With Mother’s Day approaching, my husband is making extra overtures for me to take time for myself. My annual request is pretty simple: I’d love a block of uninterrupted hours just for knitting. Whether I’m doing selfish knitting, sample knitting or gift knitting, knitting is always something that is good for me. It’s good for all of us, and there’s so many reasons why.
While I’ve been looking forward to some quality time with my needles, Julie Lepore (fearless knitter and publisher of SOMA Macaroni Kids, an indispensable resource for area moms) dropped an interesting article into my lap. The article (called “Why Steiner Students Knit”) was all about why handwork, specifically knitting, is taught in Waldorf Schools. As I read through this, I kept thinking “that’s true for adults also!” Here are some of the highlights from the article:
Math and Other Cognitive Benefits
Knitting inevitably reinforces math skills with its counting and patterns. According to the article “there are different colors and different row lengths based on what’s being created, which force children to think flexibly about patterns that emerge and transform.” What’s more, the article discusses the parallels between knitting and coding, and how knitting can help build an understanding of complex math concepts and boosts cognitive abilities. While most of us don’t need to understand coding or complex math concepts, we all could benefit from flexible thinking, and studies show these benefits go on to help our memory and overall cognitive functioning.
One of my favorite mind-boosting projects is Lori Versaci’s Sequences. The project itself requires some mind-bending flexibility as the way it is written is with more symbols than words. The pattern includes simple counting and being able to translate what you’re reading on page to what you’re creating with your hands. Being able to connect these dots is like learning another language (with beautiful results) and represents an accomplishment in itself. When the pattern was released, we knit it up in Falkland Aran for some luxurious results. These days, I’m imagining a super soft version in Juniper Moon’s Herriot, a work-horse version in Shepherd’s Wool and a rustic version using Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter.
I’ve been brioche-ing (yes, that’s a verb!) a lot lately and increasingly appreciating the rhythm of it. The fact that brioche stitches look different than your typical knit and purl stitches mean it requires a little extra mental exercise. That said, a little extra concentration at the beginning will pay off once you get into the rhythm of this stitch, and you’ll find yourself repeating the sing-song-like brioche pattern with mathematical precision. If you’re ready to get into the brioche rhythm, Crosshatch is a beautiful and timeless pattern written as a scarf and wrap for two-color brioche. Originally written for Brooklyn Tweed’s Loft or Shelter (sticky yarns that happen to be terrific for learning brioche), it’s recently been adapted for Arbor and Peerie. Basically, you can show some Crosshatch love in any number of yarns.
Problem Solving and Resiliency
The Steiner article plainly states that “hands-on relevant work that requires patience, persistence and follow through allows learning to really takes hold.” As a parent, I can’t emphasize enough how much knitting has benefitted me in this area. There are a decent number of mistakes in knitting, and confronting them over and over again has helped me to reinforce that mistakes are no big deal (they can either be fixed or we can just move on). It’s also taught me that I can give something all my best efforts and it can still not turn out the way I want it to. Reinforcing these messages in various parts of my life has helped me generalize them and bring them to my life as a parent and to my children with more patience and grace.
Lori brought us an excellent example of this earlier this week as she encountered some unexpected results with her Carbeth sweater. The sleeves were too short, and given the construction she couldn’t rip-out and re-knit them. After research and deliberation, she chose to cut her sleeve cuffs, put live stitches back on the needle, rejoin the yarn and knit her sleeves so they are longer.
Pick projects with an extra layer of complexity by bringing in a chart or colors to your stitches. Work in stripes using a Blue Sky kit like the Skyline Slouch or the Quintessential Slouch to navigate color/yarn changes. Jared Flood’s Guernsey Wrap (knit it in Shelter or Arbor) is Chart-Reading 101 and will help you learn to read your stitches and trouble shoot that skill thoroughly. While these projects don’t force you into mistakes, they tend to make it more meaningful as you learn from them.
Well-being and Self-Esteem
The Steiner article discusses themes we’ve discussed repeatedly on this blog and references Jane Brody’s well known article from the New York Times. It reminds us of knitting’s benefits in reducing anxiety and stress. It links to another study by a British Journal of Occupational Therapy about how knitters report having higher cognitive functioning, perceived happiness and improved social contact. There’s also the creative satisfaction we experience from making something with our hands, or even improvising your knits. In simple terms, knitting is fantastic for giving you some good feels.
Super Bulky projects are a fertile place for this sort of creation, and can be especially satisfying for new knitters. I think of knitters like Roseanne who came to class wearing a cardigan knit up in Loopy Mango’s Mohair So Soft. It was so chic, so soft and she was able to knit it up in a reasonable period of time because it is a thick yarn. What’s more, Roseanne created the pattern on her own, basing it on a sweater she owns. She also showed me a gorgeous scarf she knit up using Malabrigo Rasta, improved with vintage charms added on the ends for extra style.
Super bulky projects allow knitters to create a little more quickly, and that efficiency fuels a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It makes perfect sense to turn to yarns like Loopy Mango’s Merino No. 5, Big Cotton or Mohair So Soft for your first hat, scarf or sweater projects. The projects are simple to knit, and they also leave a lot of room for improvisation and creativity. Simple projects like the Mini Market Bag, Super Cropped Cardigan or Her Beanie (all pictured above) are great for beginner knitters. Even intermediate knitters can get a ton of satisfaction from projects like the Off the Shoulder Sweater or the Seaside Sweater (both pictured below).
Whether that is our intention or not, it’s a comfort knowing that the byproduct of knitting is so much more than a finished object. Whether you’re knitting something for a loved one or yourself, remember that when you’re knitting there’s always something in it for you.
Check out these other articles about myriad ways knitting benefits us: