Why I Learned to Knit and Why You Should Too

I had no idea what I was doing the first time I picked up a pair of knitting needles, the first time I made a slip knot and shakily mimicked the hand motions of the woman in the YouTube tutorial. It took me a few tries to learn how to cast on my first row, and even more to learn the knit stitch. It took me close to a month, all told. It was frustrating. I almost gave up multiple times.

I’ve been knitting for a year now, and it’s quickly become an integral part of my life and my identity. I carry my needles and yarn in my backpack, and I honestly believe that knitting--or its equivalent fiber arts: crochet, embroidery, etc--is a hobby that everyone should take up.

The art of knitting has a distinct association with old women. I’ve heard the jokes. People are surprised to see me knitting. I certainly don’t fit the stereotype. When you think of someone who knits, you’re not going to picture a twenty-year-old with facial piercings. But knitting has experienced a resurgence among young people. One third of women age 25-35 knit or crochet, and in the current era of rejecting traditional gender roles, many men are expressing an interest in knitting, a traditionally feminine practice. Vincent Green-Hite (@knot.bad), a Seattle-based Instagram persona known for his love of crochet and heavy metal, has even jump-started his own social movement at @yarnpunk on Instagram. Fiber arts and punk seem, at first glance, polar opposites, but as Vincent will argue, punk subculture has always been about rejecting societal expectations.

But why the sudden rise in popularity? Why are people who knit, people like me, so enthusiastic about such a simple act?

I’ll be the first to admit I never expected to love knitting as much as I do. But as a film student and a millenial, I consume a lot of media, often spending hours a day watching a TV show or movie. But my brain longed for extra stimulus, which was a desire often only satiated through the use of my phone and the endless scroll of my social media feed. The problem was that I couldn’t pay attention to Twitter and Netflix at the same time, a common Millennial woe.

I’d seen my friends struggle with the same problem. As much as I think the advent of smartphones is ultimately a good thing, there’s no doubt that their constant availability has shortened our collective attention spans. I was missing out on essential plot developments in shows that I enjoyed watching because the thrall of my phone was the only solution I had to that want for extra stimulus.

I needed something that could keep both of my hands busy without detracting from my ability to engage with a narrative. I’d tried fidget toys, but they’d never done anything for me. But knitting was different. It keeps my hands busy but not my brain. It’s a simple motion that I don’t need to look at to do, and besides that, it’s productive. I can make my own clothes while I binge The Office for the third time.

Even when I’m not knitting, I’ve found that my attention span has improved since taking up the hobby. I can sit still and watch Netflix without the urge to look at my phone for much longer than I used to be able to. And when I do get that urge, I know my knitting is within arm’s reach.

Knitting also satisfies the very human need for creative output. You don’t need to be particularly good at knitting to make a nice afghan. As a film student, I’m rarely wanting for further release of creative energy, but seeing my projects finished and functional is still rewarding in its own right.

But there are greater, more substantial side effects to knitting. Humans love repetitive motions. We all fidget, even if you don’t notice it. You braid your hair, play with the popsocket on your phone, doodle, or click your pen. Knitting is just a productive output for that natural desire to fidget.

Jane E. Brody details in her article for the New York Times, “The Health Benefits of Knitting,” that the craft can have more concrete benefits. The kind of repetitive action that comes with knitting and crochet has a similar relaxive benefit to activities like yoga or meditation. Frequent knitting has been linked to lowered blood pressure and cholesterol as well as the reduction of the average level of stress hormones, something appealing to notoriously stressed-out generations like Millennials or Gen Z. It’s even been shown to help people quit smoking, drive away the effects of arthritis, and relieve symptoms of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and anorexia. BuzzFeed writer Tom Vellner even featured knitting as a bullet on his listicle about getting through Seasonal Affective Disorder.

If that wasn’t enough, some studies have shown that crafts like knitting may slow the decline of brain function with age, and while the research is still very new, the results are promising.

I can’t promise you that you’ll love knitting right away, that it’s not going to be frustrating to learn. What I can promise you is that, if you stick with it, it’s going to be worth it. Find your nearest craft store, pick up some acrylic yarn that you like and a pair of needles or a crochet hook, all for under ten bucks. Find a YouTube tutorial that appeals to you, or sit down with someone who can teach you. Knitting has become part of my daily routine. I look forward to sitting down with a TV show and my current project, and when a day goes by that I don’t touch my yarn, I feel like I’ve missed something. When classes stress me out, my fingers itch for my needles. Knitting has improved so many aspects of my life and I want everyone to be afforded the same benefits that I’ve found through fiber arts.