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Cozy and calming: Health benefits of knitting and sewing

Casting on, winding yarn and clacking needles yield multiple health benefits

Getting Ready For Winter created by the Atlanta Knitting Guild at Scarecrows in the Garden at the Botanical Garden.

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Although researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have applied AI to knitting patterns and designs, it’s the old-fashioned hobby that does the most good for nurses.

Simply casting on, winding yarn and clacking needles yield multiple health benefits, from increased cognitive functioning to making people feel calm and happy, according to one study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy.

Knitting advocacy group Knit for Peace, based in the United Kingdom, performed a review of previous studies and a survey of knitters. Its conclusion? There’s solid scientific evidence showing knitting lowers blood pressure, slows dementia, “distracts from chronic pain” and “reduces depression and anxiety.”

For nurses, though, the most beneficial aspect of therapeutic knitting could be the way it fights burnout, as determined by a member of the nursing profession. California nurse practitioner Lyndsay Anderson performed the groundbreaking research that showed knitting combated “compassion fatigue” in oncology nurses.

The more overwhelmed her nurse study subjects felt, the more knitting helped. "It's not a huge investment and it can be a great outcome–all at your own pace," Anderson told U.S News and World Report.

Yarning for Ewe owner Maansi Shah can vouch for all of those benefits and added one more: “Knitting helps with the mindfulness that is so important for nurses and other people who give to others all day,” said Shah, who teaches knitting and creates a community hub at the store in Atlanta. “When you’re on your feet the whole day and then tend to take the stress of work home with you, knitting’s a way to do something for you. You can’t focus on something else if you’re sitting there knitting, looking at your pattern.”

Some Atlanta-area nurses are whizzes with knitting. Nurse Tara Fankhauser was highlighted by ABC News in 2017 for the elaborate Halloween costumes she knits for babies in the NICU at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, for example. Brittany Newberry, who earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and dual masters in public health and nursing retired to run a knitting business, Knit Witch, in Blue Ridge.

But you don't have to go that far to benefit from knitting, Shah emphasized. "Everyone starts somewhere, and you will be good at anything once you put time and energy into it." But even if your first knitted shawl has visible knots or that thing that will probably be a scarf just keeps getting longer, the health benefits are still going to accrue. "We keep doing what we do over and over again, and it creates new neuro-pathways and helps with fine motor skills," Shah added. "Knitting is a fine motor skill. It's a wonderful thing."

Volunteer to knit in the Atlanta area

The Atlanta Knitting Guild gathers people who love knitting. Its current charity projects include:

Preemie baby items for Northside Hospital

Trauma bears for the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy

The group meets both via Zoom and in person, including Superstar Weekend on October 15-17 with the “Knitting Enabler” and instructor Lorilee Beltman. Beltman will be in Atlanta to teach five in-person classes covering techniques from color work to cabling to cast-ons. Each class is limited to 24 students. Class fees are $50 for the public and $40 for AKG members. You can sign up here.

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