Why Handwork for the Brain?

When studying Occupational Therapy,  Activity Analysis was introduced to us students as a tool for developing specific treatment intervention plans. It is a method of looking at an activity, and isolating the physical, emotional, cognitive, psychological and social components of the activity.

For example, if someone has difficulties with attention, activities that require attention are built into the intervention program, starting with a minimal expectation for attention, and slowly building the expectation as attention improves. Like-wise, someone could have difficulties with fine motor skills, and activities that require fine motor skills are introduced, slowly grading the difficulty, based on the improving ability of the child/person.

Here I am doing an activity analysis of knitting, using the Uniform Terminology that Occupational Therapists use to analyse activities. A similar analysis could be done for spinning, sewing or weaving, with the differences being in the specific movement required of the hands.

Sensorimotor skills require:

Sensory processing

  • tactile
  • proprioception
  • visual

Perceptual processing 

  • Right left discrimination –
  • Position in Space –


  • range of motion
  • strength
  • endurance
  • postural control (core stability for refined distal movements)
  • Bilateral integration – using both hands together
  • Praxis – conceiving and planning a new motor act.
  • Fine dexterity – control of small muscle group
  • Visual Motor Integration – coordinating the interaction of information from the with body movement during activity.

Cognitive components:

  • Attention – focusing on a task over time
  • Memory – recalling information after a short or long period of time.
  • Sequencing – placing information, concepts and action in order
  • Spatial operations – mentally manipulating and position of objects in relation to each other.
  • Problem solving – recognizing a problem, defining the problem and fixing it, and evaluating the outcome.
  • Learning – acquiring new concepts and skills.
  • Generalization – applying learned concepts and behaviors to a variety of new situations.


  • Values – identifying ideas or beliefs that are important to self and others. (for example handmade, home-made, recycling, natural fibers, local crafts etc)
  • Interests – identifying physical or mental activities that create pleasure or maintain attention.
  • Self concept – developing the value of the physical, emotional and social self.


  • social conduct – interacting by using manners, personal space, eye contact, gestures, active listening and self-expression appropriate for one’s environment.
  • self-expression – using a variety of styles and skills to express thoughts, feelings and needs.

Self management

  • coping skills – identifying and managing stress and related factors
  • self-control – modifying ones own behavior in response to environmental needs, demands, constraints, personal aspirations, and feedback from others.
  • emotional regulation –
  • executive function

That is a lot!

So many parts of the brain can be used when learning to knit and becoming a  skilled knitter. And each person will have different challenges and reasons to love knitting, their own unique mix of what their strengths and difficulties are. Knitting uses many parts of the brain and integrates different parts of the brain.

I do feel it necessary to state that I am not aware of scientific studies done to demonstrate the therapeutic effect of knitting on the brain. My Activity Analysis here is based on personal experience and observation and discussion with other knitters. I am drawing on my OT skills of activity analysis and applying them to knitting.

The Sensorimotor cortex of the human brain

The Sensorimotor cortex of the human brain.

Notice how much of the motor area  (red) is assigned to controlling movement in the hands.


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