Today I thought I’d share another excerpt from my book Crochet Saved My Life: The Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Crochet. This one is about your yarn color choices and how to think more carefully about them particularly when crocheting through tough emotional times.
“Simply looking at vibrantly coloured yarn and stroking different textures can make that first chink in the desensitised armour of depression and demotivation.” Stitchlinks
One of the key images that has stuck with me as I’ve researched the health benefits of crochet is an image laid out by Margaret Mills in her article titled The Healing Arts and Crafts, in which she said: “As the rhythmic work, the feel of yarn, and the misshapen poncho taking shape under my hands turned the world from black and white to Technicolor, I realized that I was also dealing with a bout of depression. I’ve since resumed my long-neglected sewing as well, and the world is a brighter place. Making handcrafted items lifts my spirits and boosts my energy.”
I think what struck me about this image is the idea that your world is black and white (or merely grey!) and that crochet can bring color back into it. That was certainly the case for me. I saw grey everywhere I turned until I didn’t want to bother turning anymore. Crochet reminded me of the simple beauty of color. Not that I started drastically introducing color into my life. In fact, the very first ball of yarn that I picked out when learning how to crochet was a grey ball! Go figure. But I added a beautiful teal color to it that I thought went well with it and thus my exploration of color began. I didn’t consciously understand the healing power of color but something inside of me yearned to infuse my life with color to erase the grayness of emotion that pervaded every corner of my days.
And eventually, it wasn’t just in the comfort of my crochet corner that color blossomed. I began to notice color in other places again. I noticed the tone of a friend’s skin color because I wanted to make her a scarf and wanted to choose colors that would flatter her. I noticed the colors in the skirt of a passerby because I liked the pattern and wanted to create something similar. Before I knew it I was noticing the blue in the sky, the blue in my boyfriend’s eyes, in a way that I simply hadn’t noticed in a very, very long time. I saw color again because I’d been working with color in my hands for so many months. Depression takes things away without asking your permission. I hadn’t realized that my sense of sight had become so limited to a grey world until color returned.
I first read that striking Margaret Mills quote before I’d had the opportunity to interview her so I made sure to bring it up when I did get the chance to speak with her about her crochet experiences. I asked her if she felt that color theory plays a role in how crochet helps to heal depression and she said that she definitely thinks that it does. In fact, she says that it was the color of the yarn and the play of one color against another that really drew her in to the craft. She notes that she often sees yarn described as “luscious” or “yummy” (both words that I tend to use a lot when talking about yarn, actually) and although those are words that we use to describe taste, it is the richness of the color of the yarn that might inspire us to salivate a little. Mills also notes that color is an important consideration in decorating because it affects mood so much so there is definitely something to say for the healing power of the colors in the craft of crochet.
Mills was hardly the only person to make this connection. Em was another person who highlighted it when she mentioned using vibrant spring and summer colors in her crochet because those colors make her happy. And much scientific research has been done into the relationship between color and depression, research that shows that there is a distinct link between the two. Some research even suggests that you can consciously improve your mood through smart focus on color.
Remember when we talked before about mindfulness meditation? (Note: in the beginning of Crochet Saved My Life) A 2009 Psychology Today article by Peter Strong explains how mindfulness can be used with attention to color to overcome depression. He describes a technique where you sit still and become very mindful of your emotions. You use various techniques to do this but the point is that you begin to be able to visualize what the color of your emotion is. Depression is often associated with “gray” but it doesn’t have to be, of course. Likewise jealousy is usually green and anger is red. In Strong’s exercise, once you’ve visualized your emotion’s color and meditated on it then you can take the next step which is to do a series of things to change the color of your emotion. (So instead of just being mindful of the emotion, like before, you now use meditation and visualization to actually alter the emotion.) For example, you might visualize spray painting your grey emotion with a bright yellow paint. The theory here is that by changing the imagery of your emotion, you can change the actual emotion.
If visualization doesn’t work for you, it is possible that exposing yourself to tangible examples of different colors might help alter your mood. Consider for a moment the people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that occurs during certain times of the year when light levels are low. One of the main treatments for SAD is light therapy, The National Alliance on Mental Health explains that this requires using certain types of light because a full-color light spectrum isn’t as beneficial as using light bulbs in a specific color temperature range. They go on to say that when used correctly light therapy can offer total remission from SAD symptoms in 50% – 80% of people. When you consider that color is basically just the way that the eye sees light, there is evidence to suggest that viewing different colors can help to reduce symptoms of depression.
There is a whole body of science, called chromotherapy (or color therapy) that is devoted to using color to treat depression. In describing the history of chromotherapy, researchers Azeemi and Raza (2005) explain that although studies on the topic have been more qualitative than quantitative, the use of color as a possible healing treatment dates back to about 2000 BC and was utilized by people in ancient Egypt, Greece, China and India. If you’ve ever learned about the chakras of the body then you know that each one is associated with a color, which was historically related to healing techniques that were applied to both mind and body.
The use of color to alter mood has continued in modern times. Maybe you’ve read about modern marketing techniques where retail stores or advertisers will choose certain colors that lull potential buyers into certain moods. And Azeemi and Raza report that “in 1990, scientists reported to the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the successful use of blue light in the treatment of a wide variety of psychological problems, including addictions, eating disorders and depression” while red light was used to treat more physical symptoms like constipation and flesh wounds.
Maybe you agree with this and maybe you don’t. But if you’re a crocheter who battles with depression (or even just a crocheter having a bad day) then it might be worth it to play around a little bit with the use of different yarn colors in your projects to see if you can change the way that you feel by changing the colors that you work with. I believe that it’s important to listen to your own body when it comes to exploring the healing benefits of color. Nevertheless, many other people have reported on how to use color to improve the way that you feel. The research widely suggests that yellow is a good choice to help lift you out of a bad mood whereas blue and grey are more likely to leave you feeling depressed.
The Paul Goldin Clinic, which offers a free online personality test related to color, agrees that yellow will help cure depression whereas “too much blue could leave you cold, depressed and sorrowful”. The site also suggests that red can help with depression although too much red can make you feel agitated and anxious. They say that green is a good color for balancing out your emotions and evoking a feeling of calmness and purple is good for connecting your mind and body to ease mental health issues although you want to drift towards lighter, more lavender hues for optimal feelings of balance. Of course, some crocheters are going to agree and others are not. Take a minute to stop and ask yourself how different colored projects have related to the mood you had while working on them.