Sewing is Great for your Brain

Sewing is GREAT for your brainI recently came across an article called Why Crafting is Great For Your Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains. As we have discussed multiple times here, many of us feel a calm sense of meditation and mindfulness when we are quilting. I am happy that the article backs up our feelings of connection and meaning with recent research:

Research shows that knitting and other forms of textile crafting such as sewing, weaving and crocheting have quite a lot in common with mindfulness and meditation — all are reported to have a positive impact on mind health and well-being.

Also according to the article, below are 10 ways crafting (specifically with friends) may improve mental wellness:

  1. Mental challenge and problem solving
  2. Social connection
  3. Mindfulness
  4. Development of hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness and fine motor dexterity
  5. Learning and teaching
  6. Focusing attention and thoughts on a task
  7. Encouraging active creativity
  8. Gives a sense of pride and achievement
  9. Teaches patience and perseverance
  10. Facilitates memory formation and retrieval

Another description of the mental state that can be achieved during crafting (in our case, quilting) is what has been coined as a state of “flow”. According to Wikipedia,

In positive psychology, flow, also known as zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields, though has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some eastern religions. Achieving flow is often referred to as being in the zone.

A chart depicting Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s model of flow showing the relationship between the challenge of a task and the skill level associated with the task is shown below. I can definitely relate to moving across different boundaries in this description depending on how challenged I felt or appropriately skilled I felt for a given quilting task!


Can you relate to feeling mindful, meditative, or in a state of flow while sewing / quilting? Are there any factors you have noticed that help you achieve and stay in that state of mind?


33 thoughts on “Sewing is Great for your Brain

  1. sally says:

    Definitely good for mental health! I find the more creative my sewing the more it helps my ‘flow’. The more monotonous tasks (that frequently are also part of sewing) don’t work so well for me. And following patterns doesn’t work so well either, I suppose because that’s less free and creative too. But with both these last 2 there are still other benefits, particularly the sense of achievement when something is finished. The only thing I find that’s bad with sewing is that it’s not always so good for my physical health – ie it takes up time where I might otherwise be more active! And sitting hunched up in front of a sewing machine isn’t always the best. I do always make a conscious effort to drop my shoulders whilst sewing and have a really good stretch afterwards. But perhaps sewing machines and patterns should come with specific instructions to do some ‘warm up’ exercises beforehand and stretch out exercises afterwards!

    1. Very interesting, Sally. I think there is definitely a nice balance required to get in the zone. Sometimes repetitive tasks can help me be in the zone, like Lorna mentions below, whip stitching down binding is one of the great meditative moments for me in making a quilt.

      Also, I love that you bring up how long stretches of time sewing can be hard on the body. I took yoga classes when I was at QuiltCon and it is amazing how some stretches can really open things back up and help with that.

  2. How interesting! Sewing has indeed helped me on many levels. And I do noticed I get into a flow or “the zone” especially when doing the binding. Great post, Yvonne!

    1. I agree that whip stitching down binding is one of the most meditative parts of the quilting process for me, Lorna! 🙂

  3. Judy says:

    I get into the flow during quilting. . . big surprise huh? LOL I do find, as Sally said, the monotony of some tasks really does throw me into the ‘bored zone’ but if I keep my mind focused (focused, not obsessed, obsessed throws me right into anxiety – amazing how accurate that chart is!!) on accuracy, that tends to go away some.

    1. Oh, that is awesome that your zen spot is during quilting – and it does make sense! What a great observation that there is a balance to keep from going into anxiety or boredom. Interesting to note that skill level is a part of that equation and as we all get more practiced, it might get harder to achieve!

  4. Vera says:

    I’m feeling in the zone. I have been sewing quite a bit for past few days and feel more energized as well 🙂 Interesting article.

    1. Congratulations and awesome, Vera! I hope that you can find great new balance in the months ahead and maintain this fun momentum and stay in the zone! 🙂

  5. Jan O says:

    Nice to know there are actual studies to back up what we quilters already know and understand. I’ve experienced “flow” or being in the zone many times while working on my quilting, especially during the design phase. Thanks for sharing the research with us!

    1. I love how we each have different phases of the process that speak to us the most, Jan. And it was really neat to come across an article like this!

  6. Vicki P says:

    I am fascinated by this chart. I immediately checked out an article on Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and flow – he nails it! He also describes associated conditions and personality traits. Love this! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. Awesome! I love hearing that you dug more into it! 🙂

  7. knitnkwilt says:

    Though I have heard of “flow” and Csikszentmihalyi, this is the first I’ve seen the chart. If I read Csikszentmihalyi’s chart correctly, flow happens only with high challenge and high skill. I think it more likely to happen when the levels of challenge and skill correspond.

    I’ll have to watch experiences. I know I have had that sense of being lost in a project and unaware of passing time–I don’t recall it being at a particularly challenging moment of piecing.

    1. Great point about corresponding levels of challenge and skill. I think that, for me anyway, that when piecing becomes particularly challenging I tend to question if I have the skill required for it to work, so I drop into arousal or anxiety (personally).

  8. Jayne Willis says:

    I have said how I get in the ‘zen’ mode many times while quilting! This is great info to share!!

  9. Jasmine says:

    I’m so glad to see the benefits of something I already love doing. 🙂 I really love almost the whole process of quilting, but the most meditative part is hand sewing. What puts me in the anxiety is deadline sewing. I like being able to create when I want (whether quickly or slowly) without pressure.

    1. Deadline sewing is definitely stressful for me, too, Jasmine! I also find that hand sewing (for me, the binding) is the most meditative part.

  10. I can definitely relate to being in the flow. If I can shut the door to the rest of the world and play with fabric, that’s the best! Usually I’m trying to do other things while sewing (laundry, cooking, etc.) but I’m working toward having dedicated sewing time. I find it very relaxing.

    1. I agree that it is super tempting to multi-task when sewing. I tend to purposefully take breaks to keep my back from hurting too much, etc. But when you can get drawn in to some dedicated time… there is really nothing like that feeling!

  11. Renee says:

    I’m not even on that chart right now, or maybe in the apathy area? I have completely lost my sewjo–first from busting my ass on the banner, then life stuff…and then I thought the camping trip would be rejuvenating but instead one of the preschool moms was so completely dominating in conversation that it ended up being not a lot of fun for me and then I come home and none of my quilts won anything (this not winning is starting to wear me down, and I’ve always felt the BQF has frequently had odd winners, though I’m super glad yours won original design!!). Where is my sewjo? How do I get it back?

    1. Renee, I suggest wine, chocolate and a few episodes of Poldark taking his shirt off. If might not help your sewjo, but you will feel better!

  12. So I was right when I referred to sewing as meditative?! It isn’t just me who thinks that? Cool!

    1. You are definitely right, Carla! And it really seems like most of us find hand sewing to be the most meditative. 🙂

  13. Serena@Sewgiving says:

    It’s definitely meditative … I can easily lose hours quilting and not notice 🙂

    1. 🙂 When I get into that zone I feel so good when I pop out the other side!

  14. When I am in my “zone”… in my studio, music playing loudly and I am ‘flowing’ through the process seemlessly and slowly a piece or project comes together… throughout the entire time, mostly when I am cutting or stepping back to see my progress so far, I find myself so entirely happy that I am on the verge of tears. It literally calms me and sooths me so much, I have never expressed this out loud because I don’t know if anyone else understands (I don’t know many others physically who sew). haha. Either way, it is a place that I have no problem going into. The trouble can be getting into the studio to BE in that place. No wonder though, that all us crafters are so smart!

    1. I can understand and relate to making / taking the time to get in my sewing room to create. I am carving out time today for the Friday Night Sew Along and I’m really looking forward to it! 🙂

  15. Chelsea Huckins says:

    Love this post! You’re so right about flow and health. I am very excited to see the end of this school year and recharge through some summer sewing. I did tons of research on Mihaly when I was in school on teaching/nurturing creativity in students. Good stuff there.

    1. I hope you have a relaxing, productive, and fun summer!

  16. Brenda Ackerman says:

    Quilting has helped me in ways that nothing else has achieved. A bit of my history before going further into discussion. A few months before I turned 16, I was in a terrible car accident. Thrown out the windshield with the end result being severe brain damage in memory section of brain. Scar tissue continues to build and aside from both long and short term memory loss, I have suffered from seizures, blackouts, migraines and daily headaches.

    Over 10 years ago, I began quilting/sewing and hand embroidery projects. It can be very frustrating putting a project aside for the evening and returning the follow morning and not have a clue what it is I was doing! But, I have learned to laugh and love almost every stitch I take; I have completed probably close to 100 projects. Through this process, I have visited each portion mentioned in the diagram. Each project would not have been completed were it not for the ever varying effects of anxiety all the way around. I hope that everyone continues to experience each part of the process, which in turn causes us to create and learn every single time we take a stitch!

    1. Brenda Ackerman says:

      I forgot to mention that I am now almost 50! Hard to believe I have been dealing with this for that long with the wonderful world of quilting and hand embroidery!

    2. How wonderful that quilting and sewing has been so healthy for you! 🙂

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)