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A novel prescription for knitted brows

Image: knitting

Carissa Ray / msnbc.com

Gene McCreary, 43, of Goshen, Ind. knits a scarf for his mother at a meeting of Yarn Overcomers, aka YO!, a knitting group that aims to help relieve economic stress, at the Goshen Public Library on May 21. "I'm practicing so I can make my girl a real nice scarf," McCreary says of his new craft.

As yarn shop owner Sher Gunden King watched the local economy spiral into recession and so many around her lose their jobs, she racked her brain for a way that she could help.

The answer, as she told msnbc.com's Kari Huus, turned out to be right between her needles: Knitting.

"It is good for self-esteem and it is calming and therapeutic," said Gunden King, who in March joined with other local knitters to launch YO!—Yarn Overcomers. The nonprofit offers free knitting classes to people in the community who need a way to deal with these hard times. (Click here to read the Elkhart Truth's report on the creation of the group.)

Gunden King called around and found space to hold classes. Then she started phoning her contacts in the knitting industry.

The publicity generated when President Barack Obama visited Elkhart in February to push the economic stimulus package helped her drum up support.

When she called Kollage Yarns, in Birmingham, Ala., the owner understood immediately, says Gunden King.

"I started talking, and she said, 'Stop. I know where you are, I know why you're calling, and I'm more than happy to help'," she recalls. Other shops--well known at least among knitters--also stepped up with large donations of yarn and needles.

Cash has been a little harder to come by, so Gunden King is looking for contributions to cover expenses the printing costs for brochures, which they place at mental health and social service facilities.

In eight classes, YO! has attracted a few dozen new knitters — a handful of whom are sticking with it. Among the most avid is Gene McCreary, 43, who was laid off about a year ago as a painter at a construction company and enthusiastically attests to the salutary effects of knitting.

"Bad stuff kept running through my mind, over and over," he said while working on scarf at a YO! gathering in the Goshen Public Library on a recent spring evening. "This keeps my mind off my troubles. … It's been a big help."

The notion that repetitive tasks like knitting and crocheting may be good for the health is gaining credence among medical professionals. A neuroscientist at the Mayo Clinic recently published a study that concluded that such tasks not only can help manage stress and depression, but also may delay memory loss in older people. Other reports suggest knitting and crocheting can help lower blood pressure.

"YO! is developed to help people with depression and anxiety," Gunden King says. "It is in no way trying to replace professional help. … But it is a skill, and a coping mechanism."