As part of our series on knitting and wellbeing, we’re delighted to introduce you to the fabulous Project Knitwell, a wonderful organisation that brings the peace and calm of knitting to people in need.
The seed (or first stitch!) for Project Knitwell started 27 years ago with the gift of a baby sweater to an anxious mom with a very sick baby. Carol Caparosa’s infant daughter Emily was hospitalized at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital (MGUH) – undergoing successive heart surgeries – and understandably, Carol couldn’t focus or concentrate. When a friend gifted a hand-knit sweater to Emily, a light bulb went off for Carol. The next time she went home, she grabbed some yarn and needles from deep inside her closet, and she brought them back to the hospital and began to knit. Slowly, with each stitch, Carol was able to regain a sense of calm and focus.
When Emily (who is now a pediatric nurse at another DC area hospital) was a teenager, Carol returned to MGUH and offered to teach knitting to moms with sick kids to help them cope with stress. That stitch grew into one row and then another, and Carol established Project Knitwell in 2010.
Since then, Project Knitwell’s team of volunteers has brought the wellness benefits of knitting not only to moms of hospital patients, but to patients themselves, to other family members, care-givers, and staff at several DC area hospitals, to formerly incarcerated women, those affected by housing insecurity, at-risk teens, those experiencing grief, and many others.
In 2017, Project Knitwell served 550 unique individuals at a dozen sites in the D.C. area. All of Project Knitwell’s instruction and supplies are provided free of charge to the people we serve.
Those who receive our services often tell us, “Knitting makes me feel….”
- a sense of Pride
Being in a hospital or going through medical treatment or a life changing event are anxiety inducing. We hear often from the people we knit with how knitting is an antidote to anxiety, and how it engenders peace and calm.
Sachie, a cancer patient who knits with a group Project Knitwell sponsors at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts says: “(Knitting) really works well for me to maintain my spirituality in the midst of my anxiety.”
Many talk about the meditative quality of knitting: “Knit, purl, knit, purl… it’s like a heartbeat,” said another oncology patient at Virginia Hospital Center.
Emelia, an antepartum patient on hospital bedrest with a high-risk pregnancy told us that knitting helped her feel peaceful during the middle of the night: “I worked on the baby hat at 1 am when I couldn’t sleep….it helped.”
“Knitting helps me not to be in that head space of “why me” says Cynthia, a formerly homeless woman with PTSD whom we taught to knit at Street Sense in Washington, DC.
“Knitting provides calm and peace. I can invest my time and energy into myself and that is a beautiful thing.”
Sometimes people even tell us that their blood pressure goes down once they start to knit. We’ve heard this from antepartum patients, as well as from one of our knitters who came to a weekly group at So Others Might Eat (SOME) for abused or neglected seniors.
Nurses and other hospital staff who knit often remark that knitting gives them a few moments of calm. In fact, with the cooperation of Project Knitwell, two oncology nurses at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital (MGUH) conducted a study that concluded that knitting can help reduce compassion fatigue (burnout) among oncology nurses. The Impact of a Knitting Intervention on Compassion Fatigue in Ocology Nurses by Lyndsay Anderson, MSN, OCN (R) FMP-BC and Christina Gustavson was published in the February 2016 issue of Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing
It’s hard to concentrate when you’re stressed out. Carol Caparosa talks about how she thought that there was something wrong with all the clocks at MGUH when Emily was a patient there. They never seemed to move, and she felt stuck and unproductive. The process of knitting helped her feel productive even though she says: “I don’t think I actually ever made anything.”
We hear from family members with hospitalized loved ones that reading – never mind trying to get some work done or take care of things at home — can feel overwhelming. When feeling overwhelmed and unproductive, finishing a row of simple garter stitch can feel like a huge accomplishment.
Moms with babies in the neo-natal intensive care unit talk about how they feel that can’t do much for their babies, but knowing they can make a hat for their little one makes them feel like they are being productive.
Moms who are hospital patients often feel anxious that they cannot attend to their children at home. “ All I could do was lie here,” antepartum moms tell us. But being able to make a scarf for their child makes them feel productive and helps to reduce anxiety.
Patients – or the spouses or parents or children who knit by their bedside — say that knitting gives them a feeling of control or power.
When faced with a lack of control, it feels so good to be able to choose a yarn color or to plan a project. Even something simple like being able to decide whether to rip out some rows to fix a mistake or to keep knitting can make someone feel very powerful in an out of control situation.
We remember working with a patient who asked if she could choose the yarn for a project so she would be able to look at it and touch it “and plan and dream” until the volunteer returned for the next lesson.
A teen transplant patient told us: “I have been knitting scarves like crazy! I would like to learn to make beanies, booties, and so on.”
Sense of Pride
In the midst of anxiety, it’s easy to lose confidence. Knitting something for one self or someone else can provide a sense of much needed pride and confidence in one’s abilities.
“I’m so proud. I didn’t know I could do this,” is something we hear regularly.
One girl at a residential facility where we teach knitting to teens with severe emotional challenges wore the heavy wool scarf on a 75 degree day in June because she was so proud of her accomplishment.
Cynthia, from Street Sense told us: “I will wear this hat with pride and dignity,” she said. “I hope someone will ask me where I bought it and I can tell them that I made it.”
You can find out more about Project Knitwell on their website, and follow them on Instagram and Facebook.
For more articles about knitting for stress, wellbeing, and all things knitting, come and explore our blog!
Last updated: April 11th, 2018.