ARC Blog

Therapeutic Knitting

An interview with a local knitter on how it calms the mind.

Betty: Why did you decide to learn to knit/crochet?

I have always loved crafts, and I just wanted to slow down and make something with my hands that weren’t messy like painting was.

Betty: How long did it take?

I’ve been knitting for about a year and a half now, and I’ve learned cables, circular knitting, and lots of other things. It took about a week though to get to a point where I could cast on and knit a garter stitch without having to go to YouTube.

Betty: What was the most challenging?  Easiest?

The most challenging part, honestly, isn’t really in the technique for me, it’s finding a balance of fun knitting and getting too strict with myself about needing to finish the projects I start. I started knitting to give myself an escape and a hobby that was just for me, to help my brain slow down, not turn off, but slow down a bit. I tend to handle things like a business and have the tendency to plan everything out and set goals and deadlines, so it’s a constant challenge for me to just let my knitting be my knitting without forcing the productivity. Finding a balance has been key because I don’t like to have a ton of WIP’s laying around forever, so at some point, I need to wrap some of them up before starting a new one.

Betty: When did you begin to realize that it helped you relax and what did you notice?

I think I noticed it helping with my anxiety after I could do a few of the basic stitches (garter, rib, seed, etc.) without having to reference anything. I could think and just let my hands do their thing. The reason I kept knitting was that it has a calming effect on me that takes my chaotic brain, and calms down that top 10% of it that is over-analyzing and overthinking things. I can just let my brain do its thing or zone out watching Netflix. My favorite thing is to knit while watching Outlander. There are even some Outlander patterns on Ravelry. In all seriousness though, I have no idea why it has helped calm my anxiety, but it definitely has. I think it’s just giving my brain permission to do whatever it wants for a little bit while my hands make something beautiful-ish. 

Betty: Were there any surprises?

Just the fact that I love knitting so much surprised me. I usually can’t stand repetitive, slow things, and I still can’t really explain it, but I can’t get enough of it. 

Betty: How often do you knit/crochet and how does it affect/influence your life now?

I try to get some knitting time every night after I get the kids to bed and finish chores, but before reading. If somebody would invent a way to read a paper book, knit, and drink tea at the same time, that would be amazing. 

Betty: What suggestions might you have for anyone considering knitting/crochet as self-care/treatment?

Don’t get discouraged. At first, yes, it’s another thing to learn but it doesn’t take long for your fingers to just learn what to do and learn the abbreviations so you don’t have to look up every single little thing. Early on, learn how to fix mistakes like dropped or twisted stitches, or how to undo stitches, it will save you so much time! As far as knitting for self-care goes, my best advice is to make time for it. If you do everything else and say “I’ll knit when xyz is done” you’ll never get to it. If you’re knitting for self-care, you need to prioritize it and set time aside regularly to do it, just as you should any other self-care activity. 

Stock Photo from Giulia Bertelli –

5 Best Practices for Therapeutic Knitting

Learn the basics: The best way to learn depends on how you learn best – and where you live.  The quickest way to find an instructor is by searching “knitting instructor near me” or “knitting lessons near me.”  If you prefer Youtube, there are LOTS of great “learn to knit” videos; you’ll be able to find one that matches your learning style and preferences.  If learning from a book works for you, try your local library or buy a basic book for beginning knitters. 

The basic stitches to learn first are casting on, knit, purl, and bind off stitches.  Of those, casting on is often the most difficult, so some people learn best on a project that’s been started by another knitter and learn how to cast on later after they’ve had some practice.

Choose supplies that are easy to work with and “speak” to you.  If the color and “feel” of the yarn is pleasing, it’s more likely that you’ll look forward to the time spent in your practice. The easiest supplies for beginners include a lighter color or gradient yarn of medium weight (#4 on the label), & needle size 8-10 US.

Commit to practicing for 20 to 30-minute sessions at least 3X/week, scheduled just as you would do for any other self-care routine. Begin each session with a few cleansing breaths to clear your mind and prepare your body to relax and recharge.

Make social connections – make something for someone or something you care about, join a social knitting group (online or in-person), knit in public, or teach someone else.

Do your best; it’s good enough! In the beginning, focus on the knitting itself rather than the finished project. You’ll be able to feel and see improvements soon, and can then move on to more complicated stitches and projects with better success.

Betty Houtman is a nurse and lifelong knitter/crocheter. She is using her vast skill set to help people learn how to quiet the mind, mend the brain, and soothe the soul. Read her previous article How Crochet and Knitting Help the Brain (Oct 2017).


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