Monday, December 29, 2014

Benefits And Risks Of Crafting + Exercises

As a crafts teacher I have done research on this for several years.
Now, I want to share what I think about the benefits and risks of handcrafting – even more, since our school system reduces crafting (and cooking) lessons.
I will focus mainly on crochet, but you can apply it to most handcrafting techniques.


Crocheting can contribute to your well-being and enhance the quality of your life. It has mental and physical health benefits.

It enhances fine motor skills. You practice coordination and control of your hands and the speed, rhythm and precision of movements. Both hands have to cope with different tasks. Moreover, it develops hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness.

Crocheting can also involve learning new stitches, recognizing and following patterns. It provides a mental challenge.
You improve your concentration, persistence, patience, courage, creativity, solution-oriented thinking, flexible behavior, tolerance and manual ability.
Crocheting also trains your attention span,  conscious perception and recognition of contexts, which is often neglected nowadays (because of stimulus satiation). It trains the two hemispheres of your brain, because they have to work together, (The left half works analytically, logically and in detail. The right one works creatively and intuitively.)
Some neurological research confirms that mobility and dexterity in the motor muscles, especially in the hand, may stimulate cellular development in the brain, and thus strengthen our ability to think.
Our brains are flexible and can adapt to our environment, even in old age. Therefore, crocheting can even – to some degree – protect your brain from aging. Crocheting stimulates memory formation and retrieval. It keeps your mind active and engaged.
Crocheting engages several of the brain’s lobes — the frontal lobe (which guides rewards processing, attention and planning), the parietal lobe (which handles sensory information and spatial navigation), the occipital lobe (which processes visual information), the temporal lobe (which is involved in storing memories and interpreting language and meaning) and the cerebellum (which coordinates precision and timing of movement). Using all of these brain regions at a time stimulates neural connections and keeps the connections working quickly and efficiently.

The rhythmic, repetitive motions of crocheting reduce stress and they can even help to calm down and to dampen internal chaos. Focusing on a project can stop the cycle of rumination which can lead to a downward spiral of emotions. It is relaxing. But it also reduces boredom and offers distraction. It gives you something productive to do with your time and adds balance to a fast-paced, high-tech lifestyle. Hours might melt away, while you are crocheting. There are moments where you are so absorbed by an activity that nothing else seems to matter (this is called flow).
The feeling that you have achieved something special increases happiness (by releasing dopamine), satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. This can also happen repeatedly when you see the finished item adorning your home or when you put it on.
Crocheting helps to improve your self-efficacy and how we perform particular tasks. A strong sense of self-efficacy determines how we approach challenges and how we overcome disappointments in life.
You can control your craft project and make choices about yarn, color, etc. This gives you a sense of control over an aspect of your life.
It can even help to reduce depression, anxiety and stress-related health conditions (Stress worsens most medical conditions.). Crocheting can keep your mood balanced.

You can do simple projects also while you do other things like talking or watching TV. Thus, you can maximize your time. You can crochet in small bits, when you have the energy.  But you can also choose a project where you have to pay attention.
You can crochet without a lot of money or effort. You can reuse (e.g. unravel old clothes) and recycle (e.g. plarn) – being creative with the materials that you already have.

You can easily lay your crochet project aside and continue whenever you want to. You can also put it in a bag and take it with you. Thus, you can crochet wherever you want to.

Moreover, you can make memorable gifts with a personal touch (showing your friendship by taking the time to crochet something for them), get compliments, feel a sense of pride and achievement and find inspiration almost everywhere you go.
If a baby was born prematurely and its mother may not be able to hold her baby for weeks, she might want to crochet a hat for her baby, which provides a feeling of mothering.
But if you want someone to take care of you, you can also crochet something special for yourself. This time is just for you.

It makes you, to some degree, more independent of fasion trends because you can decide what you want and produce it on your own. You can express yourself by designing original items.
After some time of crocheting you grow more aware of your body. You develop a feeling for color, pattern, harmony, material, shape and proportion.
It feels good to work with beautiful yarn, colors and textures. You can also enjoy positive sensory experiences (e.g. the touch of yarn).

For people who crochet in groups, crocheting provides social connection and outlet.
You can share it with others, create a crafting group, teach others how to crochet and help others to fix their mistakes (e.g. at a yarn shop, etc.). Crocheting, can also be an excellent ice breaker (even with complete strangers).
Moreover, you can crochet items for charity (e.g. for victims of natural disaster, low-income families, patients, etc.).
Maybe you can even carry on or start a family tradition.

Focusing on work which you are doing with your hands can help, if you need an outlet for excessive energy.
If you have arthritis, crocheting can help to keep your fingers limber. If you have Parkinson‘s disease, it can help to improve motor functions.
When you suffer from insomnia, focusing on a soft, soothing, easy, repetitive project can maybe wind your body and mind down enough to get to bed and sleep.
Crocheting can ground people with post traumatic stress disorder in reality and help them to remember that they are no longer in the situation that is causing them such extreme emotional pain.
There are many different types of addiction and many different things that can be done to overcome addiction. Crochet may be a helpful addition, because it keeps the hands busy and distracts the mind.
But so far, only a handful of studies have explored the therapeutic potential of crafting activities.

Crochet might not cure all the problems that were mentioned here, but it can help some people to manage the symptoms.

It is the process not just the end product that matters.
You have never done it? Thousands, if not millions, of people have already done it. How hard can it be? There are no rules. Do not worry too much about how to do it “right”, just have fun!


Sitting too much is really unhealthy. Unfortunately, it is very easy to fall into poor posture while crocheting. This can lead to neck, shoulder and back aches. Thus, stretch, get up and move around when you feel stiffness or tightness. Make sure that you have a good support for your back while sitting comfortably, so that you can sit up straight without too much effort. You can also squeeze your shoulder blades together, if this helps you to sit up straight and to keep your elbows close to your sides. It might help to rest your hands on a pillow or a rolled up blanket while you are crocheting. This changes where the pressure is placed and relaxes your hands.
Putt your feet up (using a footrest) to enhance circulation and relaxation.
In addition, do some exercise every day. You can go for a walk or do whatever pleases (and therefore, motivates) you.

Keeping your eyes focused for too long can cause eye strain and headaches. Make sure you have good lighting and change your focus frequently to something more distant.

Crocheting can cause some repetitive motion injuries, so stretch your hands and arms from time to time, in order to avoid pain, numbness, or a dull aching in fingers and wrists. from. This might even be carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injury. Take frequent breaks where you relax your hands and do some hand stretches (which can be especially geared to help carpal tunnel and repetitive strain injury). Allow yourself plenty of time to finish each project and pay attention to your body and its limits. Do not overwork yourself.
Before you crochet, rub your hands together. Do eight hand rotations to the left and to the right. Squeeze your hands, count to eight and then release (repeat several times). Massage the sections of your fingers and hands. Or maybe you want to soak your hands in warm water and lightly stretch them to reduce stiffness before you start crocheting. 
Some Exercises for Hands, Wrists, Fingers and Thumbs:
If you can afford it, buy crochet hooks which are ergonomically correct (Search for „Ergonomic Crochet Hook“.) in order to reduce the tension of holding your hook. There are many different brands and styles, so read some reviews and try for yourself if which one works for you. You can also add polymer clay handles to your hooks, in order to make the handle fatter and easier to grip.
Small, hard-to-grip hooks are usually toughest on the hands, so simply choosing projects that use larger hooks can help. Adding a pencil grip to your hooks can make it easier to hold them.
Bulkier, smoother yarn might be easier for you to work with, because it requires less effort from your arms and hands. But it is also possible that bulkier yarns are too heavy for you, then you might want to use finer yarn, instead.
Very large projects can get heavy, make sure that your projects match your abilities.
The more forceful your grip, the worse it is for your joints and hands. Thus, try too loosen up your grip (maybe by changing yarn or the crochet technique). This will also help to prevent from blisters. Wrapping band-aid around the affected spot, switching to a softer yarn can, using a different crochet hook  and changing the way how you hold your hook can also help against blisters.

It is also possible that you could be allergic to the fiber that you are using, to dust mites or other allergens that might be caught in the wool. Many people have wool sensitivities (They have sensitive skin and feel uncomfortable wearing wool or another coarse fiber.) or wool allergies.

And keep in mind that crocheting is relaxing, if you allow yourself to make mistakes.  But if you fall into the perfectionist trap, your blood pressure might go up.

View hand exercises for knitters, crocheters, and other handcrafters with Colette Smith here (including tips about how to sit and how to sleep):

Ps.: I am not a doctor, and if you experience repeated pain while crocheting, it is best to consult a competent doctor.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you.
Do not be anxious, for I am your God.
I will fortify you, yes, I will help you,
I will really hold on to you with my right hand of righteousness.
 (Isaiah 41:10)

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