By Barbara Hannah Grufferman
Growing up in Brooklyn, my no-nonsense German grandmother tried to teach me how to knit — a life skill she believed was the key to happiness.
Like any adolescent, I rebelled and made excuses. “Tomorrow, Grandma, okay? Studying for a math test now, but I promise we’ll sit down and you can teach me. Can’t wait…”
Of course I regret it. That goes without saying. For sure, I spent lots of quality time with my grandparents, loving people who embraced the job of raising two more kids (my sister and me) in midlife after having raised five of their own, including my mother. When my father left my mother with two daughters under four, her only choice— and a very good one, indeed— was to move back home so she could work full time to support us.
My grandmother showered us with things my mother was too young and inexperienced to give: unconditional love; patience during a rocky time in our lives; structure (dinner on the table every night at 6pm); and essential life lessons like how to make the perfect roast chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, apple strudel and Christmas cookies.
We learned a great deal from her, but my sister and I drew the line at knitting.
It wasn’t until I turned 50, many years after my beloved grandmother had passed on from Alzheimer’s, that I decided to step into my local knitting store and finally get that lesson. To say that I am hooked is an understatement.
For me, knitting is a way to honor my grandmother’s legacy, but also to explore my creative side which took 50 years to unleash. Sure I knit things for my family and me to wear, but lately, as more people in my life go through tough times— loss of job, illness, divorce— I bring out my knitting needles to make something to make them feel better; a knitted hug, if you will, like the blanket I made for a relative who was going through chemo (as shown in photo above).
It’s pretty easy to get started (see my “knit a hug” how-to video below) and I guarantee that once you pick up your first pair of needle, you’ll wonder what took so long.
Here’s why I knit:
- Take it with you: You can knit anywhere – waiting for appointments, traveling, really… anywhere!
- Multi-task to your heart’s content: Knit while watching TV, listening to music or audiobooks, talking with friends, having a glass of wine, day dreaming.
- Enforces mindfulness meditation: Knitting is calming, relaxing, and keeps us centred because of its repetitive rhythmic movements, which can help prevent and manage stress, pain and depression, which in turn strengthens the body’s immune system. Even the most complex knitting patterns are repetitive, based on combining two stitches – knit and purl.
- Boost your memory: Studies show that side to side eye movements can significantly help boost memory.
- Reduce risk of dementia: One study of over 2 000 people 65 and older found that “regular participation in social or leisure activities such as traveling, odd jobs, knitting, or gardening were associated with a lower risk of subsequent dementia.”
- Slow down, you move too fast: In this fast-moving world in which we live, taking the time to do something that requires slowing down to focus on what you’re doing has substantial mental and spiritual benefits. Put down the iPhone. Pick up some needles.
- Knitting as art: Go beyond knitting things to wear and create works of art to display in your home, like this wall hanging that I positioned on a cool branch.
- Give gifts that matter: Jokes about the dreadful sweaters you receive each Christmas from Aunt Madge aside, giving a gift that you have made is special, meaningful and treasured. Many people I know belong to groups that knit for people who are in hospitals, or homeless.
- Build confidence and pride: There’s a certain thrill that comes with holding up something you’ve just made with your own two hands – whether it took hours or years (as was the case with this Mondrian-like blanket I painstakingly created for my husband).
- Find your tribe: When I knit in public (which is a lot) someone invariably comes over to chat about her (or his) own project, or, even more often, how she always wanted to learn to knit. Join or start a knitting club, and there are loads of online sites and chat rooms dedicated to knitting.
- The economic equalizer: One can spend a lot of money on yarn, or very little. You can choose luxurious cashmere or practical, washable synthetics. I’ve used both and just about everything in between.
- Take it to Etsy: There are loads of handmade knitted items on Etsy and other places online, offering ample opportunity to build a business from something you love to do.
- Teach your children well: Knitting is not only a practical thing to know how to do, it’s also having an uber-cool moment right now. Lots of young women and men are turning to knitting to create their own “slow fashion statements” making it the perfect time to teach the next generation of knitters.
- Grandma was right: Need I say more?
This article was first published on huffpost.com