Knitting as Therapy in the age of Self Help
There is unlikely to be a crafter who does not view knitting and crochet as their ‘own time’, a moment they steal to themselves amidst their daily tumult.
People often tell me this when I mention that I am learning to knit and we always agree that it is ‘very good for us’ and I imagine us in The Steamie, wagging our fingers and nodding our heads at each other with that gentle chiding tone of ‘you must get yer knitting time in!..its good fur ye!’
As a new knitter I think a lot about the discipline required to maintain technique and how this sustained focus takes time to nurture. For many, it is second nature, and they think nothing of it. But as a new knitter, learning this craft has taken patience that I have found difficult to find. It has exposed a lack of concentration as often I forget even my last stitch, squinting my eyes through glasses and table lamp light to recognise what on earth this twist of roving is supposed to be?
Still, I tell myself albeit wistfully, it’s surely the challenge of overcoming that wayward yarn and pulling it into shape that will temper my frustration and once again return to calmness. Is knitting a route in itself to not just calmness but overall well-being?
We may in passing describe it as therapeutic, but is it truly a therapeutic practice? Could knitting be something you have ‘prescribed’ to heal or recover from an illness or traumatic event? How would you feel if a therapist or GP looked you directly in the eye and said, “You need to get back to your knitting”?
The History of Knitting and Crocheting as Therapeutic Practices
Historically, knitting and crocheting was both a necessity, to make fabrics and mend garments, and as a way of passing the time. There is then collective war effort to knit socks and garments for the front line, another necessity and possibly we start to see evidence of this calming, shared experience shows value in a mental health capacity. Many articles describe wartime knitting as the beginning foundations of occupational therapy for injured pilots and soldiers. Referring to knitting as a ‘Reconstruction Aide’. Amazing it wasn’t until 1981 that a study was conducted to measure the use of crafting to actually treat trauma.
There are minimal studies to demonstrate any definitive measures of crafting as singular, prescribed treatment, but rather the concept of it being a ‘reconstructive aide’ maintains a key tool in tackling mental and physical health throughout many studies. Knitting is cited in everything from recovering from drug addiction to maintaining cognitive health in old age. It seems apparent that it is an activity that pulls together many threads (see what I did there) of problem-solving, repetitive practice, building dexterity of hand and finger movements, developing creative thought and imagination and most importantly supporting social engagement.
Knitting for Introverts
I like my own company and can become a little overwrought after big social events, even a busy day in the office leaves me over-stimulated, over-thinking and over-tired. Knitting gives me space to remind myself to slow down and reset. Conversely, for an avowed introvert, it has also expanded my social circle in a gentle but definite way. I speak with people about knitting for longer and more intently than I might have before, as I am keen to learn and pick up tips. It made me realise I spend all of my ‘other people’ time through engaging and negotiating with others at work, but not nearly enough time socially. It is no wonder I become over-stressed, there is a lack of deep positive reinforcement of personal outcomes.
The study that made this apparent to me, is also the most well-known formal study of knitting as a form of therapy and was co-authored by Betsan Corkhill, a UK physiotherapist who formed Stitch Links and wrote the accompanying book ‘Knit for Health and Wellness’
The core precept that underpins Stitch Links is the whole person approach, that knitting as therapy brings together all the strands that make up a healthy strong mind. It can lay the foundation for finding your self-determination through gently building social relationships to create something that is inherently yours, as in belonging to you. To explain further – Betsan developed a ‘knitting equation’. Engaging in knitting over time became equal to “building patterns of movement in an enriched environment with increased positive social engagement” and here is the kicker for me: it increased your personal space and provided a healthy buffer to the world around you.
We can both enjoy solitude and build relationships with others
I love this idea and can see its value across many different environments, teenagers with social anxiety negotiating their conflict of simultaneously wanting to be alone and be involved in the crowd is one. Another may be our overuse of devices and social media, we all like being in our own space but also need social interaction. Using our phones in the company of others limits that, as there is almost no capacity to share what we are engaging in. With knitting you are both completely sharing what you are doing and almost having no impact on the other person who may or may not be knitting.
I find myself laughing at a social media meme that is used every so often, that me banging on about the benefits of knitting is of course what a knitter would write about and further a person who runs a local yarn shop. And often people at work or friends poke fun at me about it, but do you know what else they do every so often? They ask me about my knitting.
"During the peak of the pandemic, when everything felt so bleak, the act of stitching, purling, casting on and off is how I kept my anxiety at bay. Practicing it roots me in this idea that I talk about in my book, The Light We Carry called “the power of small.” It’s the idea that narrowing your focus into a small, seemingly insignificant task can remind us of our own agency.". MICHELLE OBAMA
Self-Help for Lifelong Resilience: Cognitive Engagement, Education, Creativity, Sense of Purpose in Life, and Humor
Knitting as an Adjunctive Treatment for Substance Use Disorder: A Mixed Methods Multiple Case Study
Knitting is the new yoga? comparing techniques; physiological and psychological indicators of the relaxation response
The Mindfulness in Knitting - Rachel Matthews
The Power Of Knitting - Loretta Napoleoni
Knit for Health and Wellness - Betsan Corkhill