Creativity has never been in short supply in my family, with many making a living in art and design one way or another. For decades, my grandmother has knitted and sewn her way through holiday gifts, with my mom recently following in her footsteps. Receiving and enjoying these gifts – from scarves to socks to bathroom bags to full-size quilts – has always filled me with an appreciation for the craft and what it takes to make something by hand, start to finish.
So, when I heard one of my coworkers was a certified knitting instructor, I was more than a little intrigued. Many people craft to help them find some peace and calm throughout the chaotic schedule of daily life, and I was interested to hear how I could go about doing the same. (Video below to see how that went…)
Crafting exercises your creative tendencies and the tangible progress triggers your psychological reward system, creating natural happiness.
Nutty for knitting
Joy Felter, a Project Manager, is a certified knitting instructor with hundreds of complex projects behind her. And although she teaches classes at Michael’s and has knit everything from baby blankets to Halloween costumes, it took years for her to truly embrace knitting.
“My mom was always a crocheter, and she made blankets for us when we went to college,” said Joy. “I tried to learn it from her a number of times, but it just never ‘took’ with me.”
(For anyone unfamiliar, knitting and crocheting are similar processes, but crocheting uses a single hook to pull the yarn through your work while knitting uses two needles to loop the yarn back and forth.)
Though her mother had tried to teach her crocheting, Joy didn’t fall in love with needles and yarn until she got her first dog. “My first dog, Toby, was a rescue from Georgia, and he was really used to the warm weather down there. I wanted to find him a coat because he was shivering and shaking so much. His body shape was unique, so a normal dog coat wouldn’t do,” explains Joy. Later that holiday season, she received a starter knitting kit for dogs from her parents. The gift prompted Joy to enroll in a class at her local Michael’s, and she hasn’t looked back since.
Soon after, she discovered Vogue Knitting, a popular spin-off of Vogue magazine that exclusively covers knitting patterns and yarns. Vogue Knitting Live, a conference in New York City for knitting, helped Joy expand her skills even more.
“I volunteered to help out at the event and got to go for free,” Joy laughs. “They had amazing demos and classes and a huge marketplace. It was heaven for knitters.”
Since becoming an avid knitter, Joy hasn’t let a baby come into her life without giving them a knit hat or blanket. Once reluctant with needles and yarn, Joy ended up focusing her final master’s project on the feasibility of pursuing knitting full-time.
“Through my master’s program, I learned more about the intricacies of the industry. The real money,” Joy discloses, “is in pattern design, which I haven’t gotten into.” For now, she’s content with her hobby being just that: an enjoyable way to pass time and improve her emotional and mental health.
“The knitting itself is just so calming for me. I can do it anywhere — during a lunch break or on a long flight. My go-to is an easy dishcloth pattern that I have memorized, it’s almost like a moving meditation and just helps my brain relax.”
Over the last few years (and again, hundreds of projects), Joy’s learned many life lessons with needles in her hands. “Certain projects just don’t come off, no matter how sure you are about the pattern and the yarn,” says Joy. “It’s just like life; just because it seems like slam dunk doesn’t mean it will be, and that’s okay.”
Busy hands are happy hands
Charlie Bytheway, a Business Systems Analyst, finds contentment through woodworking, leatherworking, and other manual processes. In his basement studio in Philadelphia, he has made corn hole boards for his friends, beer taps, tables, entertainment consoles, wallets, dog collars, and more.
“I just like getting my hands on things,” Charlie shares. “I think it allows me to use another part of my brain and express myself differently. You know, the types of things I don’t necessarily get to do at my desk. It’s nice to see and feel a real thing at the end of the project.”
With business today largely done on a computer and over the internet, finding a natural satisfaction at the end of a project can be a bit trickier. According to Psychology Today, our brains are wired to respond to tangible and observable progress; working with your hands means you mold and witness your progress as you work, giving your brain an immediate dopamine spike. The dopamine comes from incremental progress, something that we can easily see and feel with tangible objects, but may be trickier with digital projects.
“I use my hands to create and get something at the end, a finished product you can hold, look at, and enjoy,” shared Charlie. “It helps me decompress, destress, and remove myself from all the outside noise.”
What helps one person live well and be well doesn’t necessarily work for another. For Joy and Charlie, using their hands to create helps them feel the benefits of that lifestyle, but for others, it’s barre class or meditation or journaling.
What alternative ways do you use to destress?