Hobbies such as knitting can be more than just a salve to a huge loss. They can have multiple health benefits. ‘[Knitting] can help to improve creative thinking, stimulate conversation and provide a wide variety of social support – a space to think, just be or to talk,’ says Betsan Corkhill, a Briton, who has done extensive research on the benefits of knitting and runs workshops teaching people how to improve their wellbeing using therapeutic knitting.
Author of Knit for Health and Wellness, she is also the founder of Stitchlinks, a non-profit global support group for people who enjoy crafts particularly knitting. According to her, the therapeutic benefits of knitting alone or in a group are mind boggling.
‘In a survey of over 3,500 knitters from 31 countries, [we found that] the more frequently - more than three times a week - people knit, the happier and calmer they feel,’ says Betsan. The fact that knitting involves repetitive, rhythmic movements and can be done pretty much any time and anywhere - while travelling and on holidays - individually and in groups, sets it apart from several other hobbies.
She believes that with our growing fixation to screens - where we switch from one app to another - we tend to spend more time on 2D-based activities which do little to enhance the quality of our lives. Incorporating 3D-based tactile, multisensory activities into our lives on the other hand, particularly at a young age, helps develop the brain.
Her extensive research on the benefits of knitting has shown that knitters learned other transferable skills through knitting. ‘Importantly, respondents to our survey told us they learned patience, perseverance and persistence.’ she says. The hobby has also been found to increase the produciton of serotonin, widely known as the happiness hormone, and induce a natural state of mindfulness while enhancing overall wellbeing.
Celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker, Scarlett Johansson, Catherina Zeta Jones are all said to be avid knitters and can be found clicking needles whenever they find free time on the sets.
According to Google Trends, searches for knitting have increased in countries such as the UK by 53 per cent over the past year, while the emergence of platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube has created vast virtual communities of crafters sharing tutorials, ideas and inspiration.
Each spring, under the cover of darkness and guarded by members of the Italian Coast Guard, 62-year-old Chiara Vigo slips on a white tunic, recites a prayer and plunges headfirst into the crystalline sea off the tiny Sardinian island of Sant’Antioco.
Using the moonlight to guide her, Vigo descends up to 15m below the surface to reach a series of secluded underwater coves and grassy lagoons that the women in her family have kept secret for the past 24 generations. She then uses a tiny scalpel to carefully trim the razor-thin fibres growing from the tips of a highly endangered Mediterranean clam known as the noble pen shell, or pinna nobbilis.
It takes about 100 dives to harvest 30g of usable strands, which form when the mollusc’s secreted saliva comes in contact with salt water and solidifies into keratin. Only then is Vigo ready to begin cleaning, spinning and weaving the delicate threads. Known as byssus, or sea silk, it’s one of the rarest and most coveted materials in the world.