The Quarantine Hobby That Got Me Through the Year

The counting of stitches and the rhythm of knitting are scientifically proven to ease our anxieties.

December 18, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

I don’t think I’m alone when I say 2020 has been hard.

As someone diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, my thoughts are prone to excessive worry even in typical, pandemic-free years. So when I lost my job due to COVID-19, watched case numbers rise, and compulsively followed every development of the election, this year served me a layer-cake of anxiety on a silver platter.

The safer-at-home guidelines made my usual stress-relief activities—like biweekly yoga classes and movies at the local indie theater—impossible. Even socially-distanced excursions like hiking and camping became complicated as fires raged throughout my state.

So, unable to venture outside my 550-square-foot apartment, I turned to my yarn.

My first foray into crafting began on a snowy Sunday in 2018. I had recently moved to Denver, and in an attempt to meet new people, I ventured through the cold to a craft (pun intended) brewery that offered a unique pairing with your pint: a cross-stitch kit.

After a few hours forming and untangling knots with other first-timers, I had a (very lopsided) cross-stitch. And I was hooked. Over the past two years I continued to cross-stitch, and took up knitting and crocheting as well. At first, I thought of the crafts as a way to keep my hands busy while watching The Bachelor, but soon my free time was hopelessly entangled in skeins of yarn and embroidery floss.

Throughout 2020, crafting monopolized my days—and the effects of stitching became more and more noticeable. I picked up my knitting after receiving yet another application rejection. I crocheted a tank top when I had nothing to do but check and recheck Twitter. I cross-stitched an elaborate hoop when I’d feel the breathlessness of anxiety start to seep in around me.

After a few hours engulfed in a pattern, I’d be calmer, happier, and not as preoccupied with all the things that were beyond my control. For me, there’s no greater salve than the I-made-this-beautiful-functional-object-stitch-by-stitch feeling, especially when the world is heavy.

I’m not the only one who’s felt the power of creativity. Experts say there’s a clear connection between crafting and improved wellbeing—and there’s evidence to back it up.

1. Crafting is Meditative

The clicking of needles, the counting of stitches, the rhythm of moving your fingers to knit and purl. Spending every evening bent over my work, I realized knitting’s repetition makes my mind focus and be fully present in the moment — two things I notoriously struggle with as an anxious human. I could lose myself in hours of stitching, thinking of nothing but the lines of the pattern.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi named this feeling “flow,” a state of being totally absorbed in creating when everything else disappears. He credits flow as the key to living a happy life.

“When you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new, [you don’t] have attention left over to monitor how [your] body feels or [your] problems at home,” Csikszentmihalyi said in a 2004 TED Talk. “Once those conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”

In her thesis, creativity researcher Jennifer Hoyden analyzed the development of agency through knitting. A knitter herself, Hoyden says she was drawn to study the art form after noticing how impactful it is to her own wellbeing.

She surveyed over 400 knitters and found that a number of those who came to the craft in adulthood did so during periods of heightened stress.

“If you give your hands a place to release energy, like letting the steam out, that will send biofeedback messages of, ‘I am calm,’” Hoyden says.

2. Crafting is a Doom-Scrolling Antidote

Studies have linked social media use with poor sleep, low self-esteem and high levels of anxiety and depression. I’m no different: my anxiety spikes while doom-scrolling (the act of endless consumption of negative online news, to the detriment of the scroller’s mental wellness), yet I’m incapable of putting my phone down for more than a few moments at a time.

“It’s really important to limit how much exposure you allow yourself,” says Martha Dorn, executive director of The Art Therapy Project. “You need to know when you need to turn the TV off or put your phone down or stop doom-scrolling.”

For me, crafting has been the solution to my screen addiction. Once I have a crochet hook or set of knitting needles in my hand, I can go hours without checking my phone to see the latest COVID death toll or election conspiracy theory. Thus, my anxiety levels don’t go into overdrive.

3. Crafting Instills a Sense of Control & Patience

I crave structure. It’s one of the reasons 2020 has been difficult. At times, it’s felt like there’s no stability or normalcy in sight, but crafting is a remedy—whether I’m knitting a scarf or cross-stitching a city scene, there are defined instructions to follow.

The lesson I’ve learned: while I might not be able to control the outcome of the presidential election, I can control how a knit sock turns out. That control comes hand-in-hand with a sense of accomplishment and a much-needed lesson in patience that can be brought over into daily life.

Producing something where you see the effect of your work may have restorative qualities, Hoyden says, especially when you take the time to go back and correct a mistake. “When you get to that stage of, ‘I can fix that. I’m going to go back and fix that.’ That’s a powerful thing to bring to life.”

4. Crafting is Joyful

“There’s something very basic about the process of creating and the process of making art, Dorn says. “It fulfills this fundamental need.”

A 2013 survey of 3,545 knitters found a significant relationship between knitting and feeling calm and happy. A study published in September produced similar results: participants reported an increase in calmness, alertness and contentment after making art.

In my experience, there’s nothing like the rush of serotonin when you finally weave in your ends and finish a project. Even if it’s not perfect, seeing your weeks of work come together into something tangible is so satisfying.

It’s unlikely that my fingers will stop stitching anytime soon, even when the trials of 2020 are behind me. And as crafting helps me stay mindful and calm, I can turn my attention to more important things—like how to organize all my skeins.

Have you taken up any hobbies to occupy you through the quarantine? Tell us about them below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Michele Tusinac
    Michele Tusinac
  • Mary McCabe
    Mary McCabe
  • Carla Louise
    Carla Louise
  • Liz Summers
    Liz Summers
  • FreeRangePamela
Claudia Guthrie

Written by: Claudia Guthrie

Freelance writer and editor


Michele T. July 7, 2021
How beautifully inspiring these comments are. Thank you so much everyone for sharing and being so honest and open. I used to knit, and loved it, when I was young, and then just stopped before age 12. I started chasing boys, and that was the end of knitting! HA! Anyway, I want to start again, and while I won't be able to knit very well, I'm wondering if there is a pattern to make the reversible and fantastic blanket shown in the photo?
Mary M. January 4, 2021
Great read! Motivates me to try and be a little bit more disciplined to keep up with my hobbies
Carla L. January 1, 2021
I can relate to this article and other readers' experiences.
I live in Australia and although the pandemic herehas been a lot less severe,the daily news stories often left me in tears. Anxiety was so high that I walked around the house at night and wondered if the human race was facing extinction. But when we were locked in and shops and libraries were closed I turned to reading my cook books. I stopped watching the news every hour and I enjoyed my kitchen a lot more!
I also loved Internet recipes from Food 52 so much, with the lovely personal videos from Kirsten in her kitchen! So nice to be cooking and baking with someone. I learned to make the absolute Best Crispy Crust Pizza from her and have since baked that ,many times, for family and friends, now that we can visit eachother again! It is The best pizza ever, praised by my friends and family!
Needless to say,I also added several unwanted kilos to my body with those excellent recipes, but I enjoyed every moment! And it has kept me reasonably sane! Fat--but sane!😁
Liz S. December 22, 2020
My grandmother (I was the first grandchild and only girl for nearly 21 years) taught me to knit and crochet. I have never been a good knitter, but I REALLY enjoy crochet. Several months ago, I bought a subscription for a sampler afghan that is done in squares ... 3 squares in each month's shipment. There are accompanying videos. I found this to be so much fun, relaxing and a restful thing to do before bedtime.

At 65, I am still working (from home) as an independent software developer. I live rurally and am naturally a bit of a hermit. Still, even though my life has not changed drastically, there is that subliminal stress of a world gone mad :) ... the crochet project has been a wonderful respite.
Liz S. December 22, 2020
Other hobbies ... I am a hobby photographer and blogger ... for fun and for myself. I continue that and reading/researching new cameras, etc. Recently, I have been following the Vendee Globe 2020 around the world, solo, no assistance ... sailing race. I do sail, but honestly, there is so much to learn and experience beyond sailing: geography, weather, around the work in 80-ish days by yourself (physical and mental strength) ... via the internet and satellite, you can experience this event incredibly up close and personal! And finally: Zoom parties ... cheese tasting (Cowgirl Creamery), IG live cocktail "parties". I would NEVER go to one of these events in person, but I'm having a great time going virtually.
FreeRangePamela December 20, 2020
Great read. This really resonates with me. I've recently taken up quilting, and sewing in general, but have struggled a bit with how these new hobbies fit into my self-image as a modern woman. (Sewing and quilting seem like things my mother, and grandmother, would do...)

I also sometimes chastise myself for spending so much time and money on it at a time when both are scarce. But putting all this in the context of making, self-care and wellness really helps.

Some days, these hobbies have been all that's managed to get me out of bed, given my tendency toward depression and procrastination. It's good to get come validation and know I'm not the only one.
Claudia G. December 21, 2020
I relate — this year in particular, I often feel guilty if I'm not "being productive." But self-care is just as important as productivity (especially during these times), so don't chastise yourself for doing what you love! You're definitely not the only one.
Mary S. December 20, 2020
I so agree especially the part about weaving in the ends and seeing something you've MADE! The best feeling !!
Claudia G. December 21, 2020
There's nothing like it!
ellnbchristi December 19, 2020
I'm bedridden so I'm limited on thing I can do. I started knitting and crocheting at about age 6. My mom taught me in an effort to have peace and quiet while she knitted or crocheted and I've been doing it on and off now for close to 60 years. The only problem is who to knit for! I have very few family members left none of which wears knitted or crocheted items. I've tried local charities and even schools for hats, mittens and scarves. as well as hospitals for premie hats and blankets, nursing home for lap blankets and shawls. No one is interested. And I have no friends left, they've all passed. So why knit and for whom? I just do it and then if and when a gift occasion arises....well I'm prepared! I also embroider. But things I've always loved....painting, stained glass etc... aren't very practical to attempt in bed....if you drop something small in the bed it migrates to your butt! Very uncomfortable, like having sheets made of toast crumbs lolol. So, a long round about way, I'm just saying ...knit....crochet or whatever creative outlet you may wish to persue. Just do it! It makes you feel calmer and more at peace with yourself. Stay safe, healthy and very happy.
Claudia G. December 19, 2020
Thank you so much for sharing! I totally agree — you don't need a reason to do what makes you happy. Just do it!
ellnbchristi December 19, 2020
Yeppers, that's what I said in a whole lot more words lolol. Thank you for responding to my comment. Happy holidays!
sue L. December 19, 2020
A wonderful organization supporting people and families in need is wellspring family services. My group knots and crochets for them. (www. Wellspringfs.org).
Lucy December 21, 2020
Knitty City in New York City are looking for hand knitted hats to distribute to charities by Jan 31 2021. I am sure they would welcome any contributions you would like to add. Take a look at their website www.knittycitynyc.com or find them on Instagram
David W. December 25, 2020
I truly understand what you are describing when you talk about where little things migrate in bed. While I normally have my body firmly planted in my recliner, there are periods when I must stay in bed. On those days I get to make little 4" squares with my 'Weave-it' pin loom. 12 of those in a three by four shape make a perfectly-sized placemat; I prefer crocheting them together but I have sewn them together with a simple whipstitch too.
I wasn't the healthiest of kids, and spent most days reading or doing handicrafts. My grandfather taught me how to sew and the importance of removing 'dirt' from clothing and cloth; my one grandmother taught me how to knit; and mother and other grandmother taught me about quilting, cross-stitch, and other needlework.
The grandmother that showed me how to knit also taught me that I can do anything I want to do IF I only set my mind to doing it. My grandfather taught his way looking at 'Life': "Never stop until you've done everything you want to do, gone everywhere you want to go, and seen everything you're interested in seeing. They both instilled in me the concept that "I am the only person that can determine whether I am happy or not, no one else that ability. And if am doing something that isn't making me happy with my life, keep going, keep working at it as you find something that does make your life happy." And, "Everybody is different, and different things make different people happy; and everyone has the CHOICE to find what makes them the happiest."
I crochet most days 10-12-14 hours a day; unless my pain levels are too high, and then I'll sit with my laptop watching videos or play a game. Or, maybe, I'll butt my nose in where not invited and after reading articles and their comments, I'll respond to what I read.

May your day be merry and bright, and may your Christmas be happy and full of joy;
I pray the Blessings of the Peace that passes all Understanding be upon you this day.
GreyBeard (David)
Robin J. January 1, 2021
My mother has been knitting hats, scarves and sweater vests for the Seaman’s Institute for 25 years. It’s a wonderful charity that outfits merchant seaman each Christmas. You should consider sharing your talents with that organization. They’d love to have you!
Kathleen R. December 18, 2020
I learned how to knit in the middle of a massive life and career transition several years ago and it kept me grounded and sane for all the reasons you've named. I'm now a yarn dyer and part of why I love my work so much (besides the fact that I GET TO MAKE RAINBOWS) is sharing joy, comfort, and connection with other people. Yarn really is magic. I also find that knitting is the same kind of magic as cooking and baking, but portable (when that is needed, i.e., NOT during a global pandemic).
Claudia G. December 18, 2020
I'm so happy you have so many outlets for your creativity! Yarn dyeing is so dreamy.
Orpheline December 18, 2020
Great article. Anything to keep my hands busy. I am always too anxious to sit and read for any long period of time. I knit and crochet and have recently taken up rug hooking. My 96 year old mother lives with us and she has her embroidery. We sit together with our crafts and both agree that we would be lost without them.
Claudia G. December 18, 2020
I totally relate! I'm a big reader, but can only focus on a book if I'm feeling calm.
Arati M. December 18, 2020
I love that you and your mother are spending time—and crafting—together.
ellnbchristi December 19, 2020
How wonderful! My momma and I used to do a lot of crafting together and painting. We taught each other how to do a lot of different things. She was a complete joy to me and I miss her. She passed a few months ago and I'm still quite devastated. Cherish your time with your momma! Happy holidays!
Arati M. December 20, 2020
So incredibly sorry for your loss...I will hug my mom a little tighter today. ❤️