Is winter leaving you feeling a little tired and stressed? Need something to take your mind off the fact that it’s freezing and cold outside? Perhaps a hobby is required; one that is beneficial to both your wardrobe and your physical health. The answer? Pick up those needles and get knitting.

While our grandmothers clearly knew all about this for years, these days knitting is enjoying a renaissance as more evidence becomes available about the health benefits of crafts such as crochet and knitting. Apparently the repetitive motions involved in knitting and crocheting create something called the ‘relaxation response’, lowering blood pressure and heart rate in a similar way to yoga, Tai Chi and meditation.

So profound is this relaxation response that a study by the Harvard Medical School Mind and Body Institute found that when a woman is knitting or crocheting, her heart rate can drop by up to 11 beats per minute! Little wonder that a number of health organisations are now promoting the benefits of knitting and crochet to people who live with stress or chronic illness. I remember watching my grandmother knit; it was as if she could switch on a special auto-pilot button in her brain and find a perfect knitting rhythm where thought wasn’t really required and she could conduct a conversation or watch television, while her hands just worked away on whatever she was creating. Aside from all the health benefits, knitting can be good for your wardrobe (and wallet) too. And best of all, you don’t have to be an expert to give it a go.

Scarves, mittens, beanies and blankets are all achievable projects for beginners. And unlike dress-making or sewing, knitting is very accessible, all you need is some yarn and a pair of needles and you’re ready to start creating your own woollen accessories. It’s a great creative outlet and the feeling you get when you’ve made something truly unique and personal is very satisfying. Creating or receiving something handmade is very special. I will always treasure the knitted patchwork blanket my yia yia made me (she made one for each of her grandchildren) and the beautiful cardigan that she made for my mother (which I now own). And I will always remember how as a child I literally had dozens of pairs of ‘sosonia’-knitted ankle socks in a myriad of colours-that I wore around the house during winter.

So how do you get started? Well if you’ve never knitted before it’s important to start with something achievable, so choose a very basic pattern-a scarf is perfect because it’s just knitting in a straight line. Then get your hands on some thick yarn (there are some truly beautiful options out there) and some big chunky needles. It’s definitely easier to learn with thicker wool and bigger needles, it’s less fiddly and if you make mistakes they won’t be as obvious. Also, if you want to see results faster, big wool is the way to go- trust me, it took me seven years to finish my first knitted scarf because the needles and yarn were so light and delicate it took me days to knit a couple of rows.

If you can ask a friend or relative to teach you, it’s a great way to learn. Both my grandma and then my mother taught me how to knit, but I always had to get them to cast on and off for me. I also had a knitting book, but I found it too hard to follow, in the end the internet came to the rescue. It was YouTube which taught me how to knit again this year. The internet is an absolute goldmine for teaching yourself how to do things; there are hundreds of knitting websites out there featuring ‘how to’ videos, instructions, tips and free patterns. There are also forums where you can discuss your knitting and websites where you can find local knitting groups that you can join. So what are you waiting for? Grab those needles and get knitting.