A crafty recovery: knitting as therapeutic and meditative vehicle

handsBy Heather Buchler

My grandfather had a woollen mill, and the whole family knitted – my mother and her four sisters, her mother, and also my grandfather. If anyone called around to visit while he was knitting, he would quickly hide his work under a cushion. My mother taught me to knit when I was five years old. I still have the fair-isle bonnet that I did when I was about seven. It looks pretty lame, but it reminds me of what I could do then. I knitted obsessively all through my childhood, adolescence and young adult years, and then I took a big break from it when other things took over.

I picked it up again during the throes of benzo withdrawal, on the urging of a friend. When I found myself very ill and traumatised, I needed something to fill in my days besides colouring in kids’s books and feeling miserably sorry for myself. When my friend suggested that I take it up again, I was dismissive of the idea, but was urged to until I eventually gave in and bought some yarn to knit a simple scarf. Once I began, I realised that knitting is like riding a bicycle – you can put it away for an extended time but it isn’t forgotten. I knitted my way through the scarf, and then several more scarves for family and friends. The more I persevered, the more creative the finished product.

I adored the feel of the yarn, and spent pleasurable time in choosing colours and textures. Very soothing and satisfying!

I recently came across an interesting article which helps to explain why I have found knitting to be so helpful and important to my own recovery. It begins, “Knitters across the world say it’s simply the best therapy, but why? Is there any substance to these claims?

More from the article:

Therapeutic Knitting

It’s already known and accepted within the medical profession that occupied people feel less pain and depression, so that’s a good start. However, the large amount of anecdotal evidence suggests that knitting has much more to offer. It isn’t simply about keeping people occupied with an activity they enjoy. It’s not just ‘old fashioned’ occupational therapy either. There’s a lot more to knitting than initially meets the eye! (read more)

After scarves, I became adventurous and more confident and began on beanies and hats. Then when I found myself expecting a first grandchild, I launched into baby clothes, where I was able to be more creative. At this stage, the withdrawal symptoms were daunting and difficult, but knitting helped me through. It is a meditative and calming activity, as the article describes. The more painful the symptoms, the more complicated the knitting became, as it took my mind off my pain, and onto counting stitches and concentrating on an intricate pattern. Counting and concentrating, followed by the calming, rhythmic activity was just what I needed.

This is what the article says about the meditative quality of knitting:

The rhythmic repetitive movements of knitting are important – quite how, we’re not absolutely certain of yet, but we have our theories. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that they induce a form of meditation very similar to Mindfulness. Recent research has shown that Mindfulness can be very effective in treating depression and chronic pain. It can also help those who are fit and healthy to combat stress and to manage life’s downs. It helps you to put into perspective any traumatic issues that would normally dominate your waking thoughts helping you to find a stable balance between problematic events and feelings and more positive, pleasant sensations within the current moment. It’s a state of mind where you’re not mulling over the past or fretting about the future. (read more)

I am still knitting my way to recovery, am now well equipped with some cosy winter garments, and am knitting for those whom I love. It gives me much pleasure to have the intended person in mind while I knit for them. Soft toys, sweaters, shawls and wraps, socks and jackets. Is it fun, and very satisfyingly creative. I am not alone either, even though I am still at home a lot, as there is a huge,friendly knitting community online that I spend time with. It is also a great resource – Ravelry 

No matter how tough my day has been, I still manage to finish each day with a feeling of satisfaction that I have created and achieved something, and I look forward to the next day.

Anyone can knit, anywhere, any time, as the article goes on to say, and there is plenty of online tutoring and help if it is needed.

More from the article:

The rhythm of these movements has a calming effect which is already being used successfully to manage disruptive behaviour and ADHD in children. Many who have written to me say they use their knitting to manage anxiety, panic attacks, phobias and conditions such as asthma, where calmness is important. Of course the portability of knitting means you can carry your calming remedy around and use it when and wherever you need. This portability makes knitting, along with some needlework projects, unique in the craft world. (read more)

Although I still have pain, I feel it less when I am knitting. The article explains why this is so, and it describes why knitting has pain-relieving properties.

My knitting has seen me through some dark days, and it goes everywhere with me now.

Also by Heather on Beyond Meds: An anniversary: a story of withdrawal from benzodiazepines

See also: Mindful Knitting: Inviting Contemplative Practice to the Craft

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