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Crafts and our mental health – Guild president’s letter

This article originally appeared as a “President’s Message” in the Northcoast Knitting Guild Newsletter, September-October 2018 edition.  My term as NCKG president was June 2018 – present.  I plan to write an article for you soon about “why you should join a local knitting guild”.  If you are in the Cleveland/Northeast Ohio area, our guild has educational and fun meetings every month, and many friendly knit-ins besides.  Check out our website for more information!  Northcoast Knitting Guild

I was planning to write a charming, light essay about fall things – but sometimes longer, darker days bring darker sentiments.  So let’s talk about the importance of comfort knitting in mental health. To me, comfort knitting is knitting for relief of anxiety and knitting for calming jangled emotions, or knitting a little gift for someone when I know I can’t do anything else to help them through.  Sometimes it’s just comforting to keep my hands busy, because even when I feel helpless, at least I can make pretty stitches.

There have been a variety of studies lately (sources: 1) that are showing that any art or craft that has a repetitive action can produce a contemplative “repair state” or a state of mind that allows thoughts to come up gently and be worked through and set aside.  On t-shirts and mugs, knitters and other craft enthusiasts quip that their chosen craft is cheaper than therapy. The joke has been around for years, and now the science is uncovering what we already knew – our craft is incredibly therapeutic. Of course, when additional help is needed, therapy under the trained guidance of a professional is also an important tool.

The joy of making things gives us confidence.  The connection of brain and hands grounds us in the real world.  When knitting, we can savor a moment of “me” time. My university colleagues that study mental health tell me that “savoring” is an important aspect of positive mental health (sources: 2).  We can savor in anticipation, we can savor an experience in the moment, and we can savor the memory of what we enjoyed. The act of savoring pushes back some of the dark cobwebs of negative thinking.

We can also bring together heart and hands and produce something for someone we care about, or for a charity project for someone we don’t even know.  Performing acts of kindness is another way in which we can focus on a positive emotion, and give that positive feeling strength over our more negative thoughts.  We can create goodness in the world when we create something to give.

While scientists are still mulling over the exact causes, social isolation and loneliness are being considered a public health crisis in our modern age of too much work and screen-time (sources: 3).  The solution is likely having more connection in our social networks. For that, we may find that we need craft groups more than ever. Craft groups bring us together in real space and remind us that we are among people who “get” us, people who understand our very specific passion.  I don’t know about you, but there is something so comforting about a room full of fuzzy clicking sounds.

These are all tools that we knitters have ready at our fingertips.  Aren’t we lucky? If you have someone in your life who could use more tools for their positive mental health, take some time to find out if there are creative hobbies they are drawn towards but haven’t felt empowered to really try.  Are there ways you can support their activities? Can you have “craft night” with them? Can you go take a class with them to show that you can go out on a limb with them and try something new? Not that this would replace therapy for someone who really needed help, but you might just be able to foster a passion that also gives a friend some additional tools for better mental health. (sources: 4)

Sources:

1)  http://theconversation.com/how-craft-is-good-for-our-health-98755

2)  https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/10_steps_to_savoring_the_good_things_in_life and also some conversations with various faculty I have worked with in the areas of Clinical Psychology and Occupational Therapy.

3)  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2017/10/04/this-former-surgeon-general-says-theres-a-loneliness-epidemic-and-work-is-partly-to-blame/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.570fcf86b1c4

4) https://www.healthline.com/health/diy-depression-therapy-how-the-arts-can-heal#2

 

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So many ways to have socks

Where have I been for the last month?  I have been working away at a gift.  Isn’t that the mantra of knitters everywhere?  It always seems like we have a plan for a gift, a gift on the needles, or a deadline that is fast approaching – almost upon us – just passed -!  And then the lull of:  well, I didn’t get it done on time, but maybe I can get it done this week and it will be ok.

Fortunately, the recipient this time is my mom, and she is a knitter herself, so she knows all about how knitting time required for gifts is completely incalculable.  Even if you give yourself lots of lead time, it never seems to get done on time.  Or you are up all night the evening before the event cranking out the last stitches in a rush.

I am finally almost done with a pair of mini-cabled socks.  They started as an experiment in two-at-at-once magic looping… which is a method I have decided is now dead to me! Continue reading

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One less albatross

I often overcommit myself.  This was one of my concerns when starting the TKGA Master Hand-Knitter program.  I tried to clear a few gift-making projects (that were gravely overdue) early in January before I got my Level I instructions.  But as I have gotten into the heart of the Level I tasks, I have started getting more involved with Ravelry as it is a great resource for TKGA discussions and information.  I have also been using Raverly to organize my stash and get serious about a queue of projects that should help me through some extreme stash-busting.  There are a lot of vests and shrugs on my queue because it seems I almost never get a whole sweater’s worth of yarn.

But this queuing has lead to some extreme stash-guilt.  I hadn’t realized how much stash I had collected that was intended for some project or another.  I hadn’t realized how much stash I really had until I moved last year!  Now all of the craft resources are in one place, and rather than inspiring me, I feel like they are all mocking me.  I am being taunted by my foolish good intentions.  Continue reading