knitting as therapy in play

Image: Cheri Vanden Heuvel, Heather Gordon in Low Hanging Fruit. Photo credit: Mario Parnell Photography

Last night I had the opportunity to attend Low Hanging Fruit, a compelling play about the lives of four female veterans living together in a homeless encampment. I encourage you to check out my full review of the play over on Diary of a Smart Chick to see how much I was touched by it … but what I wanted to highlight here was that I was thrilled to see knitting take center stage (literally) as a survival tool in this play. You all know how much I believe in crochet and craft as therapy for all kinds of people, a topic that was rarely discussed a few years ago when I first wrote Crochet Saved My Life, and I’ve been thrilled to see this awareness reach more and more people across so many mediums.

In the above photo, you can see the character of Alice, seated in her chair with her knitting bag in front of her, the white blanket and wooden knitting needles sticking out of the tote. We see her knitting early on in the play, and at first there is no reference to it in the content of the compelling story. She just periodically sits in her chair and knits. As someone who has done so much research into yarn craft therapy, I immediately drew my own conclusions about how the knitting was helping her. I thought specifically of a homeless person that I passed only a week or so ago as I was walking down Geary Street, someone who was sitting there on the side of the road crafting a blanket, someone I regrettably didn’t stop to talk to but about whom I also drew conclusions about how craft might be helping.

I looked at Alice’s work on the stage. I noticed that the blanket she was making was all the same color, all the same repetitive stitch, and I considered how healing this repetition is. I thought of how many large crochet granny square blankets I’ve made over the years, repeating the double crochet again and again, keeping the demons of the mind at bay with stitch after stitch. Truth be told, I had noticed a crochet blanket as a prop in Alice’s tent before the play even began and was already having these thoughts about yarn craft therapy before I even knew it would be featured in the play at all.

I was immediately glad that the knitting was there, coming in to scene after scene, not only because I love seeing craft in unexpected places but also because just watching Alice knit from the audience was calming. As I describe in my review, the play was intense and at times it was jarring – not in a bad way since it is so compelling but definitely attention-getting. In letting people know about this play, I will encourage everyone to definitely go see it but in some settings think it’s important to also share a “trigger warning” because it touches on so many difficult subjects in such an intense way. Alice’s knitting steadies this intensity, reminds us that we can always come back to stitch after stitch, watching her needles click and clack and allowing everything else happening around us to drop away.

Even upon seeing the knitting recur throughout scenes, I assumed it was going to be in the background, not mentioned, and was happily surprised to see it brought into the story line. Canyon, the young runaway who comes to the camp, is immediately intrigued by Alice’s knitting and asks Alice to teach her to knit. At this point in the play, Alice is wary of Canyon and defensive, and she says that she might teach her later but right then she is just knitting to relax. Knitting to relax … How rare and important it must be to have moments of relaxation when you are a homeless female trying to make it on the streets after enduring the battles of war. Knitting as therapy. Persistently, Canyon asks if Alice wants her to wind the yarn. Alice snaps, “no that’s the best part, I’ll do it myself”. And I laughed but nodded because as a crafter I agree that winding the yarn is one of the best parts of the meditative process of yarn crafting. I used to have a swift and winder but I actually got rid of them because I like taking a skein apart and turning it into a ball, each loop wrapped around my knees or occasionally the back of a chair, the stress worked out of me round after round even as the process can tire my muscles.

In a later scene, Alice talks about the war, about how she hated it there and wanted to leave but then came back to nothing. She says, “my security blanket was taken away” and Canyon responds, “maybe that’s why you knit so many blankets”. Maybe indeed.

This yarn-as-therapy aspect of the play wasn’t the dominant theme, but it stood out for me, of course. I thought of so many of the people I’ve interviewed over the years, thought of the stories people have shared for the Mandalas for Marinke project, thought about the ways craft has helped people in the most dire of situations.

The women in the play do not present specifically as dealing with depression. In fact, at one point the character of Maya makes a point of saying that not all homeless people are depressed or “insane”. But they are dealing with PTSD and trauma of all kinds, with addiction, with multiple stressors, and the same symptoms that afflict many of us dealing with depression and anxiety are present in these women throughout the play. In the way that craft has helped us, it helps Alice.

Although this play is about women’s stories, I think of when I interviewed Rod Hardin, an ex-military men using crochet to help him through PTSD. I think of the suicide risks for both veterans and active members of the military. And I think of the many other issues touched upon in the play – homelessness, loss of family, addiction, prostitution – and all of the people I’ve interviewed and read about and worked with who cope with the stress of these things through crafting, who rebuild their self-esteem through knitting and crochet, who get through one more day by getting through one more stitch, one more blanket.

Low Hanging Fruit, by playwright Robin Bradford, is being performed by 3Girls Theatre Company (3GT) at Z Below in San Francisco through July 30, 2016. BUY TICKETS

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San Francisco based and crochet-obsessed writer, dreamer and creative spirit!

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