner, and stitch in short sessions. Here are more smart needlework tricks from the experts.

Knitting’s Still Doable

Trick 1: Try alternatives to metal needles, such as birch or bamboo needles, which are lightweight and warmer to the touch.

Trick 2: Stick with wool or wool blends. Wool is elastic and more forgiving than cotton and other fibers, which makes it easier to manipulate.

Trick 3: Knit flat on a circular needle. Even if you don’t need to make a tube, the circular shape allows the weight of the sweater to fall in your lap, not off your wrist.

Crochet Away

Trick 1: Use flexible, flattened and square crochet hooks. They are easier to hold than traditional round hooks.

Trick 2: Add a foam sheath or wrap a rubber band around the hook handle a few times. It will prevent the hook from slipping your grip, and you’ll use less force to hold it.

Trick 3: Ask experts to watch your moves. Experts at a needlework shop can suggest adjustments for yarn tension and other ways to ease stiffness and increase nimbleness.

Cross-Stitch Like a Pro

Trick 1: Try leather- or rubber- fingertip thimbles. You’ll increase traction without tightly pinching the needle.

Trick 2: Work on a project with broader linen weave. It will reduce strain from fine finger work.

Trick 3: Try embroidery hoops with clamps. You can attach them to a table or the arm of a chair and loosen your grip – and tension – on the hoop itself.