Rose Moscaritolo, an energetic 91, is spending more time at home than usual this winter. So she has turned to a familiar hobby: knitting. “During the pandemic, what is there?” asked the Arlington resident. “Nothing. There’s TV, but that’s it. That’s all you can do. You can’t visit people.”
She’s not the only one: Knitting is more popular than ever. There are Bernie Sanders’ mittens, made by a Vermont school teacher. And then there’s Michelle Obama, who told People Magazine that during the pandemic she has knitted a blanket, five scarves, three halter tops, hats and mittens -- and that was in September.
Knitting is getting a boost during the pandemic, but it has long been an enjoyable pastime. According to the Craft Yarn Council -- which represents yarn companies, accessory manufacturers, publications and consultants in the yarn industry -- 50 million people in the U.S. know how to knit, crochet or use yarn for crafts. Stuck indoors, more and more people are turning to knitting as a way to reduce stress and to enjoy the ability to produce something tangible.
A relaxed state
Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of The Relaxation Response, wrote that the repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer or muscular activity -- such as knitting -- could induce induce a relaxed state like that associated with meditation and yoga and lower blood pressure and heart rate.
Longtime knitters will tell you that knitting also provides a sense of accomplishment and community.
Moscaritolo is part of a knitting group that began 15 years ago and now meets online. There she met Arlington resident Joy Spadafora, who has been knitting since she was 9 and teaches knitting to people of all levels. While she would be knitting no matter what, “It has been one of my saving graces in the pandemic,” she said. “I need to keep my hands busy; I can’t sit and do nothing.”
But knitting offers more than just an activity. “I love that I can make gifts for other people and also teach others how to knit,” said Spadafora. “I see their progress and their enjoyment and what they’re making and that brings joy to me.”
Learned from father
Sue Doctrow, who has been knitting for years, said for the most part it doesn’t require intense concentration, “so it is kind of meditative.” She learned from her father, Nathan Doctrow, 91.
As a child during World War II, the retired electrical engineer was one of many children taught to knit squares that were then used for blankets for soldiers. Doctrow sells some of her work on Etsy. Like Spadafora, she has been a member of a knitting group that offers instruction and encouragement and enjoys the sense of community it provides.
Doing something with your hands is calming, said Suzanne McLeod, an art therapist in Arlington who also knits. “We’re all wired to use our bodies and the repetition of knitting can be soothing. For me, making something provides a purpose, whether it’s banana bread or knitting something. It involves other people and it’s a gift.”
In the pandemic, McLeod said, “I can feel like I’m locked inside. To be making something feels like the pain of isolation and quarantine becomes purposeful.”
Spadafora has some advice for anyone thinking of joining the ranks of people who knit -- both men and women.
“As a teacher of beginners, I tell them right from the start to knit something for yourself first so you have bragging rights and then hold onto your first project so you can wear it and say, ‘I made this’ and it gives you a sense of pride.
“Secondly, pick something small and manageable that is matched to your skill level so you are able to finish it. It’s all about the accomplishment at the end. If you pick something too difficult, you’re less likely to finish and you’ll get frustrated.”
Moscaritolo, a former research technician in the tissue lab at Boston University Medical School, looks forward to when she can meet with her knitting friends again. For now, she’s content with knitting and crocheting, and Zooming with friends and family. "I make snowflakes and send them to people I care for, and I knit a lot of scarves and give them away," she said. "It’s good to keep active with your hands and your mind.”
Dec. 23, 2020: Artist recounts pandemic lessons learned
This news feature by Marjorie Howard, YourArlington co-publisher, was published Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.