The Healing Powers of Craft

The Healing Powers of Craft

Published on Monday, January 19, 2015.
potter's hands

Working with your hands is good for your soul, according to a number of researchers and craft advocates. As we were putting together the February/March issue of American Craft, focused on well-being, we found these stories about the healing powers of handwork:

Making things provides a kind of rewarding self-respect that can be hard to come by in modern life, according to sociologist Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman. 

Manual competence, which involves being able to fix as well as make things, gives rise to genuine confidence, says Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft.

Art therapists know that craft can soothe ill and troubled patients. But this first chapter of Craft to Heal by Nancy Monson argues that sewing, painting, and the like can be profoundly therapeutic for healthy people too. Monson quotes New York University psychologist Robert Reiner, whose research shows that “the act of performing a craft is incompatible with worry, anger, obsession, and anxiety.”

In a Maryland knitting class, prison inmates learn “discipline, empathy, patience and a professional work ethic through the slow, quiet practice of turning balls of yarn into colorful creations.”

Knitting also has a “calming and therapeutic effect” on patients with eating disorders, according to this study. 

Mayo Clinic professor of neurology and psychiatry Yonus Geda notes that activities such as crafting may help build up “cognitive reserves and the ability to buffer and withstand lots of assault by bad chemicals in the brain and bad proteins accumulating.” That is just one finding among several cited in this roundup of the long-term health benefits of craft.

In a study published by The British Journal of Occupational Therapy in 2013, the benefits of knitting were probed with 3,545 knitters worldwide. The results show a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy.

Purposeful hand use enhances well-being, reducing depression and relieving anxiety in a technologically saturated culture, according to Carrie Barron, a psychiatrist who specializes in creativity and the co-author of The Creativity Cure.

Art therapist Cathy Malchiodi cites neuroscientist Kelly Lambert’s research showing the positive impact on the brain of “physical activities that involve our hands, particularly activities that produce tangible products that we can see, touch, and enjoy.”

What evidence have you seen of the healing potential of craft?