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Can making stuff amidst the mayhem REALLY improve our mental health?

Yes, my friends. Yes it really can. Let’s talk about why and give you some places to start (or to continue on, if you are already a crafty sort.)

What can craft do for us (apart from eventually working up a lovely tea cosy or similar?!)

is a Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of South Australia. She’s dug about extensively in the domain of craft and its benefits and notes in a piece she wrote for The Conversation that crafters (in the case of the quote below it was knitters) reported gains such as:

“relaxation; relief from stress; a sense of accomplishment; connection to tradition; increased happiness; reduced anxiety; enhanced confidence, as well as cognitive abilities (improved memory, concentration and ability to think through problems).”

Susan also explains that making things can stave off intrusive thoughts and boost the mood of people living with chronic health conditions such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Anorexia Nervosa. And that’s just for starters.

But WHY does making things help us feel better?

In Susan’s piece she speaks about the lovely feeling of FLOW (which I have written about before). You have most certainly experienced this sense of flow while you’ve been working away at a single task – perhaps writing or knitting or weeding the garden or icing cakes or stitching or carving …

Flow is that happy hum you get when your brain and body are working in sync together creating excellent momentum and getting the task at hand done pleasurably and satisfyingly and to the exclusion of the outside world (handy right now, no?!)

Add an ‘er’ to flow and you get flower, which is a pretty excellent metaphor for what happens when flow kicks in.

Flower – From late 14c. in English as “blossoming time,” also, figuratively, “prime of life, height of one’s glory or prosperity, state of anything that may be likened to the flowering state of a plant.” As “ he best, the most excellent; the best of its class or kind; embodiment of an ideal.”

But flow is not the only feel-good gain craft gives us. Kathryn Vercillo — who has made a career writing about the superpowers of craft — explored the benefits of hand work in a piece she wrote last year. She explained that many crafts are actually forms of something called cross-body therapy. What the heck is that, you may be wondering (I was!)

Cross body therapy describes a type of exercise that uses both hands to carry out a task, crossing the ‘midline’ of the body. Makes sense?

“People struggling with depression and anxiety can benefit from creating new neural pathways in the brain,” Kathryn wrote for website Psych Central.

“Cross-body therapy is one way of building those new pathways. It stimulates neural plasticity. It helps the brain to grow in new ways.”

In other words (asserted by me) making things using both hands is pretty much doing a workout for your brilliant brain. From your couch. Or your shed. Or your backyard. Or your kitchen table.

What if you are bad at it?

Throughout my career many, many, many people have confessed that they are very crappy crafters to me. Some have scoffed at the idea of making things (hello Patricia Karvelas), others have stroppily wished making things was faster (hello one of my children), others still have sent me photos of their perceived ‘failures’ (I promised anonymity).

The thing about any skill is that sometimes it can take a while to gain the skills you need to match your creative dreaming to your creative output. Ira Glass called this The Gap.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

My advice to you is to keep at it and to know that you are doing important work as you have a crack. You’re doing the whole previously mentioned brilliant brain workout for starters. But you’re also clocking up some hours of crafty training (and HOPEFULLY you are perhaps having a little bit of cosy fun too!)

I did not learn to crochet until I was 40 and I cried with frustration as I tried to work it out. Eventually — with the help of friends, YouTube and sheer determination — I got there. What I’m saying is that you might need to ride out a bit of sweary struggling before you get to the bit where you are getting it. The bit where it’s starting to come together, a snippet of flow is kicking in, the thing you are making is developing. It’s worth all the huffy trying.

How to crochet a Fanny Blanket by Pip Lincolne

Where should you begin?

There are so many places to begin, but Pinterest can be a great place to find ideas. There are lots of crafty websites which can teach you how to make things and YouTube is loaded with video how-tos that can teach you to make things.

Normally I would suggest heading into your local craft store for a squiz or taking some real life classes too, but now is not the time for that. Instead start learning and you can polish your skills with an expert later on, if you fancy. Or just be a bit rustic and have-a-go-ish … like me!

Who else is doing it?

So many people in your community are making things in their lounge rooms and sheds and kitchens. There is a giant community of people who love working with their hands and by tapping into these skills you are joining this whopping gang.

You are also tapping into skills that generations have busted out before us. What you are working on may connect you to your grandparents or to their grandparents or to your dad or mum or some very, very distant crafty relative you have never even heard of.

All this connection can be super-bolstering mental-heath wise too. (Unless you hate your crafty grandpa or some such. Then maybe no.)

Further reading …

I suggest you read one of Australia’s favourite craft and lifestyle blogs, Meet Me At Mike’s to keep making things top-of-mind.

Etsy has various craft kits you can buy and/or download and is loaded with inspiration too.

Magazines such as Lunch LadyFrankie, Flow, Peppermint and Mollie Makes all focus on the handmade in varied and interesting ways.

There are twenty-seven billion craft books you could browse too. Why not snap one or two up from your favourite bookseller, if you are in a position to do so? (I’m going to write a story about some of my crafty book recommendations next week!)

Perhaps you have more ideas on favourite crafty or handwork-y reads? Please pop them in the comments below because you might help ignite a crafty spark in someone who is reading this right now!

I’ll see you back here extra-soon with more chatter. I hope you and your family are keeping well. Love to all.

x pip

4 Comments

  • Reply
    Meg
    March 30, 2020 at 10:59 PM

    I have resumed some started-long-ago sunburst grannies in isolation. It feels like a tangible way to express my love for a family member when I can’t see them. Thank you for teaching me to crochet Pip.

  • Reply
    Lisa
    March 28, 2020 at 2:13 PM

    Beautiful post – and I finally learnt how to crochet a granny square last weekend! I am onto square 9. Lets hope there are lots of Nanna rugs ready to enjoy on the other side of this….

  • Reply
    Amy Franks
    March 28, 2020 at 10:58 AM

    Love it! The bit about the gap is so real!!!

  • Reply
    Caitlin Jones
    March 28, 2020 at 10:29 AM

    Learning how to crochet has saved my life. My mental health is eleventy billion times better as a result.
    For any newbies, trawl Instagram hashtags for modern spins on classic patterns… that’s my best tip. And don’t forget to buy patterns where possible to support the makers.
    Thanks for your blog posts, Pip!

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