Knit one, purl two, zen out.
For a while now, knitting has been the hip new thing. But it’s also an utterly relaxing thing. Just ask a knitter.
“It is really remarkable. As soon as I pick up the needles I can feel myself calming,” said Providence-based novelist Ann Hood.
An avid knitter, Hood has written both fiction and nonfiction about the healing power of knitting, including her 2006 release “The Knitting Circle.” “I know that there are physiological reasons why it’s calming, and that it really does lower blood pressure and slow heart rate. But it’s kind of like stepping into a quiet place — all the noise goes away.”
Hood certainly has her facts straight on knitting. In addition to cardiovascular benefits, studies show that the repetitive action of knitting can reduce depression and anxiety. The Knit for Peace initiative has compiled an extensive list of studies finding physical and mental health benefits. That includes a 2007 study from Harvard Medical School’s Mind and Body Institute, which found that knitting induces an “enhanced state of calm” similar to yoga.
In Hood’s 2008 memoir, “Comfort: A Journey Through Grief,” she tells the story of the sudden death of her 5-year-old daughter, Grace, and how knitting became a coping mechanism through unbearable grief.
Knitting “helps in a lot of ways,” Hood explained recently by e-mail “First, it forces you to not think about your grief — you need to focus on the knitting. It calms you. And hours fly by without stress or tears.”
Has she been knitting her way through the pandemic?
“Boy, have I ever,” she said. “Interestingly, I’ve opted to knit mostly hard patterns — cabled sweaters, cardigans.”
She’s hardly the only one. When Michelle Obama appeared from her Martha’s Vineyard home this fall on the Rachael Ray Show, she too revealed she’s taken up knitting. “Over the course of this quarantine, I have knitted a blanket, like five scarves, three halter tops, a couple of hats for Barack, and I just finished my first pair of mittens for Malia — one is twice as big as the other,” the former first lady told Ray.
WHERE TO START
Thanks to that magical Internet, you can shop and learn to knit while maintaining a safe social distance. Try checking out Sheep and Stitch, a website filled with tutorials, patterns, and inspiration “based on a larger philosophy that everyone is a creator.” The site’s free “How to Knit” series for total newbies explains the ins-and-outs.
Additionally, Hood recommends the websites Knit Picks and The Spruce Crafts — both offer free tips — and craftsy.com, where you can sign up for classes at a small price. She’s also a fan of the site Purl Soho, which offers extensive online shopping.
“And I love watching Arne and Carlos,” Hood added, referring to Scandinavian textile artists/designers/authors/YouTube sensations Arne Nerjordet and Carlos Zachrisson. The duo started a Quarantine Knitting Podcast early in the pandemic “in order to keep our sanity.”
FIND YOUR “LYS”
In the online knitting world, LYS is shorthand for Local Yarn Store. Many in the Boston area offer online classes as well as shopping.
Notably, Boston knitwear startup Third Piece has received shout-outs from noted knitter Sarah Jessica Parker. And their designs have been worn publicly by Gisele Bundchen — a pic of the model wearing the Newbury Cowl, while attending a hockey game with hubby Tom Brady, landed in US Weekly. Knitters can shop online or in-store for a wide variety of tools, including yarns and full knit-kits with everything you need to make certain items (including Gisele’s cowl). Third Piece also offers online beginner knitting classes and a full calendar of other lessons, including a course on how to knit “The Fenway,” the shop’s classic beanie.
Also located in Boston, Bead + Fiber offers in-person and online shopping, as well as one-on-one or one-on-two lessons. Other local resources include Stitch House Dorchester and Gather Here in Cambridge.
And remember: Don’t get discouraged if your first forays look a little off — just like those mittens for Malia.
“A lot of people say they can’t knit because they’ve tried once or twice and didn’t get the hang of it,” Hood said. “But it’s not about being great at it, or finishing that scarf or hat. It’s the actual knitting, the click of the needles, the feel of the wool. I was a pretty terrible knitter for years and it didn’t matter. Just take it a stitch at a time.”