Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It’s the Year of the Sheep—Get Knitting!

Andrea Knitting from her Sheep by Barbara O'Brien
This year is the Year of the Sheep, according to the Chinese Zodiac. So what better time to take up knitting or to upgrade your knitting skills? Practicing crafts such as knitting, crocheting, and quilting not only produces unique items that can’t be found in  stores; it also enhances mental, emotional, and physical health. And these claims aren't just anecdotal—scientific research shows that crafting can lead to a sound body and mind.

Knitting has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years. Carrie Barron, a psychiatrist with the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and herself a knitter, believes the popularity of knitting may be a response to the rise of technology, much like the arts and craft movement followed the industrial revolution. And she thinks that knitting may well be the antidote to many of the stresses brought on by modern life.

So here are some good reasons to pick up the needles:

1) Elevates mood and alleviates depression. In a 2013 survey of 3,500 knitters published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, the participants were asked to describe their mood before knitting; 34 percent reported feeling “happy” and 23 percent reported being “a little sad” to “very sad.” When asked to report their mood after knitting, less than 1 percent remained sad and 81 percent described themselves as “a little happy” to “very happy.”

2) Relieves stress. The rhythmic nature of knitting keeps the mind absorbed in a healthy way, thus providing an escape from stressful thoughts but allowing for internal reflection. The therapeutic effects of knitting may be related to similar effects achieved through meditation.

3) Enhances dexterity. Knitting is a great workout for the fingers, hands and forearms. Moving the joints of the fingers forces fluid to move in and out of the surrounding cartilage thus keeping the joints well-hydrated and reducing the risk of arthritis.

4) Improves self-esteem. Crafting gives us a creative and productive outlet. The process of visioning, making, and completing a project boosts our sense of self-worth and encourages us to connect with others.

5) Boosts mental power. One study shows that practicing crafts reduces your chance of developing mild cognitive impairment by as much as 50 percent. Similarly, a French study found that elderly people involved in crafts, specifically knitting, are less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

The Birmingham Public Library has loads of resources to help you knit your way to better health. Here are some good ones to get you inspired:

Knitting Without Tears / by Elizabeth Zimmermann.
The feisty Zimmermann is the Julia Child of knitting. Starting in the late 1950’s, she revolutionized and modernized knitting through her books and instructional series on American public television. Several generations of knitters have honed their skills with the help of this classic handbook.

Knitting Yarns : Writers on Knitting / edited with an introduction by Ann Hood.
In this collection of essays, 27 contemporary authors talk about the transformative power of knitting. Barbara Kingsolver describes shearing a sheep for yarn on her farm in Virginia. Ann Patchett writes about the scarf that knits together the women she’s loved and lost. Sue Grafton shares her passion for knitting. By turns poignant and laugh out loud funny, this book will appeal to knitting enthusiasts and lovers of literature alike.

Mason-Dixon Knitting : The Curious Knitters' Guide Stories, Patterns, Advice, Opinions, Questions, Answers, Jokes, and Pictures / by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne.
Hands down, the most entertaining knitting book I've come across. The irreverant humor will have you in stitches (pun intended), but it's also filled with practical advice and intriguing patterns. Kay Gardiner lives in Manhattan and Ann Shayne in Nashville. They connected in the online knitting community Ravelry as they shared knitting news and the ups and downs of their lives. Together they launched the blog, Mason-Dixon Knitting.

Stitch n’ Bitch : The Knitter’s Handbook / by Debbie Stoller.
Stoller is credited with helping fuel the recent revival of knitting. She holds a PhD from Yale in the psychology of women and is the co-founder of the magazine BUST, which promoted "girlie feminism," a third wave feminist strategy in which traditional feminine activities and traits are re-evaluated and often embraced. Her witty, informative introduction to knitting will have beginners happily clicking away in record time.

Stitch 'n Bitch Superstar Knitting : Go Beyond the Basics / by Debbie Stoller.
The fun, fashionable projects in this book will teach you new skills to take your knitting to the next level. The clear (and witty) instructions will have you tackling challenges such as cables, Fair-Isle, steeks--what're steeks, you ask? Check out the book and find out!

Health benefits for those who stick with their knitting
A Knit A Day Keeps the Doctor Away : 5 Health Benefits of Crafting
The Truth About Knitting and Crochet...They are Good for You!

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