KNITTING cast off its fuddy-duddy image long ago. In a time when ‘artisan’ has become a buzzword, knitting is recognised as a way to create something unique, and a medium for self-expression for young and old alike.

The rise of guerrilla knitting, or yarn bombing – a form of artistic but temporary knitted grafitti – has even seen knitting used as a subversive way to decorate, personalise or celebrate public spaces.

Now it turns out knitting might even save NHS funds. A report called The Health Benefits of Knitting – backed by a survey of over a thousand knitters – provides evidence-based research showing that knitting lowers blood pressure, induces a sense of well-being, distracts from chronic pain, counters depression, slows the onset of dementia and can be continued into extreme old age, despite deafness, loss of sight or reduced mobility.

Enthusiastic Swindon knitters Tracey Major and Suzy Cowper – fresh from yarn bombing Isambard Kingdom Brunel with a glorious cloak of a thousand poppies for Remembrance Day – endorse the conclusions of the report, published by Knit For Peace.

“When I sit down in the evening, it’s the only way I can switch off,” Tracey said.

“You are not thinking about anything. It’s a bit of a puzzle, but it’s nothing too perplexing and stressful. You are just thinking knit and purl,” Suzy described.

“If it’s something quite difficult, you shut out the world and focus on what you are doing. It’s very mindful,” Tracey added.

Suzy, 44, a mother-of-three who is a knitting pattern designer, said she had suffered from depression and received counselling and life coaching. She realised she had to make more friends in the area and do more things for herself.

“I thought I had no time to do things for myself, but I had to find a way. And when I found time for knitting it helped. My stress levels go down and I started feeling better. When I knit, I am not focused on negativity.”

Both women are keen members of Swindon Stitch and Bitch, a knitting and crochet group that meets every Monday at the Manor Farm pub in Haydon Wick. The group is full of passionate knitters, who enjoy a chance to share ideas and skills, work together on projects and spend some social time together.

Tracey, 50, a mother of two, who helps run BASCS, a bathroom and shower business in Swindon, said: “The most important thing is the social side. There’s a core of about 18 of us. We take our own knitting but also have projects on the go.”

As well as Brunel’s cloak, the group created knitted Easter bunnies, eggs and chicks for Lydiard Park at Easter this year. They also knitted Pokemons and put them in Lydiard Park and around Coate Water last year.

“We all get very excited about what we are going to do, and people are very enthusiastic,” Tracey said. “We explain and provide information, and patterns. It’s nice for us all to come together and to do a project, and raise awareness and money for charities.

“We knitted a bra for Breast Cancer Awareness and the Easter one was for Swindon Mind. We did a knitted garden in the Brunel Centre for Prospect.”

The knitting group was set up 12 years ago by Caz Caple, who wanted to learn to knit. They started off in a town centre café then moved to the pub.

“The pub puts up with us every week – and we’re quite loud and rowdy!” Suzy said.

They currently have only women members, but men are very welcome to join and they did have one man in the not too distant past.

“He was in his 20s – and he was a fantastic knitter – really amazing,” Tracey said.

Members share skills and are happy to teach newcomers. Even complete beginners can turn up and be assured they will receive a helping hand.

As well as knitting, members do crochet, cross stitch and other crafts. They have also organised group outings to craft-related destinations – such as the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace.

“It’s not just knitting we talk about at the meetings,” Suzy said. “We have all different ages in the group, lots of different backgrounds and experiences, so when people exchange stories, they know what they are talking about.

“My family do not live close by so this is a way of having a family. We have a common interest in the crafts.”

The Health Benefits of Knitting report was researched and published by a charity called Knit for Peace. They distribute hand-knitted items to those who need them most.

They provide an outlet for 20,000 knitters in the UK, who make blankets and clothes for refugees from Syria and Iraq in Kurdistan, street children in India, and homeless projects and hospitals in the UK.

Knit for Peace started as an income generation project for Hutu and Tutsi widows, victims of the Rwandan genocide and civil war. They knitted school jumpers for the many orphans, and Knit for Peace paid them by raising the funds through featuring the project in the Good Gifts Catalogue.

A similar project brought together Hindu and Muslim women in the slums of Delhi, and the idea spread to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan.

Their report concludes that knitting saves the NHS and care providers money, because for the over-60s, knitting makes them feel more resilient and better able to cope.

Knitting for others makes them feel part of the community, still of use and less socially isolated. So it seems the benefits of knitting are universal – whether you are a widow in Rwanda, an isolated older person, or a creative yarn bomber with a desire to splash colour around the town.

The Swindon S&B group’s next project is a Christmas yarn bomb in Swindon – but the details are being kept under wraps.

“We’re not knitters – we’re yarn magicians!” Suzy said. - Sarah Singleton