On the whole I pride myself in being a reasonably self-aware person. One who knows my strengths and weaknesses. Self-confidence has never been something I’m good at but quiet perseverence and an ability to survive most things I do with elan. I come from a long line of women who get things done, get on with it – in fact would normally be classed as women who “cut down a rotten tree before breakfast”, as one of my friends recently put it. I love the visual imagery of that one!
So imagine my deep rooted shock on realising that my love of knitting is partially rooted in therapy. I distinctly recall the urge to create some years ago when I think it would be fair to say that things were not going my way. In a big way. I found the act of creating fabric out of yarn immensely satisfying. Not to mention the fact that my brain was focused on remembering how to do the stitches, how not to create a triangle, what to do when I’ve dropped a stitch and all the usual things beginners experience. I had no time to angst, panic, fret or worry about my then predicament. I’m also incredibly driven to achieve an end result and knitting definitely achieves that, albeit sometimes the result is not as great as you expect.
Since my personal epiphany, I have done some research on knitting as a therapy and I found a rich seam of modern research all over the Western World focussing on craft, and knitting in particular as a form of therapy to assist with pain management, depression, addiction and self-esteem/confidence issues. In the UK the best sources of information can be found at
Stitchlinks was founded by Betsan Corkhill in 2005 to be the central source for information and support (and more) for those who used knitting as a form of stress/pain management and for professionals who wanted to offer this to patients as a form of therapy. Since then it has gone from strength to strength, and Betsan continues to centrally co-ordinate the research and information. There was even a Therapeutic Knitting Conference held in June 2012.
The UK Handknitting Association page brings together stories from people around the world who have benefited from knitting and provides links to groups supporting knitting as a therapy.
It seems that the rhythmic repetition of knitting calms the mind and has similar neurochemical effects as meditation. I certainly found that it is not possible to think stressful thoughts when you are working overtime in keeping stitches on your needle, or when you’re a more proficient knitter, counting those YOs for lace knitting. Additionally, the act of creation is something that many jobs nowadays leave behind. The more we sit in front of a computer staring at spreadsheets, word files, powerpoint presentations and similar, the less time we use parts of our brain related to creativity. Knitting teaches patience and perseverence, all important traits in a modern environment.
Fear not – this is not just another recent fad. If you want to find out more, I would encourage you to visit Stitchlinks. However for many generations the therapeutic impact of knitting has been recognised. Wounded soldiers in the First and Second World Wars were encouraged to knit.
Our current fighting men are not immune to the charms of the yarn
And Madonna, Ryan Gosling, Tracey Ullman, Jimmy Hill, Sarah Jessica Parker, Russell Crowe, Lilly Allen … all have one thing in common. Yes, it is knitting. Not that I need any further encouragement of course, but knowing that whilst I’m creating with lovely yarn and beautiful colours, I am also nurturing my mental health is a great feeling. It has also given me extra food for thought in my teaching ventures. Long live the needle – and yarn of course!
I would like to thank Betsan Corkhill for her help and Jean Greenhowe Designs, the Otis Historical Arhives National Museum of Health and Medicine and the Humanitariona Mission for the use of their photos.