Happiness is a Needle and Thread Away: New Data on Mental Health Benefits of Knitting

Turns out, it is possible to knit yourself into a better state of mind.

Clinical psychologist Ann Futterman-Collier who runs the Well Being Lab at Northern Arizona University, is studying what Arizona Public Radio station KNAU calls “Textile Therapy” — the emotional benefits of knitting, as well as crocheting, weaving and quilting.

"People basically have a vacation from their problems," she tells KNAU. "They can forget about what’s bothering them, and they get into something in the moment that energizes them, that leads to the repair in mood."

Futterman-Collier studied 60 women suffering from various levels of stress. She had them either work with textiles, write or meditate. During their respective activities, the women kept track of their moods. And for good measure, Futterman-Collier also took saliva samples, monitored their heart rates to determine their stress levels and measured their inflammation. She then compared the stress-reducing results of each of the three activities. 

"Textile handcraft making was associated with the greatest mood repair, increases in positive, decreases in negative mood," she tells KNAU. "People who were given the task to make something actually had less of an inflammatory response in the face of a ‘stressor’."

Futterman-Collier’s conclusion jibes with other research on the benefits of handcrafting hobbies. In January, Yahoo Makers looked at three similar projects:

  • Betsan Corkhill, a licensed physiotherapist and founder of Stitchlinks.com, published a report of knitting’s health benefits, which she says includes curbing anxiety attacks. “You are using up an awful lot of brain capacity to perform a coordinated series of movements,” she said. “The more capacity you take up by being involved in a complex task, the less capacity you have for bad thoughts.”

  • A very small (38 participants) study in the Eat Weight Disorders journal found knitting had positive effects on women suffering from eating disorders.

  • A study in the OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health journal cited the benefits of needlecraft in blocking negative thoughts, calming oneself through repetitive motions, and providing opportunities to socialize in knitting groups and social circles.

As for her own textile therapy study, Futterman-Collier tells KNAU: “People basically have a vacation from their problems. They can forget about what’s bothering them, and they get into something in the moment that energizes them, that leads to the repair in mood.”

So if that old saying is true and “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” hands that are busy knitting might be the workshop for positive thoughts.

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