Ellen Rubin knows knitting is often thought of as a hobby for the elderly, but she believes the craft has something to offer everyone.
“I like to think of myself as the Pied Piper of the therapeutic benefits of knitting and crochet,” she said. “It helps with stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, drug addiction, alcohol addiction and more.”
Her passion for the fiber arts led her to open her store, Luv2Knit & More, in Jenkintown in 2017. Last July, the 52-year-old started her nonprofit, Therapeutic Crafters on Call, to educate volunteers to lead their own knitting and crochet classes.
Rubin’s fascination with knitting’s therapeutic benefits stems from her career as a scientist; she worked as an immunologist for pharmaceutical firms. When a difficult pregnancy put her on bed rest 21 years ago, she taught herself to knit.
She kept her needles moving through the illness of a close friend and during a grueling divorce, finding solace in the meditative activity. She began teaching others and saw how it helped them work through their struggles with anxiety, stress and pain.
She taught a friend who had major surgery and said it helped her through the recovery process when reading and even watching TV were difficult. She volunteered to lead an enrichment program for second-graders and saw how it soothed children coping with emotional issues. She led workshops in her store and at community centers for fatigued health care workers, foster children, children with autism, deaf and blind learners, maternity patients and others, while collecting journal articles and studies about knitting’s ability to help people manage pain and stress.
So what is it about knitting that makes such a difference? Rubin claims it helps the brain produce dopamine and serotonin, hormones that create a sense of pleasure and relaxation.
“It’s not exclusive to knitting, certainly. You get into this meditative state with other things that could be drawing or gardening, but what’s great about knitting and crochet is they’re portable, and most importantly, you make things you can donate and use to help other people,” she said.
Before the pandemic, Rubin taught classes at her store. Now, she holds them over Zoom and offers one-on-one or two-on-one lessons with masks and distancing.
Deborah Glanzberg-Krainin started taking classes with Rubin while dealing with health issues and looking for a creative outlet to make her feel grounded. She said Rubin was a natural educator, which was helpful when she felt confused and out of her element.
“She just made it very inviting and very easy and made me feel like mistakes were a part of the growth,”
Glanzberg-Krainin enjoys the intense focus knitting requires.
“It just calls for absolute attention in the moment, which is a very healing place to be,” she said.
Toni Taterka took up Rubin’s knitting lessons in December. She was looking for something that would help her relax while caring for her elderly mother during the pandemic. She already knew how to knit, but wanted to learn how to use different patterns to make clothing. Now, she’s working on a neck warmer using the knit and purl stitch.
Feeling productive has helped her cope with the monotony of so many hours spent at home.
“The nice thing about knitting is you look at it, you do admire the work you’ve done and you have something to show for it,” she said.
Rubin has taught workshops at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park as well as for Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia.
“They were learning over Zoom, which isn’t necessarily easy, so sometimes if someone wasn’t picking up a certain thing, I actually drove out to that person’s house and sat with them outside before it got too cold and showed them,” she said.
She said meditation and mindfulness play an important role in her Jewish spirituality, and that knitting’s meditative aspects complement prayer and her desire to make the world a better place.
Glanzberg-Krainin and Taterka praised Rubin’s accessible teaching style and her emphasis on embracing mistakes as part of the learning process. Rubin tells her students her teaching abilities stem from 21 years of her own errors.
“I always say to them, ‘You know why I’m really good at fixing mistakes?’ Because I’ve made a lot of them,’” she said.