I have always been intrigued by music and art therapy. In fact, as a former classical musician, my mother suggested that I become a music therapist and incorporate my talent into helping others. I never chose that career path, however, it wasn’t too far off from what drives me to be a part of the fiber arts industry now. Rather than just tell you a bunch of facts about how the fiber arts heals the mind, body, and soul, I thought I’d add a little personal touch and incorporate a little bit about how the fiber arts have helped me personally.
So what is art therapy?
Art therapy is defined as expressive therapy using the “creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being”.
I didn’t know it when I was younger, but my passion for the arts was keeping me whole. I was a bundle of nerves, insecure, and anxious all the time, but when I played the flute, my troubles just melted away. Playing an instrument was all about breathing control, expressing one’s self through notes scrawled on a page, and becoming one with a piece of music. Nothing else mattered.
How could you not feel powerful when Mozart’s Concerto No. 1 in G left you in control of the orchestra behind you? They backed me up. They slowed down when I slowed down. They paused when I paused. They quieted when I quieted. They flourished when I flourished. I overrode the conductor with every note that escaped my instrument.
I was quietly confident when I was on stage, but only when I was on stage. For the decade or so that I played the flute on a semi-professional basis, that’s all I did was live my life to be on stage where I felt the most comfortable. I went chasing that feeling, but did not think I could find that serenity without a flute in my hands…until I discovered the fiber arts.
What’s so special about the fiber arts, anyway?
There are many benefits to the practice of fiber arts. According to the article 6 Unexpected Benefits of Knitting, the repetitive motions of knitting (or crochet) can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. A lot of times, depending on the mental health issue at hand, cognitive behavioral therapists recommend meditation. The act of knitting or crochet mimics this meditation as we count stitches, focus on written instructions, and repeat the same stitches over and over again.
Early last year, The New York Times published an article about the health benefits of knitting. The fiber artist community passed the article around online, thrilled about the positive press that the craft was getting. Knitting was not for grandmas and cat ladies anymore (yea, I know we all hate that stereotype…), it was therapeutic and healing for so many people. In fact, I had a few people encourage me to come and volunteer to teach knitting as a part of addiction recovery therapy at a local shelter, because there were proven benefits to this type of art therapy.
Reaching Nirvana Through Stitches
I recall my littlest (and favorite) customer, an 8 year old boy who had learned to knit at school and would drag his mother into my shop periodically to buy “the good yarn” for another project. His mother would comment about how it was a brave new world once he had learned to knit. She, herself, didn’t knit or crochet, but something about her son eyes lighting up every time they walked into my studio made the trip worth it. I could see the universe turn into a haze behind him as he focused on each ball of yarn that he ran his fingers across. It was as if the tactile experience brought him to a place of nirvana.
Science explains this phenomena pretty well, too. The happiness we get from playing with yarn or making it releases dopamine, the happiness/feel-good hormone in our bodies. This hormone can keep us fiber artists motivated to begin (and yes, complete) project after project and send us back to our favorite yarn retailers over and over.
Healing One Stitch At a Time
Knit and crochet can also help with motor skills, help prevent arthritis pain and mild cognitive impairment. What hits home the most for me is help with motor skills. A few years back, as the result of malnutrition from a severe illness, I experienced nerve damage in my left hand. For a few weeks, I had intermittent paralysis and pain from constant muscle spasms. I used knitting to retrain my left hand to function, thus eliminating my need for physical therapy in a clinical setting. Yes, yarn saved me money and time and healed me through knitting and crochet.
It started with figuring out how to hold a needle in my left hand, because my grip was so weak. Then, I could grip larger needles, and began designing patterns for weights of yarn that I was not used to knitting with. OMG Yarn’s launch would not have been possible without patterns like the Fiesta Hat and Cowl, which was the first pattern design I came up with after experiencing the loss of function in my left hand. Fair isle/intarsia knitting, plus Aran weight yarn and knitting the sample out of yarn I had dyed was a big catalyst to turning life around (someday, I’ll share the rest of that story). That process alone is why I’ll never give up my fiber fanaticism. Occasionally, I take breaks to reflect on life, but I always come back.
Well, I hope this is the start of a good discussion as to why yarn is awesome. You know I’m not just saying that too. I encourage everyone to share this article with anyone interested in art therapy or to help prove why your yarn habit is much more beneficial than having something warm to wear in winter.
Brody, J. E. (2016, January 25). The Health Benefits of Knitting. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/the-health-benefits-of-knitting/?_r=0.
Harper, K. (n.d.). 6 Unexpected Benefits of Knitting. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://www.lifehack.org/314247/6-unexpected-benefits-knitting.
Locke, R. (n.d.). Science Says Knitting Makes Humans Warmer and Happier Mentally. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://www.lifehack.org/319404/science-says-knitting-makes-humans-warmer-and-happier-mentally.
What is Art Therapy? (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://www.arttherapyblog.com/what-is-art-therapy/#.WNUwlWMdfVo.