In Stitches: Laughter, Healing, and Knitting

“I did this scene in Lars and the Real Girl where I was in a room full of old ladies who were knitting, and it was an all-day scene, so they showed me how.  It was one of the most relaxing days of my life.” 
                                                  --Ryan Gosling

      From delaying or preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, easing depression, reducing the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, raising self-esteem, honing motor skills, to helping people with OCD channel some of their obsessive behavior, numerous studies have linked knitting to health benefits.   There is also a slew of anecdotal evidence from knitters themselves related to how knitting has played a key role in overcoming personal loss and how belonging to a knitting group is invaluable to easing loneliness and preventing isolation.  My experiences, too, confirm those conclusions.  

     For several years I have attended a Tuesday night knitting group at my local yarn shop.  Despite different backgrounds and stages of life, we are joined together by our shared “constructive addiction.” (The phrase “constructive addiction” is  a term coined for knitting by Betsan Corkhill, a British physiotherapist who is discussed in a June 2, 2015 article entitled “Knitting is Good For You” in Psychology Today).  It is interesting that knitters in my group used the words “Therapy Night” to describe Tuesday night meetings long before research was published on the mental and physical benefits of knitting.  The meetings help keep us abreast of new patterns, techniques, and yarns, and, I have to confess, they sometimes serve to help alleviate my sense of “stash guilt.”  When I observe other women, with the fervor and frenzy of shipwrecked passengers on a desert island finding a crate of food washed up on the shore, scrambling to grab skeins of a new yarn from a big box (the latest delivery brought out by the shop owner), it is heartening to think, I’m not so bad. My stash can’t be as big as some of theirs.  My self-esteem is raised, too, when members compliment my latest finished object, and I love to see and gain inspiration from the work of these women. And I can relate to their plights.  One of them, a retired elementary school teacher, recently expressed the stunned surprise she experienced when she was getting undressed before bed and “a cable needle fell out” (from her bra where she had stashed it).  Such anecdotes are reassuring that one isn’t alone in experiencing such odd knitting-related moments.  

This is Clawthorpe, made with Cumbria worsted, on display at my LYS, Cottage Yarn.  

These colors will make up the yoke of my Clawthorpe.  The body will be the teal shown in the

          I also belong to a Thursday night group I founded by posting information on Nextdoor.  Most Nextdoor posts seem to be related to missing animals, rude drivers, and suspicious characters, such as one recently described as a "middle-aged" man with glasses "walking his dog," while “looking into yards and property.”  Comments following such posts can quickly devolve into rants about sex offenders and lurking homeless men, should someone question the wisdom of singling out potentially innocent people and describing them in detail online.  Rather than inciting this type of discord, however, by using Nextdoor I was able to connect with a group of local women who are a joy to know.  Not die-hard addicts, most members of the group are crocheters who enjoy their craft but aren't able to recite a litany of designer names and yarn brands and are not in the habit of making every family road trip include stops at yarn shops.  Of course, after their initial mouth-gaping response to the price tag on a skein of yarn (a blend of cashmere, merino, and silk) I was working with at one of our initial get-togethers, some of the women are beginning to come around.  A field trip to our local shop for some exposure to beautiful yarn worked its magic on them, too.  There’s nothing like making new converts to one’s obsession.  
          I sometimes feel like the serious one in this group.  I typically come rushing in, hyper and stressed out about something, and am greeted with playful comments and laughter.  Our Facebook message group reflects this light-hearted dynamic.  One of the members of the group is an accomplished crocheter who oversees a knit-and-crochet program for cancer patients at a local hospital.  At one meeting she and I were discussing how a person can freeze hand-me-down yarn, to kill any potential stash-destroying moths.  The idea of freezing fiber evoked some incredulous laughter from the group.  A week or so later, on our Facebook message group, where we touch base about who will be attending each week’s event, one of the other members, a New Englander with blunt conversation style, shared how her daughter had shown up at her house along with her grandson, with head lice.  She then posted the following:  “So I’m at CVS checking out with $40.00 worth of head lice shampoo and a bottle of wine (for me).  The guy says have a nice evening.  Sure will, we’re have a lice party.  Feel free to stop by.  Bring your own nit comb.”  Immediately, another member commented, “Just remember.  If you catch it, you can always stick your head in the freezer.” I had to chuckle at this exchange.  Such levity is good for my serious soul.

During the Charlotte Yarn Crawl, held this week, Cottage Yarn in Mint Hill, NC had samples
from the Fiber Company on display.  These garments and accessories are made out of Cumbria
Worsted or Arranmore Light yarns.  The yarns' soft texture is so enticing.  

     There is also a Thursday noontime group, which I visit infrequently due to scheduling conflicts—and maybe the need to at least go through the motions of housekeeping and working on weekdays. This group typically meets at a member's house, a relaxed place decorated with an eclectic collection of artwork and sculpture.  Just plopping myself down into a chair in this environment probably reduces my cortisol level to minuscule levels.  And I have benefitted not only from humor and creative inspiration but from the sage advice of the women who meet there who have years of life experience amongst them.  From the world travelers in the group to the woman in her sixties who last year took her first flight (to Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival, of course), knitting is the common denominator that makes the group cohesive.  

       Social knitting, despite squabbles and differences of opinion that pop up from time, is a way to bring a little Danish hygge into our fast-and-furious American lives.  In the blog It's Me Charlotte, Charlotte Dupont writes, "But in all honesty, hygge is a very social word. It is generally a word used to describe cozy times with friends and people you love. Hygge can be used to describe time alone, but more authentically, it's time you spend with people and the coziness that company brings." 

This is the Ultraviolet shawl made with Arranmore Light.  This shawl seems to epitomize hygge.  

Arranmore Light has a bit of a speckled/tweedy texture.  

     While I enjoy the camaraderie and hygge of my knitting groups, I could not survive recent stresses in my life without my solitary knitting.  This week as I struggle with telling my mother that she is going to be moved to the Memory Care center at her assisted living facility, I especially need meditative knitting time.  My mother has referred to the Memory Care building as “the Hole” and discussed how other people, including one particular friend, were “sent down,” when they were moved there, but, ultimately, I think she will be more satisfied and better cared for in this place. (I’ve been told by nurses at her current assisted living center that higher functioning residents can be cruel to their peers suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia.  One put it this way:  “It’s like high school.” As my role has reversed and I tend to my mother, I can’t help but be sad at heart, in the way that the parent of a special needs child is painfully aware that each day at school is a potential opportunity for ostracism and bullying.  I am also aware that a new environment with peers who share her illness and with staff trained to give lots of hugs and direction is in order.   

          As I prepare myself for my role as the bearer of news about this change, I’ve made three trips to my local yarn shop in as many days, bought gorgeous Cumbria worsted for a yoked sweater, and worked furiously on a new design. I know that social knitting, my splurge purchase, and my independent knitting are, if not lessening, at least stabilizing my stress and grief as I ready myself for this new season in my mother’s and my own lives.  

So many colors of Cumbria on display at my LYS.  So little time!


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