The Doctor Is In: The Benefits of Knitting
Knitting is more than just a way to express our creativity. When we knit, we can feel our stress melt away, our racing minds quiet down, and the world starts to feel more manageable. These benefits might sound a little hokey to a non-knitter, but even the New York Times has documented the benefits of knitting. Research on the phenomenon has become a growth industry all of a sudden.
This research also inspired Betsan Corkhill, a UK physiotherapist, to start writing about therapeutic knitting. She studied knitting extensively in clinical settings and wrote about her findings in her first book, Knitting for Health and Wellness, How to Knit a Flexible Mind and More (2014). Then she paired up with designer Lynn Rowe for another book, Knit Yourself Calm (2017). Now we’ve got another excuse to get us knitting!
I recently spoke with Betsan about her work to get a handle on the neuroscience. Explored further in our current issue of Quick + Easy Knits, she explains that the lump of gray tissue in our skulls holds the good and the bad: our anxieties, joys, fears, and hopes. Knitting settles our minds and lets us exercise more control over our thoughts.
Before our thoughts pull us in one direction or another (or worse, spiral downward), knitting can occupy our present thoughts. How does that work? Betsan explains:
When we’re [knitting], we’re actually working, operating, quite hard, and that takes up a lot of capacity in that moment. Our brains have only got a limited amount of capacity in a moment for conscious thought. So the more capacity you take up in an absorbing activity, the less capacity you’ve got left to pay attention to issues that may be detrimental to your well-being. If you then add complex pattern of stitches to that, then you’re making your brain work even harder.
The tactile sensations help too. ‘Our hands transmit loads of information about our environment and that is a powerful way to affect your mood. Touching something soft elicits a calming response. Think about the way you feel when you pet your cat or dog; the same is true for yarn. Betsan added that combining texture with a color you like amplifies the benefit:
Our research showed that texture was twice as significant as color at affecting mood. Touching something good makes you feel good. Obviously, if you combine that with color that makes you feel good as well, then you’re getting a double whammy there.
In other words, don’t be embarrassed to feel your way through your local yarn store.
Betsan suggests keeping a project nearby at all times, so you’re prepared to stop negative thoughts. ‘Knitting can provide immediate relief whether you’re traveling, sitting in a meeting, or trying to fall back asleep in the middle of the night.
With knitting, and crochet, you can take it with you wherever you are and use it wherever you are. It means you’ve got a powerful tool at your fingertips all the time.
With Betsan’s advice in mind, let me recommend a terrifically portable project: the Cucina Dish Towels in Quick + Easy Knits. Seed stitch, with its alternating knits and purls, lets you focus on an engaging stitch pattern. Relax while you’re making them, instead of obsessing about knitting perfection. When you’re done, you’ll have a functional item for your kitchen.
Yarn Weight 3
Finished Size Each dish towel measures about 13″ (33 cm) wide and 22″ (56 cm) long.
Yarn Shown Here Knit Picks CotLin (70% Tanguis cotton, 30% linen; 123 yd (112 m)/1.75 oz (50 g)): #24134 Swan (white; A), #24834 Whisker (gray; B), and #24137 Crème Brûlée (yellow; C), 2 skeins each. Yarn distributed by Crafts Americana.
Needles Size U.S. 3 (3.25 mm): 24″ (60 cm) circular knitting needle. Adjust needle size if necessary to obtain the correct gauge.
Notions Yarn needle.
Gauge 21 stitches and 34 rows = 4″ (10 cm) in seed stitch.