by Shanta Hayes
Knit 1, Purl 2, Slip, Slip, Yarn Over, Run
What is this crazy combination of words? It’s a combination of stitches from various needle arts: knitting, crochet and basic sewing. They represent a set of skills that may be useful in a variety of situations at any given time in life. For example, when a friend asks, “Can you fix a zipper?” or “Oh my gosh, that scarf is so pretty. Where’d you get it?” You can answer: “I make these things myself, would you like to learn how to do them?” Needle arts present themselves as practical and fashionable skills, but they serve a multitude of alternative purposes as well.
It’s been a long- held belief that knitting is women’s work; however, that is a complete misconception. Historically, knitting was a skill reserved for men and their young male apprentices. It was a skilled trade that had its own guilds (unions of sorts), to protect artisans from fraud and to establish quality work. Through the centuries though, war, famine and shifting gender norms, the art was opened up to women and young girls.
The designs and techniques that have emerged over the times are nothing short of amazing. Knitting began with the simple act of taking two sticks and some string, and has evolved into the “Magic Loop” process, which utilizes two circular needles at once. There are countless other methods: designs from simple garter stitch, to elaborate cables that produce beautiful, yet practical and functional items. Children as young as elementary students have been practicing these skills for hundreds of years, and in times of war these youngsters contributed to the war effort by knitting socks for the soldiers overseas.
As a reader of BugOut Mag! you are interested in learning skills to help you prepare for emergencies or other disasters. Learning a needle art will serve you well in providing clothing, hats, gloves, blankets, scarves or items for your home. In a world that has no form of cash, bartering things you make will be very important. Entertainment will also have to be provided within the family, or perhaps small groups of neighbors or friends. Getting together to sew, knit, crochet or craft necessary or even fun items, will create an atmosphere of comradery and sociability.
Want a warm, cozy blanket? Knit, crochet or quilt one. Do you like beautiful sweaters, dresses, cool hats and gloves? Use one (or a combination) of the aforementioned skills to make any or all of them. Learning a needle art such as knitting or crochet is beneficial in more ways than one. It not only provides warm, comfortable, fashionable clothing, it also provides a means for functional home goods. Some of those items are blankets, wraps, scarves, pillows, potholders which provide comfort and ease of use. An additional benefit of these arts is giving your creations as a means of providing a constant reminder of the thought, love and care put into its creation. A handcrafted gift is like a warm hug every time the item is used or worn.
Lovely handcrafted garments are wonderful, but there are other benefits to learning a needle art. There are groups that use needle arts as a form of ministry, offering a degree of comfort to the recipients because the garment was created with a specific person and their condition in mind. This is accomplished with prayer or meditation as they craft the homemade item. Needle arts can also serve as therapeutic tools by channeling energy into a project. Art therapy is a fully recognized method in the field of mental health. Using the craft as a way to express trauma or grief, even excitement, releasing that excess energy can be beneficial. It’s also a great way to get people to bond. Needle arts is a fantastic social skills builder perfect for groups or, it can be totally fulfilling to practice in solitude.
During private lessons I encourage students to use needle arts as a way to help them focus and remain mindful. They are to practice staying in the moment and concentrating on what’s in their hands, not the bills they need to pay or homework that needs to be done. Needle arts are great for relaxation and as a sleep aid due to the meditative state that can be achieved by repeating stitches.
Learning a new craft can also help with cognitive skills. Another benefit is aiding in the development of fine/gross motor skills and retention of those skills. Try learning how to read a pattern, which is like learning a new language. This promotes critical thinking, and greater mathematical insight.
Needle arts (depending on the craft) require very few materials to get started. At their simplest, knitting and crochet only require either needles or hooks and yarn. The most basic starter supplies can be bought for a few dollars, but in a pinch, some creativity will serve you very well. When needles are not easy to come by or working with larger groups where supplies are donated, I will often ask for extra chopsticks from a local restaurant. These make great substitutions for the average size 8US knitting needle. For a beginner, supplies should include either a cotton or acrylic yarn; both are typically inexpensive and generally easy to care for.
Learning a new skill, especially a needle art, has greater benefits than just making something pretty. The creations are practical, the process can be therapeutic, and you have the opportunity to express yourself. Additionally, these are marketable skills. People not only create for their own personal pleasure, some sell their finished projects for income, while others sell the patterns they design, and still others teach classes and contribute to charities around the globe. The possibilities are limited only by the crafters’ imagination.
Shanta Hayes is a graduate of the University of Michigan who became certified to teach knitting and uses it for therapeutic intervention.