The knitting artifact: Neuroscience and knitting

– Emma Palmer-Cooper

As we move forward with our literature review we are discovering all the weird and wonderful journal articles that are related to our key search words of ‘knitting’.  Everything from knitted textiles for wearable technology, to engineering articles about knitted glass.

However, the most interesting but unrelated article by far, for me at least, was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry in 2003, titled ‘Knitting artifact‘. In this article colleagues Papathanasiou, Myrianthopoulou, and Papacostas detail the discovery of a knitting specific EEG (electroencephalogram) reading. These readings are made by placing a cap on the patients head, and sensors in the cap measure and record electrical brain activity, such as when neurons fire to communicate with each other. These sensors also detect activity such as eye blinks and facial muscle movement. Artifacts are ‘spikes’ of apparent activity which are not related to brain activity or muscle movement.

The authors of this paper noticed that there were regular ‘ pikes’ of activity recorded in a patient having an EEG scan whilst knitting. As there was no evidence of eye blinks or other facial movements occurring at the time of these spikes, they decided to investigate further.


The Knitting Artifact as seen on an EEG

The concluded that this spike may be‘the wool being knitted by the patient caus[ing] a build-up of static electricity either on the knitting needles or on the wool itself. During the transfer of the stitch from one needle to the other, the tapping of the needles together may cause the release of this static electricity and allow it be recorded on the EEG.’

And there we have it. A knitting artifact.

Whilst many readers of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry may have found this anecdote amusing, I have thought about how this might relate to future research from the Yarnfulness Project.  If we were to conduct a study that required participants to knit whistle undergoing an EEG procedure, we would have to take this artifact into account and make sure it did not interfere with our EEG results.

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