An Interview with Betsan Corkhill

Friday 19th January 2018


Welcome to the Stylecraft Year of Wellbeing.

As a knitter or crocheter, you probably know that your craft has lots of health benefits alongside being huge fun.  Over the next 12 months, we will be exploring the many ways that knitting and crochet can enhance your life.

There is only one place we could start the year and that’s with the amazing Betsan Corkhill, and the organization she founded called Stitchlinks.  It’s well worth having a look around the website to look at the research and the science behind therapeutic craft.

Betsan began her career in physiotherapy. “Until 2002 I was a Senior Physiotherapist, working in the community. Many of the patients I saw were so demotivated I knew they wouldn't do the exercises I'd taught them or carry out the lifestyle changes I advised. Mrs Smith wasn't getting out of her chair because she had no reason to,” she explains.  “I felt we needed to take a step back with these individuals. They needed to develop an interest in the world, an aspiration to improve their wellbeing and an opportunity to enjoy social contact before any self-management approach would be successful.”

She left healthcare to work in the magazine sector and it was there while pulling together Simply Knitting's letter pages that she noticed one theme coming up again and again. Anecdotal evidence of how knitting had helped readers with stress, anxiety, depression, grief, pain and any number of other symptoms. The medic in Betsan was so intrigued she decided to find out more and Stitchlinks was born.

As well as publishing a number of books and helping to establish a clinical trial into the benefits of knitting for chronic pain sufferers, she also gives regular talks all over the world. She is off soon to Sydney to run a three-hour workshop for an audience of clinicians, academics and people living with long-term pain on behalf of the charity Pain Australia.

So why knitting or crochet? According to Betsan therapeutic knitting and crochet can deliver so many health benefits to everyone regardless of whether you have a chronic condition or simply want to improve their general wellbeing. We all have the power to change ourselves neurologically or biologically and therapeutic craft helps facilitate that change, which is such a hopeful message.

But persuading the medical community to take her seriously was the first hurdle she had to overcome. She had to transform the activity of knitting into a phrase that clinicians would take more seriously to get her foot in the door. Bilateral rhythmic psycho-social intervention is what Betsan came up with. Doesn’t that just trip off your tongue?  And it worked!

What her research boils down to is based on hard scientific fact. When we take part in craft we use our hands.  The simple act of bringing your hands together requires a phenomenal amount of brain processing power and strengthens links in different areas of our brains:  looking at, or picturing, a colour stimulates the visual cortex; thinking about the pattern you want to knit promotes forward planning, and links to your anticipation and excitement; completing a project gets the reward centres firing away.  Every aspect helps to improve your brain’s flexibility which is essential to everyone’s psychological resilience to help us through life’s ups and downs.

Craft, knitting and crochet, in particular, are safe, non-threatening, portable and can deliver a profound sense of success quite quickly, which is why Betsan is so passionate about them as a therapeutic solution.

She has just launched a new venture with Callie Lasch – a media professional who has curated many exhibitions exploring the hand brain link.  It’s called The Institute of Therapeutic Craft and Creativity and you can view some of Betsan’s talks there.  They are completely fascinating. Currently, she is doing some filming with BBC Wales for a live programme on ‘Making Wales Happy’, broadcast on January 23rd at 8pm-9pm.

It is hard to do Betsan’s work justice in a short blog post, but hopefully, you will want to follow the links we have highlighted, and we will definitely be revisiting Betsan’s ideas throughout the year.

So, next time you feel guilty about not doing the dusting and sitting down with your needles or hook, remember that your craft is not just your hobby - it can take care of your wellbeing in so many amazing ways.

Books by Betsan Corkhill:

Knit for Health & Wellness:  How to knit a flexible mind and more

Knit Yourself Calm

Crochet Therapy