After deciding to make a gift for her niece, Hafsah Zamir-Khan found an abundance of benefits in her new hobby.
When my sister-in-law fell pregnant with my niece, the first baby in our family, I took up crochet so I could make my much-awaited niece something special, a keepsake, like those my Nan had made for me as a baby. I had tried and failed in the past, unable to understand my Nan’s old school Punjabi methods and completely flabbergasted by all the jargon and complexity of the patterns in crochet books.
But I was determined, and the learning itself became part of this gift from me to my niece. I found some easy to follow tutorials on YouTube, that wonderful place where anyone can learn to do pretty much anything, and surprisingly, I found myself taking to it quite quickly. I had been expecting it to be fiddly and frustrating. I was expecting to make something shabby and unpresentable, but after only a day of picking up my hook and yarn, I had made my very first, slightly wonky, granny square. A week later, I was stitching a whole blanket and a few weeks after that, I had progressed to making the cutest little pink baby booties. It was euphoric! I felt that I could do anything, and there was nothing beyond my abilities.
It sounds silly to think that a metal hook and some yarn could make me feel so much. My friend Beth, who suffers from bipolar disorder, often told me that she found crochet calming and aided her in improving her moods. Before I could crochet myself, all I could see were the awesome amigurumi figures that she made and sold at craft fairs. I just wanted to crochet pretty things.
And yet, when I began crocheting myself, everything Beth said began to make sense. Crochet became a daily habit that I looked forward to each day. After returning from work and dealing with all the housework and chores, I would settle down with my hook and yarn in the late evening, counting stitches as I caught up with period dramas and baking shows. During quite a stressful period of time, those evenings became my downtime, allowing me to relax, shut myself off from life’s expectations and responsibilities, and just do something for myself.
Not long after this, I came across a book called Crochet Saved My Life by Kathryn Vercillo, who writes about the role played by crochet in shifting her chronic depression. It is a very informative book: Vercillo has clearly done a great deal of research into mental health issues and how crochet can help alleviate the symptoms of many disorders.
She begins with depression, something she struggled with her entire life, and recounts how discovering crochet was able to help her pull through. Focusing on the act of crochet, Vercillo explains, assists in alleviating depression by encouraging mindfulness, which helps to regulate emotions and to break the cycle of rumination. The repetitive movements release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is best known for the role it plays in one’s moods and feelings of happiness, so that the knitter might feel almost instantaneous calm. Vercillo sees crochet as ‘positive replacement’ for ‘destructive downtime’. It opens up the possibility of feeling like a productive person when one is feeling at one’s most useless and therefore helps to build self-esteem.
Vercillo shares stories of other women who fought their mental health issues with crochet, illustrating how crochet can help tackle various mental disorders. Feelings of anxiety can be suppressed by the calming nature of crochet, which also helps moderate the moods of those suffering from bipolar disorder. For those suffering from OCD, crochet can be a healthy replacement for compulsive behaviour that involves the use of hands. For schizophrenics, crochet can make a person feel stable and sane by helping to ground them to reality. Crochet keeps the brain constantly stimulated and so could help those suffering with Alzheimer’s or other memory loss. Learning new things, as one does during various crochet projects, builds up the cognitive reserves in your brain. More generally, the distracting nature of crochet can help to manage those with chronic pain and also stress.
A recent study by CNN confirms what Vercillo argues, and reveals that crafting in general is beneficial in its many forms, from knitting and quilting to painting and sculpting. The effects of all these crafts are similar to meditation, working as natural anti-depressants and possibly protecting against aging.
Ever since I can remember, I have always looked for new creative projects and hobbies. As a teenager, I spent hours practising nail art, henna, making beaded jewellery for my friends and embroidering napkins. After my time at university, I took up dressmaking and baking. In the last year, I have taught myself crochet, and more recently I have begun to learn calligraphy, geometric art and pretty much any home crafts I come across on Pinterest. I even crafted all of the décor for my wedding. I have always just considered myself to be a creative person, but after reading Crochet Saved My Life, I have realised that my creativity has also been an outlet for stress and a way to build my self-esteem. In the past, I was an extremely shy person, quite anxious and emotional. My creativity has increased significantly in recent years, and I can now to see how much it has helped me become a confident woman and to be able to manage everyday stress and live more positively. The more I achieve, the more I feel that I can do anything.
Yet, of all the crafting that I have done, crochet has proved to be the most therapeutic. It doesn’t require much energy so I can be productive even when I don’t feel like doing anything. Now, I cannot watch TV unless I have a crochet hook in my hand. My husband teases me and calls me a granny, but I think, secretly, even he finds it comforting sitting next to me as I stitch away.
Originally published in SISTERS magazine, April 2015