Guest Post: Why Knitting is Good for Us by Melisa Nielsen

I have known Melisa for quite some time through homeschooling our children with her lovely Waldorf curriculum when they were little. Today, Melisa is sharing her very inspiring story here about how knitting has helped her overcome a brain injury after having an accident a few years ago. She is also sharing a sweet little Waldorf inspired gnome pattern with us.

In Melisa’s words:

There aren’t many things that we do where we can say we love it intensely and it is actually good for us – baking is good but can be naughty, same with cooking – of course they are balms for the soul in other ways. But, knitting, knitting does something that most other crafting can’t. It can heal the brain.

Steiner knew that knitting was a great way to get both sides of the brain going and that it was helpful in helping young children calm and retain their academic work. Waldorf school first graders learn to knit and at home we can bring the same skills (and more!) to our children.

In “Waldorf Education: A Family Guide”, Eugene Schwartz, says that Steiner’s wisdom on knitting confirms recent neurological research on fine motor skills stimulating cellular brain development.

He also says:

“What occurs when a child sets about to knit? Needles are held in both hands, with each hand assigned its respective activity; laterality is immediately established, as well as the eye’s control over the hand.

The right needle must enter a fairly tightly-wound loop of yarn on the left needle, weave through it and pull it away, in  the process tying a knot.  Only a steady controlled hand can accomplish such a feat, so the power of concentration is aroused – indeed, there is no other activity performed by seven or eight year-olds that can evoke such a degree of attentiveness as knitting.  This training in concentration will go far in supporting problem-solving abilities in later years.”

About four years ago, I was in an accident and suffered a brain injury. I wish I could say the concussion was sustained by some magnificent flying trapeze act, but alas, it was just a fall that happened to occur too close to a brick wall.  We had no insurance at the time, but a dear friend that was a nurse practitioner, she did some initial triage and sent me home to bed.  Later in the week I saw our chiropractor for the first time and he warned me to take it slow.

Those who know me, know that these are not easy orders and I generally tend to fight! But I hurt. My speech was slurred and my eye was bruised and my head pounded.  I didn’t have much choice but to slow down. God knows what He is doing.  Our chiro told me to expect a recovery spanning a few months and that I shouldn’t drive or carry our little one for at least a month.  He ordered me to weekly visits to have cranial sacral work done on my head and neck.

I went home from the doctor frustrated.  That night I spent a lot of time in prayer asking for help.  I don’t have time to be down. I love what I do and my work is what brings life to our business. I felt a mantel of peace rush through my body and a still, small voice reminding me to work on my son’s sweater and directing me back to Eugene’s words. Eugene’s words took me directly to Steiner and then to my knitting basket to get busy on Sam’s sweater.  It was already November and the cold would be coming.  This sweater was to be his winter coat.  I ran purple-blue-green yarn through my fingers and I got busy.  The more I knit, the less I hurt. The more I knit, the better my speech got.  With each knitting session, I could almost feel my brain stitching itself back together.

The next week I went back to the chiropractor and told him what I had done.  He chuckled in disbelief and had me lay down on the table. It didn’t take but a moment for him to say “tell me that story again??

What are you doing to heal your brain?”  I sat up and told him.  He had never knit before so I explained the actions involved and he was stunned.  I continued to come back each week but after a month he was so impressed with my recovery that he released me to monthly care. He tells all his patients now with brain injuries to take up knitting.

The side effect of course was that I finished the sweater in record time.  It now is a favorite piece for our youngest who is just starting to wear it as her winter coat.  I still get migraines from time to time and my vision gets a little wonky in that eye when I am under stress, but picking up those knitting needles gets all those pieces stitching back together again, stitch by stitch.  Row by row.


gnome Melisa

Gnome Pattern

Melisa’s Gnome Pattern:

The pattern is VERY simple and came from my early Waldorf days when all I knew how to do was cast on/off and decrease! At the time I didn’t have any felt to make gnomes with and I wanted so badly to make something and have it look decent!  This pattern was born from those early days.  I love the simplicity and the fact that it can easily be made in any yarn weight from the smallest little sock yarn gnome to a giant bulky yarn gnome.

This one is from worsted weight wool on #9 needles.

Materials needed:

Yarn in whatever color and gage you prefer

needles in the appropriate size for your yarn

some undyed wool roving to stuff with.


BO – Bind off


Cast on 26 stitches

Knit 18 rows

Row 19: BO first 6 stitches knit to end of row

Row 20: BO first 6 stitches knit to end of row

Knit 6 rows Bo

Finishing Instructions:

Sew up the top so it looks like a cap.

Weave your needle up and down to gather up the neck and then stitch down the neck edges of the cape.

Stuff your gnome with undyed wool and he should stand on your nature table for many years!

Links for Melisa:

Walforf Essentials Blog

Waldorf Essentials Store


Melisa Nielsen is a Waldorf homeschooling mom of five and co-owner of Waldorf Essentials.  She has a fantastic program for Waldorf homeschool teacher training called Thinking, Feeling, Willing.  For more information visit her website at

Thank you so much for sharing your very inspiring story here with us today Melisa and for your very sweet Gnome pattern.

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20 Responses to Guest Post: Why Knitting is Good for Us by Melisa Nielsen

  1. Rachel {Little Woodlanders} January 5, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    What an amazing story! it’s pushed me a little further to wanting to learn to knit someday! I also didn’t know it was so good for kids’ brains. I’ll have to learn to knit in the next couple years so I can teach my daughter who is now 5.

    • Linda January 5, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

      It is, isn’t it Rachel! I can’t wait to teach my little Kye how to knit, I think he will love it!!

  2. Woolies January 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    I love this story. I learned to knit as a little girl, and then came back to it in my 30’s. Now I cannot imagine a day going by without the ease and comfort of watching, feeling, and loving what grows on my knitting needles. It is therapy, I’ve told many a friend that. I’m not the least surprised that it can heal a brain injury. So happy for you Melisa!

  3. Pam Tocornal January 6, 2013 at 12:23 am #

    What a wonderful story. I am so pleased you have had such a good recovery with such enjoyable medicine. Chiropractors must be very different in South Africa. I’m not certain one would touch a patient here with a brain injury. Here is the U.S. hoping you continue to improve. I find Linda and her friends to be remarkable young women.

    • Linda January 6, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

      It is such a lovely story Pam, Melisa lives with her family in the US.

  4. Ellisen January 6, 2013 at 2:11 am #

    My 6 yr old granddaughter wants to learn to knit, but I know she doesn’t have the patience yet. As soon as she does, knitting we will do! Thanks so much for Melisssa’s story and sweet gnome.

  5. Barbara January 6, 2013 at 5:10 am #

    Inspiring. I wish I had known this when I was having severe balance problems. Instead of putting off everything, I could have picked up my needles and possible have saved a lot of time and expense on physical therapy.

  6. January 6, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Thank you for every beautiful word of your story. It is wonderful how those experiences that look from the outside to be “the worst thing that could have happened” turn out to be “the best thing” because our eyes are opened in a new way. It all depends on what we choose to do with our devastating moments. As a Handwork teacher for many years and a lover of knitting, I will pass your story to others.

    • Linda January 6, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

      Thank you so much for passing on the story to others Megan.

  7. Michelle Ramirez January 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    This is a wonderful example of how my profession started. I am an Occupational Therapist and in school we were taught crafts such as embroidery, pottery, knitting, Andorra along side the science and medicine. Now with insurance and reimbursement dictating therapy services, these wonderful activities have been left to the wayside! I know and believe many people lead imbalanced lives because when they suffer an injury, such as hers, they are left with loss and no skill to practice to “heal” their bodies. Thank you for sharing this story! Maybe it will inspire others to learn a new hobby-at any age.

  8. Julie January 6, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    This story was very moving to me for two reasons. My son sustained a very serious brain injury sixteen years ago. I am always interested to hear recovery stories. I work as an Occupational Therapy assistant in a school system. Whenever possible I incorporate knitting, finger knitting, finger weaving into treatment. This is almost always a positive experience for my students. I only wish we had more time to work together on knitting.

  9. Melisa Nielsen January 6, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    Thank you all for the great comments.

    The accident happened in Idaho and we had no insurance. My chiropractor was ever so gentle and did special cranial work called Cranial Sacral Therapy. Not all chiropractors know it. I was so blessed to know him at the time. We now live in Utah and make the drive to see him every few months.

    My overall recovery has been great. I can’t watch 3D movies and the action of chewing gum doesn’t feel great after a while, lol, but other than that and a few headaches when I am under extreme stress, I am doing great.

    I work with parents in my consulting practice and many have children with injury or they are on the autism spectrum in some way, I am always suggesting knitting as a calming influence. My own son on the spectrum is 16 years this month and he enjoys knitting more than any other handwork. It calms his brain and soothes his nerves.

    Thank you again for the great comments. Blessings to you all.

    • K January 9, 2013 at 10:36 am #

      Hey! I’m in Utah, too!

  10. K January 6, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    Dearest Linda – I have crashed here on the couch, nursing a sinus headache. Or perhaps the flu. Not sure exactly what. But enough to keep me from church, from bustling about trying to tuck away Christmas, from doing doing doing. This is a blessing, though, you know – the thing about The Lord making me to lie down beside the still waters? Evidently, if it takes a miserable headache, that’s how it’s done. I have written very little of anything and read nothing for the past two months. When I say it like that, I wonder where, exactly, I have been through all these days. In movement. Every second, evidently.

    I am having to use this strategy today: go back and read everything I have missed, but comment on it all – all at once. I don’t like to do that. I like to comment on every thing so that it’s like a conversation, and personal. But I can’t. My eyes hurt too much. I hope you don’t mind.

    As I scroll back through your last two months’ posts, I am struck by so many things – by your constant sense of wonder and your gratitude in the moment, first and foremost. By the eyes you have open to the beauty of the world you have been given, and your faithfulness in tending it, enlarging it, nurturing it. By the way you treasure the people in your life, and how you greet strangers with hope and generosity. And, of course, by how your rejoicing in all of these things erupts into process, and small things fall from your hands the way blessings fall from the heavens –

    I was shocked by your hail. I should have thought to look at the date. Teje also had huge snow, uncharacteristic for her home, and so did we – so early in the season as to be astonishing – that broke so many of our trees.

    I love the design of the donkey. It’s very like the design I finally ended up with for my own horses – that neat, symmetrical spine, and the additional stitches that build the muscle of the shoulder. Makes for such a nice roundness. I don’t know if you do a little increasing to shape the rump of the animal, too? I settled on doing that, just a touch of increase and decrease, and it helped keep the roundness. Your donkey is a very clean, very satisfying shape indeed.

    All of your things are wonderful, of course. And I loved the tutorial – the donkey sewing up one. I usually do everything flat from the right side, in ladder stitch. But when I realized what you were doing, I was excited, and the tiny lion (your pattern) I have on my needles now will get that treatment. Looks WAY more fun than what I do.

    Your Christmas images were so warm and I love to watch your family grow and learn together. I worried about them in the green pool – (not seriously) – but I REALLY worried about the girls in the park pond/lake – in Florida, where they have alligators, you have to be careful even in private yards – people have lost pets in unbelievably tiny low spots filled with rain water, even in their gardens because the alligators get into them. They even get into the water rides at Disneyworld, and the ride shuts down so that the gators can be snagged and removed. And any low public places have fences around them.

    Let’s see – a million other things. Your garden. The animals. The park you went to latest was so clean and beautiful. Our zoo up north is nice, but nothing close to that.

    It’s reassuring to see the mounds of rectangles you were sent for the blanket. It’s a thing I constantly feel – how we are able to take time, which only exists in motion and is invisible, and love, and actually turn those two things, by the work of our hands, into something tangible that can reach forward even when we are not there, to give physical comfort to people who need it. If you knew how many ponies I have made this year for that reason – mostly bereavement – you would be sad. So I don’t count them, because if I did, I would be amazed that this year has brought so much upheaval and pain to so many different people I know, and in different countries. It makes me feel a little tired. I am not equal to the opportunity to love.

    This story interested me very much. This one about knitting and brain injury. It makes total sense, of course. And the fact that she came to it through earnest prayer impresses me deeply. I’m going to have to link to it.

    I’m going to go back and limply click through the Creative Fridays. I don’t feel like reading a book, and certainly not like cleaning or doing anything useful. So I’ll torture myself with creative ideas – actually, its more like standing in a gentle rain.

    I hope you forgive me for the long silence. Our Christmas was strange – because it’s not the Christmas we’ve been used to for the last twenty years, with the kids here all at once, and everybody up on Christmas morning – waiting on the stairs. But it was lovely in its new and fragmented, episodic nature. Still dear. And I am slow to put all of the things away.

    Here we are having an uncharacteristically freezing winter. The horses have frost all over their faces every morning, and the two to three inch ice has to be broken up in the trough after every night. Pipes have frozen. Without a break. It’s a little stunning and not at all pleasant. But it does allow you to stay inside without feeling like you’re missing the beauty outside – for a while. I do not take the outside Christmas lights down until after January. These long, frigid, dark nights are so heart-sucking, I believe the lights have a job to do against all that.

    And I guess, this is the end of my two month long comment. Oh – except for the potatoes. I had a roommate once whose parents kept a HUGE garden – like you do – and planted potatoes. I had never ever in my life seen a harvest like that. I was invited to help, and found that finding potatoes is one of my favorite things ever – a REAL easter egg hunt, an amazement and delight – that small bits can turn into food. So many of us in these “civilized” countries of ours have forgotten the basic truths of mortal life. And maybe if we did more planting and harvesting, we’d understand the real characteristics of life, the order, the reward, the joy – more clearly.

    thank you for what you do, and for sharing the images and the words. You are remarkable, and I always think of you as a blessing in my life.


  11. emma January 7, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    Incredible story! cute little Gnome pattern. Thanks to you both, Linda and Melisa for sharing

  12. Sheila January 9, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    Hi, Thanks for the wonderful story and post. Knitting seems to always create a positive affect on my mood. Nice gnome project, could we see sweater/coat, too? It sounds wonderful! 🙂

    • Melisa Nielsen January 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

      Sure! I will take a picture if the sweater today and send it to Linda.


  13. Julie January 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Melisa~ Your message truly touch my heart…I had tears in my eye when reading. I’m so happy for you that you naturally found a way to heal yourself…what a blessing <3 Thanks so much for sharing that PRECIOUS story. Tenderly, ~Julie xo

    • Melisa Nielsen January 12, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

      Thank you Julie! And everyone that has posted. I was so glad to be able share. Blessings to everyone.


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