A few years ago I returned to knitting. This forgotten hobby was something I taught myself during pregnancy more than 30 years ago. To teach myself, I bought needles, yarn and a ‘how to’ book designed for children.
I struggled with holding the needles and maneuvering the yarn to achieve consistent tension. With no online videos in those times, I followed the pictures, learned the basics, and produced several knitted garments for my son and husband before abandoning this hobby during busy career building years.
After retirement, I attended a lecture about the value of knitting and other forms of needlework as a stress reliever. The lecturer was an esteemed colleague who practised child and adolescent psychiatry. He spoke about how he spent private time between sessions knitting or doing petti-point needle work. For years, he kept this hobby private as he did not want to face derision from other psychiatrists and co-workers. As he grew older, he no longer bothered to hide this hobby and began to tout its benefits.
My colleague spoke of the meditative qualities of knitting. He cited mental and emotional benefits similar to those gained from regular yoga practise. I remembered how knitting provided relaxation years ago when I created sweaters, toques, mittens, and scarves. The repetitive movements soothed jangled nerves at the end of many stressful work days.
The lecture excited me. Alas, when I picked up my knitting needles and some yarn, I remembered nothing about knitting. I had to learn the basics again so off to a formal class I trudged. At ‘beginner’s knitting’ the teacher patiently helped with basic stitches of knit and purl as well as cast on and cast off.
I made a dishcloth from cotton yarn, a scarf to match a favourite winter jacket, and then a shawl. These projects were not relaxing and took months to complete.
In frustration, I abandoned knitting again.
Through an online meet-up site, I met a group of women who gathered weekly to knit. Over coffee and conversation, skilled knitters helped those, like me, who knew only the basic stitches. The weekly meetings provided an outlet for feelings and life lessons, as well as encouragement to learn new stitch patterns. Someone always had a quick method for correcting mistakes. With support, I began more complicated projects.
I made mittens and socks using four needles simultaneously. I learned to knit ‘in the round’. As I gained confidence I made socks, sweaters for my grand-daughter, baby afghans for expectant mothers, and lace shawls. Most of the items took weeks to complete.
The challenge of a new pattern or unfamiliar yarn activated parts of my brain. Adjustments to sock patterns meant using long-forgotten math skills to get proper fit. Lace patterns required memory skills and methods for tracking repeated stitch sequences.
Gradually the repetitive actions of knitting brought relaxation and comfort. It helped ease boredom. I began to knit during the three-hour commute from our former home to our cottage as well as during road trips that sometimes involved day long car rides. The mental stimulation of needles clicking alleviated the tedium of many long journeys.
As I continued to knit, other benefits manifested themselves. I remembered the intensity and focus described by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, as ‘flow’ or being ‘in the zone’. Knitting often put me into state of flow where hours passed without notice. A type of internal reflection coupled with the simultaneous use of hands and mind brought relaxation.
Knitting has also helped my eye-hand coordination. Fortunately, I don’t have arthritis in my hands or fingers. Knitting did, however, give greater flexibility and strength to my hands and my wrists.
I have no aspirations to call myself a ‘fabric artist’, as did one of the skilled women in the knitting group. Knitting, however, does activate my inner artist. I play with new colour combinations for each project.
Finding a hobby that I love and is enjoyable, stimulating, and gratifying enhances this phase of my retirement journey. It’s a creative outlet that is, at once, mentally stimulating, relaxing, and productive. It’s also portable! Other crafts including crochet, quilting, and embroidery have similar benefits — but there are only so many hours in a day!
Many friends find similar benefits from needle crafts. How about you? Do you find needle crafts frustrating or do are they relaxing and beneficial? Please add your thoughts as comments.