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Fiber Art Therapy for Soldiers

Soldiers Knitting from US National Archives


Men knitting is often looked upon as a novelty in the United States. History, though, teaches us that fiber craft was not only done by men, but was introduced to male battle-hardened soldiers as far back as the civil war.  

President Abraham Lincoln created the original National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in March of 1866 to rehabilitate our returning volunteer army (it was renamed the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in January 1873).

Knitting was one of the activities available to many of the men at the original National Homes, and was considered part of their "occupational therapy," along with other productive skills such as cigar making, stocking-weaving, and blacksmithing. The goal, said the Home's Board of Directors, was to help “patients to replace morbid ideas with healthy, normal ones to incite interest and ambition and assist to restore a lost or weakened function either mental or physical.” (I'm sure many a modern-day knitter can relate to this!)

Knitting and Fiber art therapy for soldiers blog post on Global Backyard


Turns out, knitting is still being used as a therapeutic device for some of our soldiers suffering from PTSD. For example, the Milwaukee VA Medical Center has a knitting program that's been active for several years now, with a knitting group meeting weekly. Michael Cooper, a Veteran who has served in both the Marine Corps and the Army, is a member. 

“It’s a little bit of everything. It’s relaxing, it keeps you focused, you don’t think about outside thoughts, you kind of put your passion into it,” said Cooper in a VA blog interview. “It’s kind of hard. It’s a lot of movement and repetition but instead of failing, every row is just another small victory. I had never knitted before until I signed up here,” said the 41-year-old Cooper. “I love it.”

Men, of course, are no longer the only gender that soldiers, and women are also finding fiber art as a balm for trauma. Combat veteran Samantha Nerove served as a Lieutenant Colonel with the U.S. Army and found that crochet helped her both while deployed and as a civilian.

Samantha Nerove -- Interweave January 20, 2022

Samantha Nerove. Photo credit: Interweave, January 20, 2022

"I took my Combat Crochet Basic Load when I deployed to Iraq, thinking crochet would be a nice pastime to keep my mind sharp and my hands busy," she wrote in an Interweave article. "Through hooks, yarn, and thread, crochet kept me company in Iraq, helped assuage the horrors of war, stopped tears of trauma throughout recovery, and continues on the path with me as I journey toward emotional peace, one beautiful crocheted flower at a time," Nerove concluded. 

According to a Piecework Magazine article from 2020, "in a recent report from the Veterans Hospital in Palo Alto, California, veterans consistently cite participation in a knitting group as a preferred coping activity."  

Keep on keeping on, fiber fans -- clearly, you are doing something good for your mental and emotional health. You might also be interested in our blog post on knitting as therapy, here

Sources / Further reading: 

Combat Crochet: A Veteran's Story, Interweave, January 20, 2022

Knit, Purl, Heal, Piecework Magazine, October 28, 2020

Recovering Veterans are a tight-knit group, VAntage Point, September 27, 2018

Chapter 1.1. -- It Mattered Before, Cognitive Anchoring, January 7, 2014

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Wikipedia entry, accessed 3/7/2022

Daily Life at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers,, accessed 3/7/2022.

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