There is the stress of day-to-day living and working, and then there is the anxiety-inducing, swirling chaos and general world-upheaval that was the year 2020. There was a sense of shifting into survival mode while navigating the personal fallout - job loss or change, worry about family health, unexpected homeschooling, postponed or cancelled celebrations and events - and comprehending the broader scope of political and social unrest. Dealing with this mental barrage while quarantined away from family and friends became a full-time job. For many, crafting, and the fiber arts in particular, became more than a creative outlet during this time. It was a distraction from the dark thoughts and struggle around us; a release from the mental burden. And yet, this distraction also brought grounding, simplicity, a sense of nirvana.
Research has shown time and again that participating in handicrafts leads to improved levels of happiness and cognitive function. Also, as one British study points out, “purposeful, meaningful and goal-directed doing” is already a proven method for improving health and wellbeing in the occupational therapy world. One mathematician and physicist at Georgia Institute of Technology embarked on a 5-year project as a part of her research to investigate the mathematics and mechanics of knitting!! Her findings went on to teach us about the cognitive impact that knitting has on us, one not too far off in comparison to coding!
But we crafters have long recognized and experienced the therapeutic benefits of knitting and crocheting! Here’s to some more facts we can share with those we love to encourage them to pick up needles and join us in the art of making!
Let’s break down a few reasons fiber arts are excellent for our mental wellbeing:
Purposeful: Similar to other “domestic” pursuits, the fiber arts produce usable, tangible goods. Be it a decorative wall hanging, utilitarian dishcloth or elaborately cabled cardigan, the craft has defined purpose.
Meaningful: There is something unique about creating an item by hand as opposed to purchasing something made by a machine. Whether you’re creating something for yourself or someone else, you’re constantly thinking about the person behind the item and putting care into every movement. Every item you create conveys meaning.
Sense of Accomplishment: Crafting has a main goal and overall outcome, let’s say a knit sweater, but there are also smaller targets to direct progress. For a sweater, these secondary goals may be finishing a colorwork yoke, completing the body, working through one sleeve and then the other. There is motivation to see tasks completed, and a sense of accomplishment and boosted self-esteem.
Neuroplasticity: knitting does far more than just express our creativity. It truly reshapes our mind. One UK based physiotherapist studied knitting extensively in the clinical setting to find that being absorbed in a craft project, especially one with complex patterns, generates new neural connections in our mind that improve our problem solving skills through a mental challenge and testing your memory.
Long Term Health Benefits: Along with a sense of direction, crafting allows our brain to aid us in preserving and strengthening cognitive ability over time. A neurology and psychiatry professor at the Mayo Clinic found that those who engaged in activities like crafting reduced the effects of stress-related diseases and slowed cognitive decline. We may as well call it the creative cure!
These three facets of crafting work together to promote positivity and interrupt the negative noise and distractions that bombard us. The fiber arts in particular take things to an even deeper level of focus and calm. Through the actual process of the craft - the repetitive motions of stitching, weaving, spinning, etc. - makers can practice mindfulness that becomes a flow state not unlike meditation. And for us, it’s exactly that. Here are some examples of these concepts:
Mindfulness: Actively being present in the moment. As you’re working on your project, you are constantly thinking about the task at hand. You’re immersed in your craft. You are processing each stitch or movement as it happens. When you recognize that your thoughts have moved off to another topic or worry, intentionally bring yourself back and refocus on the yarn in your hands, the tool(s) you are using and the act of creation.
Meditation: A mental technique of reflection or contemplation that aims to reach a restful state of consciousness. Allow the repetition of the stitching or weaving motion to calm your mind and ease your tension. Focus on the feeling of the fiber in your hands and the beauty of the colors as they create designs. Use the rhythm of the movements like a mantra to clear your mind and settle into a state of awareness as opposed to thought.
Practicing mindfulness or meditation will not only help you relax but also learn to focus your thoughts, giving you a clearer head to tackle your stressors. Essentially, you are developing greater control over your mind which is helpful for combatting depression, anxiety and even some attention disorders. (In other words, pretty much anything the past year has thrown at us!) As an added bonus, as you improve at staying in the moment and being present while you work, your crafting is likely to improve and look neater than ever! But don't fret if you make mistakes! It's always wonderful to be reminded that this craft is all about the process, the unwinding to let creativity reign. You'll find yourself smiling at the sense of peace that arises as you let your project flow!
We hope that understanding how your craft can improve your mental wellbeing will encourage you to be present and let the meditative rhythm give your brain some time off. Wouldn’t it also be helpful to have a tool to help you track your progress with this? We may have something along those lines coming soon, and in the meantime, we wish you mindful crafting!Sources
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