By Cathy Myers Bullard – “Chain four, join, and turn.” What artful activity relieves stress, inspires creativity, and promotes well-being all while being fun and functional? The answer: crochet. Discover the benefits of learning how to crochet.
Let’s start with the basics. What does “crochet” mean? Crochet is defined as the process of hooking thread or yarn to create fabric. Crochet is the French word for hook. In its infancy, crochet was most likely made using fingers. The exact origin of the art of crochet is sketchy, but many archeologists believe the practice to have started as long ago as 1500 B.C. as a type of nun’s work. Early crochet hooks were made from anything at hand including sticks, bone, or bent iron shoved into cork handles.
There are three main theories for the origin of crochet. Some believe that its beginnings can be traced to the Arab trade route, originating in Arabia and spreading to Tibet and then Spain as well as other Mediterranean countries. The second theory places crochet in South America where it was used as adornment in a primitive tribe’s puberty ritual. The third notes the use of crochet in China where early examples of dolls were worked entirely in crochet.
Solid evidence to support the exact beginnings of crochet, however, is elusive. There are references to a type of “chained trimming” made around 1580. This trim was then sewn onto fabric as an ornamental braid and women joined braided strands producing a lace fabric. During the Renaissance, women crocheted several strands of thread producing fabrics similar to lace.
The main theory behind the origin of crochet seems to be that it began when women realized that chains worked in a pattern would hang together without background fabric. French tambour evolved into what was referred to as “crochet in the air.” The lace was fine, worked with small sewing needles formed into hooks.
Crochet began turning up in Europe in the early 1800s. The work was given a great boost when Mlle. Riego do la Branchardiere published patterns, which could be easily duplicated. She published many pattern books giving millions of women
During the Great Irish Potato Famine in the mid-1800s, Ursuline sisters there began teaching local women and children thread crochet using bent needles in corked handles. The Irish lace these locals created was then shipped to and sold in America and Europe. The sold items were probably instrumental in helping many Irish families survive the famine.
Crochet became elevated to an art form when Queen Victoria learned to crochet and continues to evolve and develop today. Thread work gave way to crochet yarn in the mid-twentieth century and the art of crochet exploded into afghans, shawls, sweaters, booties, potholders, dolls, and into almost anything the crafter could conceive.
The Benefits of Learning How to Crochet
1. The calming repetitive movement, along with the beautiful yarn colors and textures work together to produce a soothing effect.
2. Working through the various stitches keeps the fingers nimble which is especially important to arthritis sufferers.
3. Crochet can be worked while watching television, traveling, or carrying on a conversation.
4. Crochet is portable and can be taken anywhere.
5. The hobby is cost effective.
6. Crochet, because of the constant varying in focus, keeps the eye muscles toned.
7. Crochet is a great outlet for creativity and helps stave off Alzheimer’s.
8. Crochet is an inexpensive way to produce clothing and décor as well as gifts. Learn how to crochet a scarf, hat, gloves… the possibilities are endless.
9. The hobby provides a sense of accomplishment when a project is completed.
10. Crochet adds a sense of balance to the stress of a high-tech, fast-paced lifestyle.
11. The rhythmic repetitive acts involved in crochet help prevent and manage stress, pain, and depression, which in turn strengthens the body’s immune system.
12. Learning how to knit, how to crochet and how to create needle-work have proven effective in long-term pain management.
In a four-year study ending in 2009, physiotherapist Betsan Corkhill collected evidence and launched a collaborative study with scientists at several universities on the role of crochet in health. According to pain specialist Monica Baird, the action of repetitive motion in crochet changes brain chemistry, decreasing stress hormones and increasing feel-good hormones, serotonin, and dopamine.
Many scientists further believe the steady, rhythmic movements activate the same areas in the brain as meditation and yoga. Dr. Herbert Bendon, Director of the Institute for Mind, Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School noted that crochet and knitting is one method to create a “relaxation response” in the body. Relaxation has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and help prevent illness. Crochet and knitting have a calming effect useful in the treatment of anxiety, asthma, and panic attacks. The repetitive movements have also been effective in the management of disruptive behavior and ADHD in children.
“Chain four, join, and turn.”
The words signal the beginning of a new project, and the shiny hook moves in and out, twisting and pulling the thread into a smooth design. Whether following instructions from a pattern or creating original fiber art, the crafter anticipates the beauty of the finished product. Satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment arrive with the project’s completion. Crochet is an easy, inexpensive way to enrich one’s life and enjoy better health in the process. Good luck learning how to crochet!
Originally published in Countryside July / August 2011 and regularly vetted for accuracy.