hands knitting seen from above
Photo: iStock

Knitting brings calmness and structure to the lives of people with mental illness


A study from the University of Gothenburg shows that knitting is beneficial for people living with mental health issues. Knitting is described as a way of bringing a sense of calm and giving life structure.

Interest in knitting has soared in recent years and the trend shows no signs of tailing off. In Sweden, Hand-knitted garments were dubbed Christmas present of the year as recently as 2022. The study reinforces the picture emerging from other research that knitting is an activity that can improve health and quality of life.

A way of coping with life

The results of the study are published in the Journal of Occupational Science. Its first author is Joanna Nordstrand, who works as an occupational therapist and is studying for her PhD at the University of Gothenburg.

“Knitters have a creative leisure interest that can also help them to cope with life and so improve their mental health. I’m convinced that this is part of the reason why so many people have taken up knitting these days,” says Joanna Nordstrand, who enjoys picking up her needles and yarn in her free time too.

The study explores what people with mental health problems say in their own words about what knitting means for their health. 600 posts were collected from the international online fibre arts forum Ravelry where knitters discuss their hobby with other knitters. The posts were analysed using established qualitative content analysis methods. 

Calm, context and structure

The results show three clear ways in which knitting supports improved health. Knitting is found to enable people to unwind. As a hobby, it also offers an identity as a knitter and a low-stakes social context. Knitting can also bring structure to people’s lives, which improves their mental health.

Joanna Nordstrand.
Photo: Göteborgs universitet

In general, the knitters studied felt that their knitting was a highly appreciated occupation which improved their short and long-term health. Some of the knitters also noticed a change in their mental processes, saying that when they were knitting, their thinking became clearer and easier to manage.

Joanna Nordstrand’s fellow researchers behind the study agree with her statement:

“The aim of the occupational therapist is to get people’s lives working. There’s potential in needles and yarn that the health system shouldn’t ignore!”


Article: Promoting health through yarncraft: Experiences of an online knitting group living with mental illness

Some quotes from the study:

“The nurses were wanting to give me [an antianxiety medication] until I told them that I preferred knitting for the anxiety. She stopped, looked at me, and said, ‘That’s much healthier than drugs.’ Ya think?”

“When my parents convinced me to go to the walk-in center at the hospital, I was knitting while I sat crying next to my mother in the waiting room. I carried on knitting all the way through the entire hour [...]. I’ve now adjusted my medication but knitting is still my best tool for reducing stress.”

“While my hands are busy doing something, my mind slows to a crawl, and I am actually able to think about one thing at a time… rather than having 20-30 threads all going at once.”