Knitting, Needlepoint, Sewing, Stress Reduction and Yoga

Surveys show that there has been a surprising resurgence in the popularity of knitting and other sewing activities in recent years. More than one in three American women, (some 56 million) now knit or crochet, a 51% increase over the past ten years. Even more impressive is that in the past five years, participation in these crafts increased more than 150% in the 25-34 age group and 100% for those 18-years-old and under. This revival in these hobbies is attributed to their stress reduction rewards. As one college student said, “being able to sit down and just concentrate on one thing such as knitting forces you to slow down and breathe. No worries about scheduling, analyzing, charting or anything else that the ordinary person stresses about every day. Even if it is only for half an hour, it’s a great way to forget everything else for a brief moment and relieve the stress of everyday life.”

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Others agree that the repetitive actions needed for knitting and crochet can induce a “relaxation response” much like that experienced with meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, and other relaxation techniques. One study at Harvard’s Medical School Mind/Body Institute found a reduction in heart rate of 11 beats/minute and a fall in blood pressure during knitting. Many institutions are taking advantage of these health benefits by incorporating knitting and crochet into their activities. Gilda’s Clubs, which offer family cancer support in locations across the U.S., now provide knitting to help with the emotional upheaval of dealing with cancer. At the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, knitting is used to lower stress for its clients. Grade schools from Oregon to New Jersey have incorporated knitting into their curriculum, not only for the health benefits but to help build creativity and improve math skills.

Many consider knitting to be the “new yoga”, since it provides similar benefits but can be practiced anywhere, whenever you want, and for any length of time. Like yoga, knitting forces those who practice it to slow down, take a break from the rush of everyday tasks, to look at the parts that make the whole, and to expand themselves both mentally and physically. However, yoga can be uncomfortable judging from the facial expressions of some, especially those with pain from arthritis or muscle spasm. In contrast, people who are knitting or crocheting always seem to be smiling and happy.

As will be seen in a future Newsletter, many celebrities have used knitting to relieve the stress of their demanding work, including: Julia Roberts, Vanna White, Cameron Diaz, Sarah Jessica Parker, Daryl Hannah, Hilary Swan, Anne Bancroft, Madonna, Jeniffer Cruise, Bette Midler, Martha Stewart, Meryl Streep, Katherine Zeta-Jones, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn Madeline Albright and Queen Victoria. So have Russell Crowe, Brad Pitt, and Bob Mackie. Football legend Rosie Greer was adept at needlepoint and most historians agree that knitting probably began with men who knit fishing nets and was spread by Arabian sailors and merchants who traveled throughout the Mediterranean. The first knitting trade guild was started in Paris in 1527 and it was originally a male-only occupation. It became particularly popular with returning soldiers in World War II, who knitted socks and clothing for their comrades overseas while recuperating. According to a May 24, 1937, Time magazine article, the Duke of Windsor listened to the broadcast of his brother’s coronation while knitting a dark blue sweater for his fiancée, for whom he gave up the throne. It became particularly popular with returning soldiers in World War II, who knitted socks and clothing for their comrades overseas. Many may be surprised to learn that there has also been a recent increase in male knitting clubs that tend to be frequented by those in stressful occupations not only to relieve tension but because of the social support that group activities provide. In addition to making clothing, knitting also tends to smooth things out, as Macbeth noted, when he described, “sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care.”

image: Paul Rogers