The Mental Health Benefits of Knitting & Crocheting

image of 2 women standing next to each other wearing handmade knitted scarves and smiling

Yarn is transformative in more ways than you might think. You can knit and crochet yarn into toys, clothes, home décor, and anything you can dream of in 2D and 3D. Most importantly, yarn can also transform you. A growing number of studies and surveys reveal the many mental health benefits of knitting and crocheting.

Yarn crafts are relaxing, calming, and meditative. I didn’t think about this as a child who fell in love with crocheting as a fun hobby, but I’ve come to appreciate this as a crochet designer and instructor. I’ve also worked with the Craft Yarn Council on their “Stitch Away Stress” campaign for several years. Whether you’re thinking about trying a new craft or about to dive back into your latest WIP, consider the wonderful ways that fiber arts can improve your life.

1. Yarn Engages Multiple Senses

I might have loved yarn before I loved crocheting. Yarn is colorful, squishy, and soft. It can be smooth, it can be fuzzy, it can have sparkles in it. While looking at it, you get the benefits of color therapy. While working with it, you might feel the relaxing sensation that comes with petting a kitten or a puppy.

image of a pile of colorful yarn on the floor in a rainbow array of colors and different weights to illustrate the mental health benefits of yarn crafts

Visual and tactile stimuli can prompt the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter and is associated with feelings of reward, motivation, and productivity. Two of my favorite feel-good yarns are Malabrigo worsted merino and anything from Knit Collage. I just pulled these yarns from my stash to take the above photo. Even if I don’t make anything with them, they bring me joy just existing in my craft room.

2. Knitting and Crocheting Can Reduce Anxiety and Release Serotonin

Pacing, fidgeting, or picking are some examples of the body’s own repetitive motions to express or relieve anxiety. Oftentimes, people can replace these with a positive distraction like knit or crochet.

image of instructor Cal Patch's hands crocheting with a wooden hook and ecru colored yarn

Precise handwork occupies the brain enough to take our minds off the source of our anxiety. It creates a sense of calm, much like meditation. Mindful activities can help you stay in the present and give you greater focus.

The rhythmic, repetitive motions of yarn crafts can also release serotonin, which is a natural analgesic and antidepressant associated with feelings of happiness.

3. Making Art Can Lower Cortisol Levels and Boost Confidence

Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone. Constant high levels of cortisol can lead to anxiety, depression, heart disease, and issues with sleep, digestion, memory and concentration. Making art and expressing your creativity can help reduce cortisol levels, lowering stress but also a host of other potential health risks. The mental health benefits of knitting and crocheting can also improve your physical health.

My favorite part about crocheting as a stress-busting activity is the added benefit of creating a tangible piece of art, which is something you don’t get from meditation alone. This feeling of accomplishment is incredibly affirming and can boost self-confidence. It’s that sense of pride you get when someone asks where you got something, and you can say you made it.

4. Knitting and Crocheting Can Reduce the Risk of Memory Loss

A study from the Mayo Clinic found a 40% reduced risk of memory loss in a group of people aged 70-89 who engaged in activities like reading and knitting during middle age.

Knitting and crocheting challenge your brain. As your stitches fly by, your brain constantly considers the pattern you’re using, what stitch is coming next, the number of stitches to work, which row or round you’re on, when your next color change is occurring, etc. Some of these thoughts are subconscious, but a lot of gears are turning as you bliss out with your yarn. All of these components keep your brain active and sharp.

image of instructor Edie Eckman's hands knitting a fair isle project in blue and cream illustrating how occupying your mind with crocheting or knitting has many mental health benefits

Crocheting and knitting also involve way more math (algebra!) than 10-year-old me ever would have guessed. As a pattern designer, I like this little challenge quite a bit. It’s extremely satisfying when your formulae and numbers turn out beautifully with a pattern that ultimately looks easy to make.

5. Find Your Community and a Sense of Belonging

I worked in publishing for almost a decade out of college. I always thought that book-people and writers were going to my people, yet I never felt like I truly belonged. When I started meeting craft and fiber arts people, I had my ding-ding moment.

For most of us, crafting and art-making are solitary. My favorite place to crochet is well past midnight in my living room. There aren’t many other people around there. Craft nights at your local yarn shop and even social media add a whole other dimension of sharing, collaboration, and camaraderie. We are social creatures by nature. Even though I consider myself an introvert, I love the creatives I’ve met in the art and craft community. The people are honestly my favorite part of teaching at craft conferences. Conferences I’ve been to are: Craftcation, Midwest Craft Con, Vogue Knitting Live, and Camp Thundercraft.

image of three women sitting on a stoop, smiling and wearing handmade crocheted shawls to illustrate how crocheting and knitting benefit your mental health

Participating in group projects is another exciting way to meet crocheters and knitters with whom you might not normally cross paths. I contributed to a mural with Love Across the USA not long ago. It led to new acquaintances and even participating in the filming of a crochet-related reality TV show pilot. Your fiber art can truly open the door to new friends and unexpected experiences.

6. Knitting and Crocheting Give You the Power to Give Back

You can feel good while knitting or crocheting something cozy like a hat, sweater, or blanket, and you can also feel good about donating them. What you may see as your hobby can positively affect someone else’s life. Spending time in service to others can give you a sense of purpose and meaning, which in turn can reduce your stress.

One of my favorite crochet/knit resources for charitable giving is Warm Up America. If you don’t know where to send your items, they often keep a list of organizations seeking donations and what their specific needs are. A really neat aspect of Warm Up America is that they’re always looking for donations of blanket sections. If you don’t have the time or resources to make a whole blanket, you can send in a small 7″ x 9″ section or two, and volunteers join the sections together. One of my close friends volunteered as a joiner for a while, and it was amazing to see all the different pieces come together as one.

I teach you how to create a blanket section in our Make To Give: Charitable Crafting class. Faith Hale also talks through knitted hat projects that are great for donating and the organizations you can send them to. Giving back is a way for you to enjoy the mental health benefits of knitting and crocheting while paying those benefits forward to someone in need.

images of 4 balls of yarn in various shades of blue and hand painted knitting needles

Sources: Crochet Therapy by Michelle Borst Polino, American Counseling Association, Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making, National Library of Medicine, Knitting “Can Delay” Memory Loss, BBC News, Why Giving Is Good For Your Health, Cleveland Clinic