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The COVID epidemic has knitting needles clacking and sewing machines humming all over America. In fact, these handcrafts—which have long been associated with “women of a certain age”—are booming in popularity among all ages.

One brand that offers bagged kits and a virtual knitting community saw its sales jump 75% in the early weeks of the pandemic. The wide availability of online patterns and the allure of so many varieties of yarn tempt both new and veteran knitters. Many of them will be celebrating their craft on the 10th annual I Love Yarn Day, October 10. Suggested ways to observe the occasion include teaching someone to knit, sharing your latest creation on social media and adding similar craft, such as crocheting, to your repertoire.

Why the renewed interest in knitting and other handcrafts? A key benefit of these textile arts is their ability to induce calm in their practitioners. In fact, the relaxation provided by knitting is similar to what is experienced during meditation or praying. This can reduce blood pressure and lower the heart rate.

Especially during the coronavirus pandemic —which triggered non-stop stress and anxiety in many Americans—knitting has brought mental solace by shifting attention from case numbers and shutdown orders to the rhythmic, repetitive motion of looping yarn around metal or wooden needles.

Taking up knitting or sewing during times of crisis has a long history. From the socks knitted by the mothers and wives of Civil War soldiers to the Victory Knitting campaigns of the first and second world wars, which provided warmth and comfort in the form of mufflers, socks and fingerless gloves, these efforts have directed the public’s energy and concern into something tangible and constructive.

The volunteer efforts to provide masks for protection against COVID are worthy successors to the knitting campaigns of earlier eras. Here at Monarch Landing, resident Pati Saulig and two helpers have fashioned dozens of masks for fellow residents and friends. Available for a suggested donation of $10, the masks have raised more than $2,500 for the community’s staff appreciation fund.

Monarch Landing’s Stitch & Chat group engages in all types of handiwork including knitting, crocheting, Swedish stitching, crewel, cross-stitch and more.

By focusing care and attention on even rows of stitches, sewing and knitting serve not only those who benefit from the finished products, but also those who enjoy the creative outlet and self-esteem that comes from fashioning them. Knitters also may experience increased happiness and relief from depression. And for those who struggle with insomnia, crocheting in particular can be an effective way to wind down before bed.

Because it stimulates the entire brain, knitting can offer some pretty amazing physical benefits, too. Seniors who knit regularly often find that it helps to slow age-related memory loss and even postpone dementia. It also can help with arthritis by improving range of motion, wrist and finger strength, and dexterity. It can even help with weight control, by keeping your hands busy when you might otherwise reach for a snack.

For many handcrafters, however, the main attraction is the satisfaction that comes from creating something beautiful or useful that reflects their personality and love. This can enhance confidence and provide a sense of purpose, especially for older adults. It can also give you an excuse to take in the visual beauty of a well-stocked yarn shop, where you’ll find a huge range of colors and textures. One local option is Yarns Untold in Lisle, which is taking steps to keep customers safe during COVID.

Looking for inspiration or help getting started on a knitting project? Here are some tips:

  • Choose a smaller, simpler project with basic stitches, such as a throw or even a stack of knitted washcloths.
  • Opt for larger needles and thicker yarn
  • Make sure the lighting is good—whether you make use of natural daylight or a directional light.
  • If you’re using a pattern, copy it at more than 100% so it is easier to follow. Or use a magnifier that is worn around the neck to avoid eye strain.