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Hobbies for the Chronically Ill: Knitting

Why I love knitting! Knitting is a revamped and modern pastime. Edgy and dark pop culture icons Sherlock Holmes casually knitting up skulls, Christopher Walken (albeit pretending) to knit up a sweater, and the lovely Morticia Addams knitting up something for her new little bundle of terror.

This is the first part in a little series I decided to do after going to a support group and hearing the uncomfortably drawn out pause after asking how people spent their free time. We joked about how we all love Netflix, and commiserated about how simple things like reading can even be difficult with the intense brain fog we all get.

Why Try Knitting?

You can go at your own pace. Go as slow or be as ambitious as you like. It’s low pressure. All you have to do is pick up some needles and yarn, and drop them any moment you please. No set up or clean up. When you feel up to it, you can get to a local yarn shop and fill your senses with all the beautiful fibers and colors.

There’s more than wool. If you’re sensitive to wool, there are gorgeous alternatives like alpaca (which has no lanolin), silks, cottons and all sorts of blends!

Boost mood.  Pick yarn that feels good to the touch and in colors you love. “Touch elicits an emotional response, and touching something good makes you feel good,” says Corkhill, a physiotherapist working in England. Corkhill’s survey found that the yarn’s texture matters twice as much as color when it comes to improving mood. For those of us with amplified senses and sensitive skin, texture is especially important.

Relieve anxiety. It keeps you in the here and now and out of the flurry of worried thoughts. The rhythmic repetitive movement is also believed to create a relaxed state similar to that of meditation and yoga. Some are even finding it helpful in pain management. During the worst relapse I’ve experienced at the turn of this year, I instinctively turned to knitting to zone out and dim my overwhelming fear and discomfort. With some favorite shows playing on TV, and knitting in my hands I was able to be engaged elsewhere for hours and not in the awfulness of my anxiety. When I had to go to the hospital, I was even knitting there. I just needed to survive and to not think. Thank you, yarn and sticks.

Giving feels great. Giving a gift that took time and thought is an act of generosity, and as someone who is now on the receiving end of lots of generosity and help myself, it feels wonderful to give back too. I’ll choose a pattern and yarn color that matches someone’s style to make something I think they’ll love. Feeling like I can make someone’s day and make them feel special helps me maintain a sense of self worth. Isn’t it hard to top receiving a beautiful handmade gift? As Simon Sinek explains, people as human beings put a premium on time, because it is an equal commodity and it is an irredeemable commodity. Even though my schedule is drastically less busy, my time is still valuable and meaningful.

Feel productive. Feeling productive is something I really miss about my old healthy life. Making something can create a little sense of purpose in your day. It’s also satisfying to finish a project and have something to show for all your time sitting around.

Look forward to something. Some days I wake up and one of the first things I think about is getting back to my project. Hey, I’ll take what I can get! You might even find yourself addicted to knitting, saying, “Just one more row…”

Exercise your hands. It’s just the right amount of strain for exercise, being more than typing, but supposedly still gentle enough to build up cartilage in your joints. Anecdotally it’s said knitting is great for preventing or minimizing arthritis symptoms, although it’s also common knowledge that repetitive motions can cause pain and inflammation. All good things in moderation! No doubt though that knitting does promote fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Exercise your brain. You can work on a project as simple or as difficult as you like, and depending on the amount of brain fog that day. Knitting keeps up your basic math skills and can exercise your memory skills, especially with the more complicated patterns.

Great way to support a cause! Support a great cause like America’s National Parks or Flint‘s need for water.

Support Small Business! Since writing this article, my Mom has started her own small business indie-dying yarn! Check out her beautiful yarns and find some fiber inspiration at her shop- Elevate Fibers! She’s been a great advocate for our mast cell and dysautonomia community. Much love to my Mom!

Drea Renee’s Vintage Prim Brioche Hat, Elevate’s Wonderland Buttoned Cowl, Purl Soho’s Pixie Blanket, a Harry Potter Scarf, Amanda Jones’ Owl Mitts, and Elevate’s Vintage National Park Sock.

You can choose a straightforward garter stitch scarf in a beautiful hand dyed or speckled yarn, just using the knit stitch! Make some fingerless gloves for your ice cold hands! I’ve made several pairs of Owl Mitts– a set for me and a little pile of pairs for friends. Treat yourself to a homemade blanket or throw for all those days at home. As you get more advanced and want some challenge, you can get into the gorgeous and fluffy brioche stitches. I made the Vintage Prim, which is simply gorgeous for my loving hubsie.

Get everything you need from home! Though it’s a treat to cruise and support the local yarn shops if and when you’re well enough, online has the best selection. Ravelry is the online knitting community. There find reviews of virtually any existing pattern or yarn, cruise photos of knitters projects with helpful notes and comments, or even join groups. Online shops like offer gigantic warehouses of selection. There are also plenty of fun boutique hand-dyers to be found too.

Join a Knit Along! There are mystery knit alongs that come together around a new season of popular shows like Sherlock and Downton Abbey. You buy the beautiful yarn kit, having no idea what the pattern is, then each week as each new episode is released, so are a portion of the knitting instructions. The idea is to knit along to your favorite new shows, and at the end of the season you have a show-inspired accessory.

A little more social! Join local knit along groups, or even online ones. Local knitters have meetups where they just go to sit together to knit and chat. There are even collaborative projects where you knit for a cause or charity in need. Whatever feels right.

Where to Start and Learn More?

Knit Kits!

Totally new to knitting? A kit is a great place to start, because it has everything you need for a beginner’s project ready to go… the pattern, the right sized and type of knitting needles, yarn in the proper weight (thickness), and instructions.


New Stitch A Day has a great Knitting 101 free video series that’ll walk you through how to cast on and start knitting! Purl Soho’s tutorials are my favorite for more advanced stitches, and The Unapologetic Knitter’s tutorials are my favorite for brioche stitches.

Does knitting or another hobby save your sanity? Please share!

References & More Reading

The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood: Findings from an International Survey

Exploring the Effects of Knitting on the Experience of Chronic Pain – a Qualitative Study

Engaging in cognitive activities, aging, and mild cognitive impairment: a population-based study.

Managing anxiety in eating disorders with knitting.


Last Updated June 22nd, 2018

Published in Mental Health


  1. Giselle Giselle

    I started a knitting group in my neighborhood two years ago, (Fibromyalgia, MCAS and POTS) and we are still going strong!

    • brandy brandy

      Hi Giselle! That is so neat to hear! If you guys have an online group or anything you’d like to share I’d love to check it out, and would be happy to add it to the page!

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