CBC Article: Young people are starting to knit and crochet for mental health

Read the full article here: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/holiday-special-woold-report-1.6802265

New generation of crafters reaps unexpected benefits from a pandemic hobby

This could be any Saturday night at a trendy Toronto bar. The drinks are flowing, there’s a DJ, and everyone is dressed to impress.

But look a little closer, and you’ll find the room is packed with people learning how to crochet. Many of them are about to find out what long-time crafters and mental health experts have known for years: crochet and knitting are great for your mental health.

“It’s a beautiful thing and in this day and age with technology and fast pace, it’s great to just keep connecting the dots with something that takes a bit more time,” said Nigel John, who goes by “Legin”. It was his idea to blend crochet and live jazz music to bring the art of crochet to a whole new demographic.

“If I’m in the Caribbean or Africa or different parts of the world… the [crochet] culture is there and it’s thriving,” he said. But in Toronto, “there’s a big generation gap.”

John’s company, Legin Knits, is working to close that gap. He teaches young people to crochet in schools and parks – even cannabis dispensaries. In the process, he teaches them a lot about mindfulness.

Many of the people who learned to crochet at this Art of Crochet and Jazz event in Toronto on March 4 were millennials or Gen Z. (Marcia Young/CBC)
“So aside from just the art and the creativity, you know, [I’m] talking about health and mindset and just different things that I embrace in my everyday life as well.”

He said crochet teaches people to celebrate imperfect first tries – to be patient with yourself and the world around you, whether you’re struggling to learn a new stitch, or untangle a knotted ball of yarn.

Neuroscientist approved

Sarah McKay, a neuroscientist and science communicator from Sydney, Australia, says the social connections people form at a crochet night or a knitting-group gathering is an important and under-recognized determinant of health.

“Typically it’s not a very threatening or scary or high pressure environment… Knitting is kind of soft and warm and fuzzy,” she said, pointing out those are ideal conditions to help relax the nervous system.

“You’re doing something that requires some of your attention, but it’s not super stressful. By nature, your breathing slows, your heart rate slows, and it gets you into a calm, relaxed state,” McKay told the CBC holiday show, Wool’d Report.

Gelila Worku helps organize Legin Knits events. She says ever since she got involved, crochet has become a good reminder to check in with herself.

“Taking care of myself, crocheting, taking a moment to pause, talking to a friend about ‘Hey how do I do this?’ and then feeling that support – all of that makes me feel more intentional,” she said.

Jana Reid started knitting years ago as a university student. Now 42, she’s come to rely on knitting and crochet for her mental health. The words “hand spun” can be seen tattooed across her knuckles.

I need to have my hands busy in order for my brain to calm down… yarn projects help my brain focus on other things,” she said.

Getting off the apps

The yarn arts can also serve as a valuable distraction. After learning to crochet at a Legin Knits event at a dispensary in Toronto, 26-year-old Synthia Soukpradith started crocheting every night before bed.

“Before that, I would just be on my phone wondering why I’m not getting tired.”

She said she struggled to part ways from her phone, and dating apps in particular.

“I always felt like I wanted to distract myself with other people and other things. I felt like crocheting gave me a way to focus on me; like, I switched dating apps for crochet.”

After that, she went from making shoelaces, to crocheting a queen-sized blanket. Soukpradith calls it her “self-love journey.” It’s helped regulate her emotions, and get to know herself.

The joy of completion

Taking on more ambitious projects also comes with mental health benefits, said McKay. “It’s that real sense of accomplishment and pride and mastery that does tap into that kind of dopaminergic neural pathway,” she said.

Something special happens when a crafter is working right on the edge where the pattern is difficult, but not so difficult that they want to give up, she explained.

“You’re able to sort of access that flow state when you’re losing kind of awareness of everything else around you and you’re just completely engaged in the task and it just feels so good.”

New knitters, new patterns

Julia Brucculieri, curatorial and collection coordinator at the Textile Museum of Canada, located in Toronto, said a lot of young people turned to knitting during the pandemic, when everyone’s mental health was put under duress. This new cohort of crafters is making an impact on the art form, too, she said.

“They just are making these really fun and contemporary patterns,” said Brucculieri.

“It’s not like the same sort of sweater that, you know, you might think your grandma made you when you’re a kid and was itchy and scratchy and you didn’t want to wear it. They’re super contemporary and fun and bright colours and chunky knits.”

Julia Huggett, owner of the Beehive Wool Shop in Victoria, says she’s noticed the growing number of young people who are picking up knitting needles.

“We have an amazing group of young knitters now that come in. Gen Z is ready to knit and crochet.”

Hugget said it has changed the types of yarn she stocks, because this generation is “really focused on the visual impact that knitting can bring. They come in with a totally different esthetic and it’s great because it means we’ve been able to really mix up what we offer to our customers.”

Those colourful knit sweaters and lovingly crocheted blankets often end up on social media. Instagram is full of pattern inspiration, for everything from chunky knits to trendy balaclavas.

And yes, “knit tok” is a thing. Soukpradith may have given up dating apps, but she’s still happy to share her self-love journey and her latest crafts on TikTok.

She’s not alone. From stories of eating disorder recovery, to knitting through depression, young knitters are sharing their personal stories of crafting for mental health.