This blog post is an audio from my online WALLFLOWERS crochet course – I’ve also included a written transcription…….
In todays conversation starter I’d like to address a recurring issue amongst serious crocheters – which, if you’re reading this, you can count yourself as. It’s the issue of self- inflicted injury and ill health caused by crochet addiction or simply not knowing when to stop.
There are many reasons why and how you can injure yourself as a crocheter. Crochet rarely comes with a health warning which makes it even more important that we equip ourselves with the knowledge and skills to take care of ourselves and take this as seriously as any extreme sports enthusiast might.
It’s so easy to overdo things without realising it. The nature of a crochet project like WALLFLOWERS, which requires periods of very focused concentration, means you generally need to be still and fully engaged in what you’re doing.
This conversation comes in 4 parts;
PART ONE: A HAPPY PLACE
Do you ever find yourself in one of these scenarios when you’re crocheting?
1) Someone asks you a question and you stare blankly at them having left most of your brain in your work.
2) You have a vague sense that it’s dinner time and you should be doing something else – but you don’t know what and you can’t stop what you’re doing.
3) You sat down five minutes ago to a do a little crochet but then something weird happened to time and now it’s the near future and you’re missing 3 hours.
This is extreme mindfulness, when you’re so focused on what you’re doing you’ve lost all awareness of what’s going on around you. You’re in the flow, you’ve found your crojo, you’re out of the rut and deep in your groove.
This is your happy place.
And with good reason. Those repetitive almost mechanical hand movements are self-soothing and calming. Combined with rhythmical counting they can induce an almost meditative state that feels familiar and comforting.
Regular meditation has been shown to combat heart disease, reduce pain and enhance the
immune system enabling it to fight disease more effectively and the definition of meditative
practice has grown in recent years.
It’s generally accepted that there are two steps required to induce a meditative relaxation
1) Repetition of a sound, phrase or action
2) Elimination of ego and intrusive, judgemental thoughts
Knitting and crochet have been proved to fit this criteria and generate the same relaxation response as conventional forms of meditation.
Activities like knitting and crochet can actually alter brain chemistry, lowering stress hormones and boosting the production of serotonin and dopamine.
Studies in animals have shown that repetitive movements can enhance the release of Serotonin, also known as The Happy Chemical, and so these actions have the power to help manage stress, anxiety and depression.
In an essay published in 2014 in TEXTILE: THE JOURNAL OF CLOTH AND CULTURE Dr. Betsan Corkhill and colleagues examined knitting and wellbeing using the World Health Organisation’s definition of wellbeing as “an ability to realize personal potential, cope with daily stresses, and contribute productively to society.”
The essay described how knitting can be used as a coping mechanism that can help overcome stress and the pressure of everyday life.
So there’s some evidence that a crochet habit can, genuinely, make you happier as long as you approach it non judgementally. Which means don’t be too hard on yourself, stop striving for perfection or comparing your work to others. Aim for curiosity, wonder and lose yourself in the flow. Focus on the process – not the end product.
PART TWO: ADDICTION
At what stage does your mindful relaxation inducing hobby become your addiction? And really?
Crochet addiction? It sounds like an amusing anecdote for a stand up comedian not a subject to be taken seriously by anyone.
In 1976 Dr Bill Glasser published a book called POSITIVE ADDICTION in which he discussed how activities such as crafting, yoga, playing music, singing and other similar creative hobbies could be cultivated to wean addicts away from more dangerous pursuits and help with conditions such as OCD. It’s clear that crochet can provide benefits to addicts but what are the consequences, if any, of an addiction to knitting or crochet?
For many people the most problematic symptom of knitting or crochet addiction is the over consumption of yarn, and the guilt of an ever growing stash (even the terminology is guilt inducing) but a 2011 study of knitting practices in Korea revealed that some people become so immersed in their knitting that completion of the project can leave them feeling anxious and bereft. The end of a project can bring a sense of emptiness or loss after such a deep mental and physical engagement.
I’ve used crochet myself as a coping mechanism and in a particularly difficult stage of my life I immersed myself in making a 600 square blanket. I’d stay up regularly until 2 in the morning rhythmically counting, and recounting turning myself into a human machine and churning out a production line of beautiful squares, to the soundtrack of 5 seasons of Breaking Bad.
Addictions are often ways of blocking out difficult issues and for me this temporary addiction stopped me navel gazing and overthinking.
But, like many addictions it also prevented me from tackling the problems I was facing and moving on.
Eventually the blanket was finished, and so was the box set. Fortunately I was able to acknowledge that this project was simply a distraction and now it was time to look up and take direct action. But it could have been very different. It’s easy to bury your head in all that beautiful wool and just start another project….
If you’re looking for evidence that you may be addicted, you’ll find it in the sink of unwashed dishes, the packets of convenience food and the inability to go to bed at a healthy and reasonable hour.
These are all signs that your hobby is taking a negative toll on your life.
And – There are other ways that crochet can take its toll if you’re not very careful.
PART THREE: A HAZARDOUS ACTIVITY
If you’ve recently looked into a new or existing life insurance policy you know that Hazardous Activities include things like scuba diving, hang gliding, race car driving, flying a plane, horseback riding, bungee jumping and parasailing,
Crochet is not on the list.
But for many of us who spend long hours working on our knitting or crochet the physical side effects are well known and can include:
1) Repetitive Strain Injury (or RSI) including Carpal Tunnel and Tendonitus.
RSI is a generic term used to describe pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by
repetitive actions and poor posture.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and it can affect arms, hands, wrists, neck and
shoulders. Typical symptoms include:
- Aches and pains
If you have yet to experience RSI be warned that it’s a particularly cruel punishment for too much crochet.
You’ll suffer the physical pain of aching hands or wrists, but also the pain of not being able to work on your craft projects and the humiliation of not being able to do up your own shirt buttons, thread your laces, open a pickle jar or chop an onion. Yes- I’ve been there – bursting for the loo and not being able to undo my jeans.
OK – that may be too much information – but the point is -it’s not just your crochet that will suffer!
2) Back Pain
Sitting for long periods of time, and particularly in a seat with little or no back support can affect your whole spine, which in turn will affect your neck and shoulders, which in turn can affect your arms, elbows and wrists.
It’s really comfy slouching in your favourite squashy sofa but it’s not doing your body any favours especially if you’re spending long periods of time curled over your work.
3) Restricted Breathing
Long periods spent sitting and bent over your work can cause the muscles around the chest to tighten, this limits the ability of the rib cage to expand and causes breathing to become short and shallow.
Over time this can weaken the strength of our respiratory muscles and puts our body under stress which in turn can eventually reduce our bodies immunity to invading organisms.
Shallow breathing can increase blood pressure and also create tension in the body resulting in neck pain, headaches and sleep problems.
PART FOUR: HABITS AND RITUALS
The point of all of this is not to depress you and put you off crochet for the rest of your life – it’s to draw attention to the ways you can improve your techniques to enable you to prevent any unhealthy side effects so you can enjoy crochet for the rest of your life
So, here’s a list of some things you can do to improve your technique, stay healthy and continue to enjoy your craft.
1) Break up your crochet into 20 minute chunks, then have a short break, Get up, stretch, walk around, or just do something different for a few minutes.
2) It’s not just sports people that benefit from warm up exercises. It’s good practice to exercise your hands before your start to crochet and regularly as you work. Stretching, flexing, massaging and shaking your hands will help keep your muscles and joints healthy.
3) Try different brands and styles of hook until you find one that suits you. There are lots of different styles available and many are designed to be ergonomic and are particularly suited to anyone who suffers with arthritis or forms of RSI.
4) Get into the HABIT of sitting correctly, this means choosing a suitable chair – one that enables your feet to rest flat on the floor, supports your back and has a fairly firm seat. Sit with your spine against the back of the chair and use a small cushion or rolled up towel in the curve of your lower back to support it. Try not to curl your spine over too much and be conscious of your posture. Like anything new it will feel strange and awkward at first but repetition will ensure it eventually feels familiar.
5) Breath well. This means remind yourself regularly to breath deeply. This will slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, decrease stress and increase your energy levels.
Like most things in life quality beats quantity every time – don’t do more – just do better. Try to avoid simply thinking about WHAT you’re going to crochet and consider HOW you’re going to crochet. Turn it into an event – an event that needs consideration and planning.
Create your own crochet ritual.
Rituals are important.
It’s not the three hours. or 20 minutes of crochet, you do every evening that’s the ritual – it’s how you prepare for it.
Sitting in the same designated chair, positioning the cushion, moisturising your hands, doing your hand warm up exercises, positioning the light, setting a 20 minute timer to remind you to get up and stretch…..
Doing the same things every time in preparation for your crochet habitualises it and makes it easily repeatable, memorable and easy to do. Once this has become an automatic pattern ofbehaviour – or a habit- you no longer need to think about it – you just prepare to crochet.
Once these things have become a habit there’s no need to question them, argue with yourself or attempt to curl up on the squishy sofa with your work – hoping your alter ego won’t notice.You just do it – because that’s what you always do.
I aim to meditate for 15 minutes every morning. I fail miserably most days – but on the days I light a candle I always mediate. The candle doesn’t make me better at meditation – the lighting of the candle is a symbolic act – once it’s lit I meditate. No questions, no arguments with myself.
So – what can you do before you start crocheting to trigger a reminder to sit well, take breaks and breath deeply?
Can you develop your own personal exercise routine that will help you develop healthy habits to support your crochet addiction?
Do you have a favourite hook, chair or light? Is there a particular exercise you do or do you have any other tips or advise you can share with us to help us all stay healthy as we crochet.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below this post