Crochet is a craft that is easy to learn, relatively affordable and offers a lot of surprising benefits. Through my own personal experience journeying out of depression, along with research done into the topic, I’ve learned how crochet helps people with both mental health and physical health issues. In particular, I’ve seen how crocheting mandalas (circles) is a healing act.
A crochet mandala is a circle worked in the round. It can use very simple crochet stitches or it can be a more complex pattern. What makes it a mandala (not “just a circle”) is arguable but essentially it boils down to intention. When you crochet a circle with mindful intention, it holds the power of the mandala. Crochet mandalas are used as coasters, rugs, blankets, wall art and more but the act of crocheting a mandala is about the process of the work much more than it is about the final project.
A simple meditative crochet circle pattern is perfect for making a mandala. Repetition of simple stitches in crochet offers a range of benefits. First of all, you can make this type of mandala even if you have just learned how to crochet. The repetition eases you into a mode of relaxation, which offers the benefits of stress reduction and rejuvenation. Those benefits help with all sorts of health conditions from depression to relief from chronic illness. The repetition of working stitches is also believed to release serotonin, which improves mood, boosts the immune system and reduces sensations of pain.
These benefits are achieved with all types of repetitive crochet and their power may be magnified by working in the round. Many cultures and belief systems emphasize the inherent healing power of the circle. Jung, who worked with the unconscious, said that mandalas symbolized wholeness. Susan F. Fincher, who has done extensive work with mandala art therapy, notes that working with them helps orient us in the world; there’s a biological and psychological component to this. The circle connects us to the rest of the universe, which gives us a sense of place in the world, increases feelings of well-being and improves our quality of life. We may not realize that these benefits are happening as we crochet a mandala but there could be unconscious powers at work.
I didn’t start crocheting mandalas just because they got trendy, although that’s a perfectly fine reason to do so. I started crocheting them after I learned of the death of crochet designer Marinke Slump in 2015. I had previously interviewed her about how crochet had helped her with social anxiety and depression related to her diagnosis of Aspergers’ syndrome and was devastated to learn that a relapse of depression had led to her death by suicide. Marinke was one of the first contemporary designers crocheting mandala patterns, and I chose one and worked it repetitively in the weeks following her death. It was a means of feeling connected to her and to my craft while doing something that didn’t require focus (because I already knew the double crochet stitches and simple increases used in the project).
I created the Mandalas for Marinke project in response to her death. I accepted submissions of crochet mandalas from over 300 people who shared their stories about depression, suicide and crocheting to heal. The project consisted of near-daily blog posts for over a year sharing these mandalas, stories and information about mental health. In 2017, there were two different exhibits of the mandalas in Southern California. I also released a book that offers a curated selection of the project.
Here are a few of the things that contributors shared that further illuminate the healing power of crochet:
Crochet helps keep my depression episodes at bay, I know many crocheters and knitters have mental health issues. The work we do and the community we belong to help keep us focused and positive (as much as we can be). At least it does for me.” – Andrea K
“My crafting has at certain points in my life been the only things to get me out of bed to face a new day.” – Lisa Mazzarano
“Depression takes the colour, sense, meaning and worth from people's lives. A long time ago, I was in a similar place. With help and healing I was able to get through, but there are days when the darkness feels to close for comfort, mainly days when I am in pain from my fibromyalgia. Crochet gives me something to focus on and although it can never cure the condition I have, it gives me a sense of peace and accomplishment. That's what gets me through the painful days.” – Nikki
“Crochet got me out of bed last year. Crochet broke through my pain threshold of sitting more than 15 minutes. Crochet brought joy back. I can't do everything I want to do in the body I live in. I give thanks every day I can crochet!" – Flo
"I am a retired Psychologist. While I have not had any personal experiences with mental health/ depression/ suicide, I worked in the mental health field for many years. I had several clients commit suicide during my tenure. Depression cannot withstand activity so the more activity and concentration expended to read patterns, follow directions, and create something beautiful from a hook and yarn, the more fulfilling and better your self-concept and self-esteem becomes.” – Alice Dolamore
Crochet heals us. It’s undeniable. It relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety, contributes to overall improved quality of life, boosts self-esteem, reduces stress and offers us an outlet for any stress or issues with mood. Crocheting mandalas can be especially helpful because of the natural healing properties of working with circles. Be kind to yourself; crochet.
This is a guest post by Kathryn Vercillo, blogger at Crochet Concupiscence and author of several books including Crochet Saved My Life and Mandalas for Marinke. Support her work with micro donations through Patreon.
My collaboration with Kathryn goes way back and I am immensely happy to have her as my guest today. Thank you so much Kathryn!!
If you want to see my contribution for the Mandalas for Marinke project, the free mandala pattern is here.