I began crocheting when I was 19. It was the most stressful point in my life. I had just started my first semester of college, had moved to a different state where I knew no one, and to top off that ice cream sundae of life’s situations, I had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor three days before I moved to the school.
Once I learned the initial basic stitches, I was hooked (pun intended). I spent hours in my dorm room crocheting scarves or just crocheting a single stitch over and over. I would go into a completely meditative state and even if there was music or a TV on in the background, I never really absorbed what I was hearing. Now, many years later, crochet is my go-to therapy. In moments of stress and anxiety, my fingers begin to itch for the feel of the hook in one hand and the yarn in the other.
Kathryn Vercillo has written a book that accurately describes that experience and the experience that many others go through when turning to crochet for comfort or relief. Crochet Saved My Life looks deep into the healing power of crochet, knitting, and other needlecraft work, both mentally and physically. Vercillo is a freelance writer, blogger, and crafter whose experience with depression and the relief she found in crochet inspired the book. In it, she describes how she summoned up the strength to drop the knife she once held at her wrist and replace it with a spool of yarn.
In addition to telling her own story, Vercillo tells the tales of many women and men who have found comfort, peace, and solace in the craft. Her book is separated into sections that address the affects of crocheting/knitting on various mental and physical conditions. In addition to the main chapters are the full stories of people she interviewed for the book, including their personal struggles and how crocheting or knitting came to be a part of their recovery or treatment. Her subjects have been through depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and Menière’s disease. In her discussion of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Vercillo refers to Monique Lang, LCSW. Lang’s quote sums up the chapter on PTSD: “When life has done something that treats you horribly, you need to go overboard in treating yourself well to make up for that while you are healing.”
The author’s introduction is poignant. “Crochet can serve as a form of meditation,” she writes. “It provides you with a focused task that distracts you from the drama that sometimes takes over the brain and tries to wreak havoc there. And it allows you to feel like you are producing and creating something even when you can’t get out of bed and you can barely open your eyes to notice the passing of one day into another.”
But Vercillo is careful to point out that crochet is not a cure-all, nor the only method to combat a mental or physical condition. When discussing the calming effects crochet may have on symptoms of schizophrenia, she points out that the evidence she has to support her claim is minimal and relies heavily on stories shared by interviewees. She reminds us many times that she is not a medical professional in any capacity. She is simply sharing an experience that she has had and that many others seem to have in common. Still, Vercillo does not just use anecdotes to support her claim: Her list of references is substantial and included at the end of the book, with sources ranging from journal articles to governmental documents.
The back of the book also provides a list of resources for crocheters. There are online communities, classes, and professional organizations, interesting websites that discuss crocheting/knitting in relation to various conditions, and recommended books.
My one complaint about the text is the sections describing the individual tales of the interviewees. Although these histories are important for filling in gaps and clarifying how crochet or knit played into these people’s lives, Vercillo shares so much of the details within the main chapters that the individual sections dedicated to them feel redundant. I grew tired of rereading these people’s stories when I had just read them only a few pages prior. At times, they seemed like page fillers rather than informative parts of the book.
Overall, though, Crochet Saved My Life is a worthwhile read. As an avid crafter and crocheter, I found the book at times enlightening, and could relate to much of it. Vercillo’s ability to weave statistics and reports into her narrative is also impressive. Her tone is friendly and sensitive while also being professional and direct—she does not sugar-coat or play down the intensity that can be found within each individual condition she addresses. Nor does she attempt to trump modern medicine or therapy with the value of needlework.
The author’s message, simple as it may be, is that the meditative power of crochet and knit could potentially bring a wealth of comfort and clarity to the suffering and the stressed. I, for one, could not agree more.
Crochet Saved My Life
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, April, 2012
Paperback, 304 pages