Knit for happiness: knit one, purl one
Published in MapleLine Magazine: Feb.3, 2010
by Dela Wilkins
Only two stitches form the basis for all items made with knitting needles and yarn – knit and purl. Like computer code of 1 and 0, or the spoken words yes and no, whether we choose to knit one or purl two can determine the fabric of our lives.
When my grandmother (born 1898) and my mother (born 1927) were girls, knitting, stitching and sewing were taught to every girl at home and as a school subject. Gloves, socks, baby clothing, twin sweater sets, even underwear were made to fit the recipient. Knitting was an economic necessity, and every gathering of women included knitting or stitching and conversation. My mother did not knit on Sundays, as knitting was considered “work”. During WWII several yarn companies put out pattern booklets with items for the “boys at war”.
Women with busy young families and those 55+ come to “stitch and bitch” on Wednesday nights at Cabin Creations, a yarn and crafting store on Otter Point Road in Sooke town centre. Store owner Sue Truman is on hand to help out with stitch techniques. Admission is $2 or bring cookies. The store, now in its 10th year, holds an inventory of over $76,000 (that’s just in the front area). Many new yarns are made of soy, bamboo, cotton, silk and cashmere in a wide range of colours, textures and sparkly options. “Start with a cotton dishcloth or make socks. With only two needles you can cart your work anywhere,” says Truman. “What you make is always unique and probably useful too. It’s very therapeutic.”
For many people today, knitting is a something of a mystery. For those
who knit however, it is still a personal necessity. Ask any knitter
today why he or she knits and you will hear thing such as this:
• It relaxes me.
• I get a feeling of accomplishment when I complete a project.
• It’s like yoga for my mind.
• I like creating order out of chaos.
• I knit for charity.
• It’s very portable, you can knit anywhere.
• I love the color and texture of the yarns.
• I like the complexity of working on a difficult pattern.
• I like the monotony of a simple project.
• It gives me a chance to put my feet up.
• It gives me something to do with my hands.
• It keeps me calm in stressful situations like waiting rooms.
Is there a connection between knitting and management of mental health?
Since the 1920s occupational therapists and activity coordinators working with patients in hospitals and rehabilitation units have used knitting as a form of therapy. According to Charles Capaldi, author of Guerrilla Knitting for Men, “time spent with needles in hand was considered a highly effective cure for moodiness and apathy”.
Knitting helps focus attention, improve hand-eye coordination, and provides productive activity. In some cases knitting provides an assessment of change in the patient as the quality of the work or the knitter’s level of interest changes.
Today there is growing recognition that knitting is or could be undertaken for more than just a hobby. A growing number of articles and websites are looking at the therapeutic side of knitting and stitching.
A 2009 BBC news item suggested that knitting and other “mindful
activities” may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. I recently admired the
knitting in progress by a resident in a care home. She showed me her
collection of completed scarves, all done in garter stitch. Although she
could not recall details of her life, she was able to tell me the ply of
yarn and needle size used to knit her scarves, which were ready to be
delivered to a local charity for distribution.
In December 2003, the New York Times reported that half the 535 pupils in a New Jersey school were knitting. Their Knitting Together a Community program has become much more than a recess activity. A nearby yarn store also provides free classes for students in schools, from
middle school to college.
PubMed (an archive of full-text, peer-reviewed health and life sciences literature) reported in March 2009 on research conducted by the UBC Dept. of Psychiatry in Vancouver. ‘Managing Anxiety in Eating Disorders with Knitting’ looked at the impact of learning to knit on 38 in-patients: “From a clinical perspective, knitting is inexpensive, easily learned, can continue during social interaction, and can provide a sense of accomplishment.”
Stitchlinks.com, a UK website, has since 2005 become a place for centrally-coordinated research on the health benefits of knitting. Here you will find lists such as “25 ways knitting and stitching can help depression” (as well as stress, pain, and addiction).
In her 2005 book Craft to Heal, Nancy Monson quotes Herbert Benson, MD: “You can induce the relaxation response through any type of repetition, whether it’s repeating a word, a prayer or an action, such as knitting or sewing. The act of doing a task over and over again breaks the train of everyday thought, and that’s what releases stress.”
CraftForHealth.com, launched in the US in May 2009, is a multi-media service that “promotes healthy lifestyles through a blend of craft and medical information”.
Learning about knitting can be fun. Read some short stories about knitting online or a knitting mystery – Maggie Sefton and Mary Kruger both include patterns in their novels. Drop into a yarn shop to ask questions. Find a local knitting group or go online to view knitting tutorials. Attend Fibre Festivals and visit various knitting shops and displays. Some organizations offer free yarn to knitters who will produce items for charity.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well- being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of everyday life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
To help maintain your own mental health, find something that allows you to be in the moment. Knitting is one of many options that allow you to lose yourself in the rhythm and flow of activity while producing a result that may keep someone else warm and dry this winter. Let’s get started. Knit one, purl one… MM
Dela Wilkins is a nurse, knitter and lifecare coach.
MapleLine Business Centre - Fax, scan and copy while you wait. Meeting space for small groups and business seminars. 6707 West Coast Road (across from Peoples Drug Mart), Sooke, BC. Phone: 250-642-7729 or toll-free 1-877-595-6925. email@example.com
This article was published on pages 14-15 in the print edition of MapleLine Magazine (Winter-Spring 2010 issue / Feb-Apr.2010).