Number 18 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' explores the recent surge in traditional textile crafts and how they improve our lives…

Once necessary life skills, traditional textile crafts have been overlooked and undervalued for many years. But they are now seeing an enormous surge in interest across the UK. Thousands of younger people are joining sewing and knitting groups.

According to an article last year, there is ‘a 12% rise in women doing some sort of needlecraft as a hobby in the last two years. A fifth of women under 45 are interested in taking up knitting and sewing, while 17% of men aged 16 to 24 are keen to try one of these pastimes.’

Why is this? Well, one reason for the increased curiosity is due to social media. Through lifestyle platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube, huge online communities of DIYers and crafters are sharing their ideas and tutorials. But that’s not the only reason.

In times of social and economic upheaval, we often return to the arts and crafts, not only out of necessity to repair and provide cheaper clothing and household items, but also as a source of tangible achievement and happiness.

Knitting is addictive and can replace other more harmful addictions relating to food, smoking and alcohol.

Earlier in 2017, Knit for Peace, an initiative of the Charities Advisory Trust, carried out a broad review of existing evidence around the health benefits of traditional craft. They received testimonials from 15,000 volunteers about how knitting had made a difference to their lives.

The review discovered that knitting has a range of benefits in many areas of wellbeing. It is as relaxing as yoga, distracts from chronic pain, boosts mental wellbeing, lowers blood pressure and keeps the mind sharp. In craft groups environments, it was also found to help reduce loneliness and isolation and, in passing on their skills to younger generations, allows older people to feel that they are still useful to society.

But the evidence doesn’t stop there. Back in 2011, the Crafts Council published their brief on craft and wellbeing. Citing research by Betsan Corkhill, the brief states that knitting is addictive (in a positive way) and can replace other more harmful addictions relating to food, smoking and alcohol. It could also have a place in treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Key to all this is the rhythmic and repetitive movement of craft activities. Not only does it distract us from less pleasant things, it is clinically proven to raise our levels of serotonin, which regulates anxiety, happiness, and mood.

As previously explored in our countdown, the NHS spends billions every year on blood pressure and chronic pain treatments. In addition, we spend around £260 million on antidepressants. With the demand on primary care becoming a crisis, the evidence suggests that crafts, particularly textile crafts, could be a more innovative and economical way to tackle these problems.

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