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Popular Neuroscience Professor Uses Knitting to Teach Brain Science

July 18th, 2008

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Professor Ruth Grahn, of Connecticut College, explains the functions of different parts of the brain by using the example of how the act of knitting requires the motor cortex of the brain where finger and hand control is determined. She also uses knitting to explain brain plasticity, which means that the brain is capable of changing as a person gains experience and improves their skills.

I once met a woman who had suffered a stroke and was told that she may never be able to knit again–that with a great deal of physical therapy, she would be lucky to walk. She had been a very experienced knitter who enjoyed doing intricate patterns. She described how she was determined to painstakingly return to her knitting, taking up simpler, then more complex patterns and eventually experienced a full recovery. Her amazed doctor told her that he believed she was able to use knitting to “rewire her brain” and take back not only her knitting, but all her motor skills.

  • Gloria Dobkin

    This is a lovely pattern. I have finished the first trees, fill-in and tulip patterns in 2 weeks. I am wondering if I’ll have enough yarn for the tulip border. Does anyone have an estimate of how much yarn is needed for the border?

  • Marge

    I found the piece about brain function and knitting very interesting. I personally have been working with a stroke victim. She and her family state that she had very little knitting ability prior to her strokes. So I started from scratch with her. That was just three months ago with time out for carpule tunnel surgery. She is now working on making socks. May I add she has a wonderful hand, tension is very nice and even. It is like she is remembering something she has always done.

  • ruth Beitelspacher

    I have taken my Prayer Shawl knitting with me to the hosital twice. I had open Heart surgery in 1995 and it helped get back to a task at hand. I had shoulder replacement due to a fall. My Prayer Shawl and my knitting helped me adjust to hospitalization again , however I wasn’t able to knit after this surgery as my arm was in a sling.
    I am back to knitting and crocheting and it is a conversation topic at my home also.
    It is fun to get others started in the craft of knitting. There is also a knitting club in town but they knit clothing items only.
    I really like this web site. Ruth

  • allison

    Thank you for publishing the findings of Professor Grahn. If I may, I would like to add my own experience with what Prof. Grahn learned through her research. In 1982 my mother suffered a stroke, and, like the woman mentioned in the article, it was through her knitting that she regained her cognitive skills after this brain injury. Today, I treasure my mother’s knitting needles because when I look at them I remember how she utilized her needles and they became therapeutic tools that enabled her to recover from her stroke and continue living a productive life. Wouldn’t it be great if medicine applied this knowledge and used knitting and other crafts as a standard treatment for people recovering from strokes and other brain injuries?

  • Stacy

    What a great article!

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