Now this has been an interesting one, this book review. It involves a rare crossover between two major areas of my life: yarn and clinical psychology. Yes, really. Please allow me to explain.
The book is Crochet Therapy by Betsan Corkhill, to be published on July 7th in the UK (eg Amazon.co.uk) and slightly later elsewhere (e.g. the North American edition will be available from Amazon.com on 6th September). But I have a copy, right here in my hands – hurrah! Know-ye that I didn’t pay for this book, but the folk at Apple Press sent it to me for review. (Did I mention how tough the yarn-related portion of my life is? It’s really tough.)
The idea of this book is that you work on one of twenty suggested projects whilst employing mindfulness-based meditative exercises. Projects and exercises are paired for different outcomes that you might wish to achieve (calmness, energization, relaxation, focus, refreshment, perseverance, and even for celebrating friendship by crocheting with others). So the soothing round-and-round of blue-toned mini-mandalas is matched with a visualisation exercise to engender a sense of calm, after which you’re encouraged to carry a finished mandala around with you to trigger the feelings with which it’s associated. Meanwhile, if you want some energy, you’re encouraged to get busy with some zingy orange – and slightly larger – mandalas.
In case you’re not familiar with mindfulness, it’s an approach that has grown from traditional meditation, and was originally largely the work of Jon Kabat-Zin. (True story: years ago, I went on an eight-day mindfulness workshop led by Kabat-Zin and others: it was sometimes quite difficult to focus on what he was saying because I was distracted mightily by the fact that in person, he looks freakily identical to George W. Bush.) Anyway, at the heart of mindfulness is an emphasis on being ‘in the moment’, consciously experiencing everything around you right now and appreciating it, instead of losing yourself in worry about future or past.
The idea of bringing meditation to crochet (or crochet to meditation) makes sense. There’s decent-quality evidence on the benefits of mindfulness-based therapies for a variety of problems (for example reducing relapse rates in recurrent depression), so they’re widely offered in the NHS here in the UK. That said, with my psychologist hat on, I’m not sure whether you can crochet/meditate (crochetate?) your way into things like perseverance, which is one of the areas covered by the book. But ignore me, cos I’m a sceptical ol’ sod who spent several training years having it beaten into me that you shouldn’t as much as breathe unless it’s evidence-based. (Don’t worry – there’s clear evidence that breathing is a perfectly fine idea. Do carry on doing it.) OK, they didn’t actually beat us, but a single withering look when you got your essays back from marking could have a similar effect.
Anyway, so far, so good. And I’m sure most of you have heard mention of the emotional/cognitive benefits of knitting/crochet. As for marrying crochet with meditation? Sounds like a plan. The repetitive, small, physical motions of crochet are a good match for the mental energy of the visualisation exercises in this book. The approach would probably work best for experienced hookers, as the frustration, swearing, and flinging-across-the-room that are sometimes experienced by beginners wouldn’t really help you achieve success, unless your goal was to crochetate yourself into a state of murderous rage.
So let’s take a look at the crochet projects. There’s a good variety (of mostly household objects), with a few refreshingly original makes, such as small beaded bracelets that I’d be trying right now if I wasn’t already embroiled in several other projects.
And I do like the design of the flowers in the Friendship Quilt.
There are stress-balls and a shawl, coasters and blankets, as well as basic mandalas. The patterns are clear and well laid-out, and are written using UK crochet terms, though presumably that won’t apply to the US edition. Visually, the book is appealing, with its fresh, bright, layout and the playful hand-drawn doodles amongst the photographs. Can’t fault the design team.
Crochet Therapy was written by a physio-turned-wellbeing-coach, who’s made a mission of bringing the holistic benefits of yarnery to a wide audience. As a physio, she’s well-placed to understand the effects of the small physical movements involved in knitting/crochet, and she set up Stitchlinks, an organisation founded to bring the therapeutic and wellbeing benefits of yarn-craft to as many people as possible.
As for the meditation exercises, the instructions are clear (although as Corkhill suggests, you may wish to record them on your phone so that you don’t have to keep pausing to read the next part). Some rely primarily on visualisation (eg of a relaxing beach scene) to be undertaken whilst you hook, whereas others – that I prefer – incorporate the process of moving hook and yarn through your fingers into the meditation itself. I confess at this point that any form of meditation is not my ‘thing’, but if I was to use these exercises regularly, it would be the latter ones involving meditation on the process of stitching that would appeal to me the most.
So all in all, you’ll like this book if:-
- Imagery-based exercises appeal to you.
- You like to focus on the process of crocheting, not just the outcome.
- You’re not a complete beginner, and can happily stitch away without pausing to growl at your mistakes and rip back twenty rounds.
- You’re interested in using craft to enhance your mood and have the opportunity to practise these exercises.
- You’re happy to try all sorts of different and fairly simple projects.
You’ll be marginally less keen if:-
- Meditation and imagery just aren’t your preferred ‘thing’.
- Your idea of a good evening’s crochet involves reinventing the most complex stitch combinations known to humankind, with the need to pay meticulous attention to where you’re up to in the pattern. Also swearing. And wine. (Welcome to my world.)
- You have a near-phobia of anything that sounds to you as though it might be a little bit ‘woo’.