Today let’s talk about how craft can be good for your health. I mean … it offers us so much … physically, emotionally, socially and phsychologically. I put out a call to my Facebook page for some stories about how crafting is helpful, and was not disappointed by the response. Some stories are my own, some are other people’s but it’s heartening to see how many people use craft for both physical and mental health benefits.
One of these articles listed some of the health benefits of crafting, and I agree wholeheartedly with this list. I’ve added a few of my own observations, and some stories.
One of the recommended activities for dealing with stress is meditation, but personally I find I can’t shut my brain off and just sit motionless to mediate. I can, however, achieve the desired result via crochet or cross stitch. There’s something about the gentle reptition, the sound of a ball of yarn unravelling or thread being drawn through cloth that is incredibly soothing. It allows me to completely tune out and stop thinking about all the things piling up on my ‘to do’ list or the situation that is causing the stress. It may be a different craft for you, but it’s worth finding that thing that soothes your mind.
2. Stress Relief
I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have periods of stress in their lives. Danielle sent me this story …
Crafting, and in particular stamping and colouring in seems to melt away the bad days I sometimes have in a stressful trade role. By day, (and let’s face it, by nights too because it’s never ending) I’m an electrician who manages domestic and commercial clients for a contracting firm while also having to complete work on the tools. It’s nice to have a wind down activity at the end of the day that still occupies my hands, as I like being busy. My days can be extra challenging in my male dominated field, and are compounded by the symptoms of Endometriosis on top of my demanding days.
3. Increased Happiness
This is another one I can related to personally. I am happiest when I am up to my neck in craft. It might be a wander through my local fabric shop, a day out with my Mum or some friends at a big craft show, or just being in the middle of a craft project at home. It makes me so happy to be making something beautiful (bonus points if it’s also practical). I distinctly remember spending 10 hours straight in front of Netflix last year, binge watching Brooklyn Nine Nine as I painted a 1m square quilt panel for a magazine project. Mixing colours and getting right into the flow … it was a glorious day.
4. Reduced Anxiety
This one may require tissues … fair warning! Amy shared her story with me, and it’s incredible.
On Feb 2012 my 8 yo daughter – my only child – was diagnosed with cancer after experiencing frequent headaches over a short while originally thought to be migraines as migraines run in my family. She has had surgery, radiotherapy & high level chemotherapy and is thankfully in remission but lost most of her hearing & has some balance problems – weakness on her LHS ie: cannot use stairs nor run nor ride a bike etc. – and had (and still has) physiotherapy so she could learn to walk again. She spent most of 2012 in hospital & I lived there with her & only went home briefly on occasion. When I went home, I used to stamp images to colour whilst I was in hospital and also took in diecut decoupage (paper tole) specifically made for cards & put the pieces together with foam squares. I also took in my knitting after not having knitted for many years and knitted a blanket and a scarf for my daughter. I would knit at all odd hours & it helped calm me & helped me go to sleep.
Sometimes I would take in some paper pads, a few stamps and a drawing pad & pencil and sketch out card designs & try and design multiple cards using the same products. It was so soothing for my battered soul to have pretty things to look at & to touch & to think creatively in amongst all the stress and fear and anxiety. It was like a healing balm. You never don’t think about cancer when you have gone through something like this & you always fear that the cancer may return – but I can always turn to my crafting to give my brain a much needed break & it brings me alot of joy. Even though we continue to spend time at hospital seeing Specialists, I can always bring some craft along to make the time pass more quickly. And the great thing is that my daughter (who is now in Year10) also brings along knitting & other craft to appointments as well. She even takes her knitting to school because she finds that it calms her. It is hard for her at school to be “different” to other kids & to have disabilities & has an Aide to help her – and crafting for her is a means to escape the anxiety. She even started making cards which she puts in a box at school for teachers/staff to buy to raise money for the Royal Children’s Hospital – so I am really proud of her to look to her crafting to give back to the hospital who saved her life many times over due to infections when her immune system was severely compromised.
5. Enhanced Confidence
Many years ago I taught folk art classes in a little church hall to a small group of ladies. One of the girls in my class didn’t have a whole lot of confidence, and there were days when I wondered if I would be able to teach her the techniques she wanted to learn. But working together I was able to show her how to get gorgeous results, and she absolutely ran with it! It was incredible to watch her confidence grow, and before long she was painting pieces of furniture for a lady who sold them in a party plan setting. Gaining confidence in one area of your life … it’s kind of contagious, and I watched as she took on situations and challenges with new confidence. It made me realise that one little confidence boost can change your life.
6. Connection to Tradition
Sometimes life moves so fast, and there’s always so much to do, that I think we get swept up in the current of modern day life, and perhaps start feeling a little lost. It may be a cultural or family tradition … and old tradition or starting a new one. One of my favourite moments was when I was able to sit with my mother and my grandmother, all of us crocheting together. That connection was very special, and was another tradition that we could share together.
7. A Sense of Accomplishment
I remember many years ago, when I was teaching craft classes in that little church hall, we had a sewing night. I planned to teach how to install a zipper, and only one lady turned up to class that night. It turned out most people didn’t come because they thought it was too hard, or, incredibly, because they didn’t know how to put in a zipper (which was the whole point of the class!). That one lady who did come was pretty nervous and adamant that she wouldn’t be able to do it … she almost packed up and left. I told her we’d do some practice exercises to make the process easier … a little trickery on my part. Within 20 minutes I had walked her through the entire process, and she had successfully installed a zipper into a seam. I will never forget how excited and proud of herself she was feeling at the end of the night. She had done something she thought impossible, and that sense of accomplishment led to her sewing some incredible pieces.
8. Cognitive Benefits (memory, concentration, problem solving)
About 10 years ago, a friends daughter was struggling at school. Her short term memory was poor, she couldn’t concentrate for long, and she had trouble with spacial awareness. One day she saw me working on an embroidery hoop and asked if she could try. I saw an opportunity to engage her with some craft, and wondered if it would be helpful at all. The next time I saw her, I had traced a favourite cartoon character of hers onto some fabric, put it in a hoop, and I showed her how to do a basic back-stitch. Oh my goodness. She sat and worked on that embroidery hoop for over an hour … not bad for a kid who struggled to concentrate. By repeating just the one embroidery stitch over and over for that time, it was able to latch into her long term memory, and she still remembers how to do it now. After about 20 minutes of embroidering, she got a knot, and so we discussed how she might solve that problem … which she did. As I looked at her project I noticed that the further she went along, her stitches became more uniform in length … hello spacial awareness. I swear … embroidery hoops should be in every occupational therapists office! She still enjoys embroidery, which makes me very happy indeed.
9. Making Friends (social)
As a kid, it’s pretty easy to make friends. You just walk up to someone and ask if they want to play. As an adult, it can be a little more difficult. What do you say? Who has the time? For crafty folk, getting out to a craft show, or a local class, or community group … even joining an online community based around your craft of choice, is a great way to meet new people and make friends. You’re all there because you have something in common, and I find that just in general chatting people bond, then arrange to meet up outside of the group … and friendships are made.
10. Physical Benefits
I was reading an interesting article regarding craft during WWI. Knitting not only picked up a shortfall in government uniforms issued to soldiers, it also helped those at home feel useful. It provided the soldiers serving overseas with some comforts from home (hence the phrase ‘comforts’ referring to home-knitted socks, mittens and balaclavas).
Another excellent example of how people have used craft and creativity during hardships is known as Trench Art. This falls into 3 main categories.
1. Items made by soldiers to pass the time, remind them of home, stave off boredom and especially as part of their recuperation after injury (diversional therapy and skill development).
2. Items made by POWs using limited resources were a source of trade for food, money or privileges.
3. Items made by civilians, not only around the conflict zone, but also sent from loved ones at home.
So … if you turn to craft in times of stress, to make connections, to challenge yourself … or for any reason at all, then you are practicing self care, and crafting your way toward good physical and /or mental health. If you’re experiencing positive benefits from your crafting pursuits, keep at it, because you’re absolutely worth it.