Writing Life: The Cozy Comfort of Knitting

hand holding knitting needle and yarn

When you find yourself distracted and upset by the outside world, sometimes there’s nothing better than picking up a couple of hefty needles and a skein of soft, bright, bulky yarn.  Read on to hear about how a simple knit stitch project like this comfort shawl can lift your spirits in crazy times.   

March. Not quite winter. Not quite spring. This month is one of the long ones, not just because it has 31 days, but because it is just so between seasons. In northern areas, snow falls one day and rain the next. Every so often the sun brightens a deep blue sky and temperatures rise–only to plummet the next day to freeze the snow-melt in the driveway and dampen our moods. 

Even though I’m living in Southern California where, I have to be honest, the weather is freakishly perfect 350 days out of the 365, in March my spirits seem to dim a bit. This I attribute to a life spent in Maine where the one bright spot in the month is maple syrup season, highlighted on Maple Sunday, which this year will be on March 27. For those of you lucky enough to be in the Great State of Maine on that day, go out for a Sunday drive and visit a couple of sugar houses, pick up a few quarts of syrup, and enjoy the festive spirit. 

One way to combat the tail-end-of-winter blahs, I’ve found, is knitting. There’s just something soothing about the feel of the yarn in the hand. Depending on the dye, the color can either calm a troubled spirit or enliven a depressed one. The rhythm of the action–pushing the tip of a needle through a loop held in place on the other, winding the yarn around, easing it through, slipping the new stitch off–can be as hypnotizing as a ticking clock. (And who even has a ticking clock anymore?) 

Best of all, knitting can give you a sense of control, if only in regards to this one thing in your hands. Set against the challenges of changeable weather, family upheavals, and societal troubles, a handcraft project feels manageable, something over which you have mastery, a skill to be acquired, an art that is both useful and beautiful. 

While knuckling down to a new or complex pattern is certainly an option and a good way to distract a racing or ruminating mind, sometimes you don’t have the bandwidth to follow anything other than simple knit and/or purl instructions. This is why I love the Comfort Shawl. 

A couple of years ago, I learned about comfort shawl projects. People knit simple rectangles of cozy, thick yarns that are then donated to those in need of caring and comfort: Alzheimer’s patients, hospice patients, women in recovery, the homeless. Inspired, I knit a shawl and sent it to a hospice service that helps patients with Alzheimer’s. This was connected to my ghostwriting project, a memoir about a brilliant professor who lived with Primary Progressive Aphasia, a type of Alzheimer’s, for two years before ending his life with dignity. The book, The Last Ten Days: Academia, Dementia, and the Choice to Die, came out in 2019. I will be posting more about that book very soon. 

Later, I started something called The Cozy Butterfly Project. I invited friends and followers to join me in knitting and donating comfort shawls to a women’s recovery center called Safe Harbor House in Springfield, Ohio. My wonderful writing group jumped in, and we all felt uplifted as we worked on the shawls. 

To read an earlier blog post with more on this project, click HERE

After finishing a few shawls and sending them off, I put knitting aside, always meaning to get back to it once I found another organization who could use them. Safe Harbor House was all set for shawls at that point, and I wasn’t sure what to do considering the pandemic and not knowing, at the time, if anyone would even want to accept anything handmade. Still, I picked up a beautiful, bright pink yarn thinking, This will be my next comfort shawl when the time is right. 

Sure enough, last week, I felt the need to pick up those needles, to gather that skein in my fingers, to do some handwork. I have a few ideas in mind for where my Cozy Butterfly Shawls might be a welcome donation, and if anyone is interested in joining me in this project, I’ll be sharing more information here and in my newsletter. 

Or maybe make one for yourself. We all need comfort from time to time. 

Any other knitters/crafters out there? Do you find there are certain times of the year when you want to or NEED to get your mind onto a new craft project? 

Remember to sign up for my newsletter if you haven’t already. I have some VERY exciting news to share very soon, and subscribers will find out FIRST.

I’m also going to be working on a new ‘zine and will find a way to get a pdf to print out and instructions on how subscribers can fold it to make their own “collectible” Cozy Butterfly ‘zine. Yes, I named the ‘zine after the comfort shawl project! 

Leave a comment. I comment back. 

XOXO, Shelley


  1. You’ve inspired me! I need to get going on a new crafting project … I prefer crocheting to knitting. I think it’s because it grows faster. I certainly find the more complex stitches and patterns in crochet more accessible to me, but I do like to challenge myself with knitting too. Spring colors are uplifting!

    1. Yay, Debbie! I so glad this inspired you. I think I have a crochet instruction for the shawls if you are ever interested in that. I just reached out to an organization in Maine (hospice) that I am hoping could use donations of comfort shawls. Yes, we need those spring colors right now!

  2. Yes, I want your newsletter, writing advice, patterns, blog posts, ANYTHING you care to share. I haven’t knitted in a while and I need to get back to it. ☺️

    1. Thanks, Beth Ann! If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter, just go to my homepage and scroll to the bottom, type in your email, and you should get a confirmation email in your inbox. If not, look in spam as that happens every so often for some reason. And yes! Grab those knitting needles. I’m about 1/3 done my comfort shawl, and I’m thinking of adding a deep fringe on the end of this one. So relaxing!

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