Fibre Crafts Make a Comeback

Knitting is a craft that’s transcending generations – and sexes. Men and women of all ages are discovering the surprising health benefits of knitting and doing fibre crafts.

Knitting, crocheting, and other types of crafts are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, especially among 20- to 30-year-olds—and men. Knitalongs and yarn bombing have put modern twists on classic crafts. But as in Grandma’s day, crafts continue to offer many benefits, including relaxation, creativity, and social connection.

A time-honoured tradition

In Canada, knitting is a part of our history. During World War I, women made socks for soldiers stationed overseas. In 2012, the Government of Canada recognized the historical significance of the Cowichan sweater, the iconic knit garment made by BC’s Coast Salish.

Who’s knitting now?

It’s not only traditional artisans and our grandmothers who are producing hand-knitted garments. According to a 2011 online survey conducted by the US-based Craft Yarn Council, 18 percent of the knitters and crocheters who responded were 18 to 34 years old. Knitting groups are springing up in wool shops, cafés, libraries, and even pubs.

Knitting has even made its way to the boardroom. Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard was criticized in the press for a public relations photo that played up her domestic side as she knit a toy kangaroo for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s baby.

Sociologist Jo VanEvery, PhD, knits just about anywhere—at home while watching TV, in the pub while talking to friends, and in university staff meetings, where it helps her focus.

On the job, VanEvery says the image of “knitter” can clash with the image of “worker”: “In my case, my work was as an academic and I was known as a feminist, another identity that most people don’t associate with knitting. By inviting people to see you both as a knitter and a competent employee, you challenge people’s preconceptions of the characteristics of both identities.”

Health benefits

Focus is just one of the benefits that crafting imparts. A UK nonprofit group called Stitchlinks (stitchlinks.com) conducts research into the therapeutic benefits of knitting in social groups. It offers a free support network for knitters and provides information to health care and other professionals who wish to use the therapeutic benefits of knitting to help others.

Induced relaxation

Their research corroborates the findings of Herbert Benson, MD. In the 1960s, he discovered that focused repetitive movement can trigger the “relaxation response.” A variety of activities produced it, including meditation, deep breathing, tai chi, qigong, jogging—and knitting.

Improved mood, memory, creativity

Recent research has shown that by focusing on knitting and other crafts, such as cross-stitching (a type of embroidery), our attention is directed away from problems, stress, depression, and physical pain.

A 2010 online survey of 3,545 knitters worldwide showed that there’s a significant relationship between how often people knit and feelings of calmness and happiness. Those who knit regularly report

  • improved memory
  • better concentration
  • improved problem solving and analytical abilities
  • more patience, persistence, and perseverance
  • greater creativity
  • more self-confidence
  • enhanced relaxation

Paying it forward

Joyce Niemer’s mother taught her to knit when she was six or seven years old. At 88, her positive outlook on life may be partially attributable to a life spent knitting, crocheting, embroidering, and doing needlepoint.

Niemer spent many hours knitting sweaters for Save the Children Canada. She knits scarves for the Salvation Army, and since 1986, she’s knit more than 625 baby sets for the Penticton Regional Hospital.

When asked what she enjoys most about knitting, Niemer says, “It’s relaxing, and I get pleasure from each finished item.”

It’s a man’s world too

Reuben Briskie’s Nanna taught him to knit when he was 13. He subsequently taught his wife, Katie, to knit and crochet.

A café manager who lives in Victoria, Australia, Briskie says he has knit for so long that people who know him well consider knitting to be a part of his identity. He, too, finds the process relaxing, and he loves transforming ideas into tangible objects. Briskie designs patterns such as shark or crocodile iPod and iPhone covers. Some of his patterns can be downloaded from Ravelry.com, a popular website for knitters and crocheters.

The internet abounds with websites where men are defying crafting stereotypes and connecting over their love of knitting. Eighty-one percent of men who responded to a poll on the website Men Who Knit (menwhoknit.com) said they knit in public.

“When I knit in public, strangers are often very curious about what I’m up to. I’m always asked lots of questions, but the reaction is always very positive,” Briskie says. He advises other men to “give [knitting] a go. Life is too short to waste worrying about what other people might think.”

Social circles

While many enjoy knitting and crocheting when commuting or relaxing at home, knitting doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. Search the internet and you’ll find knitting workshops, retreats, and cruises. Those who knit in a group say they feel a sense of belonging and friendship.

Knitalongs

A knitalong is a group that knits for a common purpose. It could be a local “stitch and bitch” group that meets at a café to knit and socialize, or an online community of global knitters who put their needles to work for a charitable or artistic endeavour. Ask at your local wool shop about groups in your area, or start your own group.

Yarn bombing

A form of activism known as “craftivism” (a combination of crafts and activism), yarn bombing allows crafters to make a statement with their knitting needles and crochet hooks. Yarn bombing is street art that’s similar to graffiti, except instead of using paint, yarn bombers attach knitted or crocheted work to trees, parking meters, statues, bridges, vehicles, and airplanes.

Jessica Vellenga learned to crochet four years ago and started knitting two years ago. A textile artist and fashion and accessory designer, she’s also the coordinator of the Yarn Bomb Yukon Collective.

“On August 11, 2012, the Yarn Bomb Yukon Collective yarn bombed a 6,000-square-foot DC-3 plane owned by the Yukon Transportation Museum. This interactive art project was created in partnership with the museum and the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery

“In four months the Yarn Bomb Yukon Collective hosted more than 35 workshops on how to knit, crochet, and yarn bomb, and over 100 people volunteered to knit, crochet, and sew the yarn bomb together,” Vellenga says. “Since then we have yarn bombed everything from trucks, benches, a woolly mammoth [statue], bikes, sculptures, and trees.”

So far the reaction to Yarn Bomb Yukon’s projects has been positive. “People love that [yarn bombing] brightens up the environment. One person said, ‘Seeing your art on objects is like seeing a rare bird or a fox; it makes me feel good,’” she says.

“I use yarn bombing to connect with my community, and to redirect the nature of graffiti by creating positive fibre-based yarn bombs,” Vellenga says. “It encourages people to appreciate and enjoy fibre arts, and to take up knitting or crocheting.”

Eco-friendly fibres

Ask at your local wool shop about these eco-friendly yarns for your next knitting or crocheting project.

Type of yarn Characteristics
recycled
  • made by hand from recycled silk saris and sarongs
  • purchase helps the women’s cooperatives that produce the yarn
reclaimed
  • made from previously knitted garments that are unravelled
organic
  •  wool, linen, cotton, silk, and hemp
  • made from organically raised animals or organically grown plants and manufactured using organic processes
bio-synthetic
  • one example is SeaCell: a cellulose-based fibre combined with 5 percent seaweed

Crafting to help others

Local hospitals, churches, homeless shelters, and community groups are often in need of handcrafted donations. These organizations have websites with more information.

Organization What they do
Angel Hugs knit or crochet items for moms at risk, babies, teens, homeless people, and cancer patients in the Greater Toronto Area
angelhugs.ca
Blankets for Canada Society knit, crochet, or quilt blankets for Canadians who need warmth
blankets4canada.ca
CLICK for Babies knit or crochet baby caps in shades of purple to educate new parents about babies’ peak crying periods
clickforbabies.org
Victoria’s Quilts Canada quilt blankets for cancer patients
victoriasquiltscanada.com

Craft glossary

Local craft guilds can provide more information to get you started on a fibre craft.

Craft Description
knitting Yarn is wrapped around two straight 10 to 14 in (25 to 35 cm) knitting needles or a circular needle to create a fabric of varying designs.
crocheting Yarn or thread is wrapped around a crochet hook, creating a series of loops that form a fabric; unlike knitting, only one stitch is active at a time.
weaving Usually woven on a loom, fabric is produced by a weaver interlacing sets of thread or yarn at right angles.
spinning Drawn-out strands of fibres are twisted together by using a spinning wheel to create wool; wool is wound onto bobbins.
embroidery Fabric is decorated using a needle and embroidery thread; beads, pearls, sequins, or quills may be incorporated into the design.
cross-stitch In this type of embroidery, uniform X-shaped stitches form a pattern or picture on linen or aida cloth.
rug making Techniques such as braiding or hooking are used to insert fabric or yarn through a material backing to create a variety of designs.

Top 4 reasons why women do crafts:

  • 28%: to stimulate creativity
  • 15%: to keep busy
  • 13%: to make gifts
  • 10%: for stress relief

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