Tag Archives: crafting

Crafting for sanity

Things have been tough this week. This year has so far brought experiences that have taken me into the depths of panic and despair. I’ve spent a lot of energy just trying not to be crushed by that. Fighting the panic is exhausting. Trying to fix the things that were causing the panic has been brutal and ineffective. You only have to look at my face to see what a mess I am in. I am going to make a point of showing my face when I’m not ok because I want to challenge the idea that mental illness is invisible illness.

There is patchwork on my lap in this photo. I made six jumpers through the winter. Crafting has always been a coping mechanism for me. The rhythm of it soothes me. If I can take ruined, useless things – as with these dead jeans – and turn them back into something useable, that helps me. I feel better about myself when I make things. If I can use my craft skills to put something attractive into the world, that also helps with the mental health issues. I like upcycling for my friends, too. This jacket will be for Susie and with this jacket made all four of the Ominous Folk will have denim patchwork items.

One of the main reasons I never sell craft work is that this is stuff I do for my mental health. I need to be free to do it on my own terms. Who I make things for is an important part of the process. I can cheer myself up by making things for me. Often what I make is an expression of relationship, and how I feel about the person I’m making something for is part of what makes it a restorative process. A garment like this takes a lot of hours – I don’t count the hours. It is better for my emotional wellbeing to give these pieces away out of love than to find people don’t want to pay a pound an hour for my efforts.

I’ve started on the embroidery part of the process now. It’s a way of making that is inspired by Japanese boro, and it’s something I get a lot of comfort and delight from.


Greener jumpers

For the last ten years or so I’ve mostly bought jumpers from sale rails, often at the end of winter. I figure that buying from the ends of lines doesn’t increase demand in the same way and may keep wearable clothing out of landfill.

It’s not ideal, though. I’ve owned a lot of black jumpers, because I like my jumpers plain, and often black is the only plain option. I still have a hard time finding things that fit me – I’m tall. I often actively dislike the kinds of jumpers designed for women, and if I’m wearing a jumper designed for a bloke it’s never going to be a good fit. Sometimes I like jumpers that fit. With the kind of clothes buying budget I have, even my sale rail jumpers tend to be low quality. They wear out, look shabby really quickly, and are never that warm.

This year I’ve started knitting my own. I can buy a better quality of yarn for the budget I have. I’ve not entirely managed to move away from synthetics, but a more substantial yarn is going to last longer and not end up in landfill for many more years, so overall it’s the better move. If I knit a jumper I can have the shape and colour I want. I don’t have to spend time traipsing around in the desperate hope of finding something I can afford that I can also bear to wear. This frees up time and emotional energy for other things.

I usually find clothes shopping depressing. It’s rare for me to find clothes I truly like that also fit. I’m tall, and broad, and have had to do a lot of ignoring my own feelings and preferences and putting up with whatever would do – this is not great for self-esteem. Second hand clothes shopping is often an exercise in futility for anything other than big, shapeless skirts. It’s the same with sale rails, and often with new stuff, too.

If I make my own clothes, I get things I like, in better and more robust fabrics that will last longer. If I have clothes that suit my tastes, my body shape and the way I live, then I can get by with less. It takes more ‘sort of works’ clothing to get you through – I know this from experience. I also like making things. Crafting is a valuable mental health activity that eases stress and allows me time for emotional processing and imaginative thinking, so making an item of clothing gets a lot of things done. Better dressed in terms of clothing quality, happier with my clothes and not stressed by the process of getting them means having more energy for other things. That in turn increases my chances of being able to be more environmentally mindful in other ways.


Crafting in self defence

I get a lot of mental health benefits from crafting and most days I’ll have some textiles in my hands for at least a little while.

I upcycle a lot, so crafting helps me keep usable fabric out of landfill. This helps me feel like I’m doing something virtuous with my time and that can be a mood improver. I take in other people’s dead things and give them new life, and give away some of what I make, so that all feels good too.

Depression tends to bring feelings of uselessness. There are lots of simple ways of crafting that don’t call for a great deal of cleverness or concentration once you’ve picked up the skills. I benefit from being able to look at what I’ve made. Knowing there is something useful or pretty that exists because I made it, can help ward off despair. Making things that cheer other people lifts my spirits.

While I’m making things, my brain gets time to process stuff. This can help me deal with situations where I feel overwhelmed. If I’m trying to work something through, the rhythms of crafting can really help me with that. It also creates a space where much of my brain isn’t occupied, and things can just float to the surface. I find this really helps me with figuring things out. Distracting myself with craft actually lets me get important thinking done that I can’t do in a totally conscious way, and also can’t do if my brain is too busy.

For most of human history, most of us have been makers. When you think about the kind of work historically that went into meal making, textile creation, tool and weapon making, ornament making, ceramics making… it becomes obvious that it must have been normal to our ancestors to make stuff. It’s really only since the industrial revolution that the majority of people have stopped being makers. As an aside, Marx has some really interesting things to say about the psychological impact of factory work, of only making a part of a thing, not the whole thing. We become alienated from the work.

I find crafting restorative. I think we suffer when we spend too much time doing work that doesn’t produce tangible results. We’re too cerebral sometimes. We need to do things that result in something we can see, or hear, touch or taste. Craft gives you a meaningful relationship with physical reality, and for me that’s been a sanity saver on many occasions.


Craft, culture and boro

Back in the winter, Pinterest lured me in with images of boro. At the time I had no real idea of what I was seeing only that I found it very attractive. If you get in there with a search engine, the internet will give you a lot of images of mostly denim patchwork, visible mending techniques and embroidery. As an enthusiastic needlecrafter and upcycler, this all had instant appeal. I dug in.

I like to have some idea of where things come from and what their significance is. Partly because I delight in such knowledge and partly because accidental cultural appropriation is not my idea of fun.  Here’s a brief synopsis of what I found out when I dug in. Boro means rags, and it is a tradition from Northern Japan, inspired by poverty and necessity, that takes what little fabric is available and keeps it in sound, wearable, protective condition. It fell out of favour after the second world war because of the poverty associations, but is having something of a renaissance. Of course traditionally it wasn’t done with denim but currently that seems to be the fabric of preference. There is also an embroidery tradition that goes with it, called sashiko.

We really need these kinds of traditions right now – we need the inspiration and to reclaim cultures of re-use. To take our throwaway culture towards something more sustainable we need to start valuing re-use, repairing, upcycling, and keeping whatever is usable in use. This of course is what poor people have always done, of necessity, and that’s part of the problem. While we see these techniques as being about poverty and insufficiency, many people will be actively put off them. Who wants to look poor? Who wants to do what poor people do? Affluence means discarding things whenever you like.  It means never looking shabby, or ragged, or even mended. We equate smartness with newness and wealth.

It will take a bit of a shift to see the value in what is old and repaired. But, there is a great deal of beauty and innovation in these traditions. Off the peg clothing is bland stuff that seldom lasts long. It means looking like everyone else and having limited scope for self expression. The upcycler on the other hand gets to play and make over, and has adventures in clothing unavailable to other people. There are plenty of things to find attractive here.

Over the coming few days I’m going to be writing a bit about my adventures with boro, so, watch this space. To be clear, I am not making boro – I’m using the wrong materials and the wrong tools. It’s not my cultural heritage, and my grasp of it at this point is fairly superficial. However, there’s a lot I’m excited about and inspired by, and there’s a world of difference between being inspired by something, and misrepresenting it by claiming to be doing it.


Totoro doorstop

A broken coffee pot, a bunch of fabric that might otherwise have gone to landfill. I bought the wool. And lo, a bunch of useless stuff becomes a Totoro doorstopper! This is my second go – the first one (visible in the background of the first few pictures) was built around the remains of a dead wind up torch. Tom did the facial features.


Frankenstein clothes

I tend to wear clothes until they die. Faded, stained, ripped, or going threadbare it’s often the case that by the time I want to retire an item, it has no re-use value to anyone else. This is what brought me to the joys of Frankenstein clothing. Sometimes, when an item is very dead, the answer is to cut it up for rag rugging. However, as fans of The Princess Bride know only too well, there’s a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead.

I’ve a number of skirts and tops that are a consequence of taking things that were mostly dead, and seeing what could be rescued. At time of writing, I’m doing my most overt take on this to date – Frankenstein’s T-Shirt. I have three t-shirts that my son has mostly killed, and have been removing bits of them and reassembling them into a single, undead t-shirt. There will be no attempt on this occasion to make it look anything other than like a fiendish cobbling together, and all being well, that will be a key part of its charm.

A lot of energy and resources go into the production of clothes, which we tend to treat as disposable. Anything that can be passed on, should be. For the rest, there are crafting options, and people like me who will take in mostly dead things and breathe uncanny new life into them. Also, if you’re learning to craft, the fabric from dead clothes is free of cost, and it doesn’t matter if you cock it up while learning. There are a number of traditional crafts – quilting, rag rugging, appliqué, that can happily turn your mostly dead things into lovely new things. So rather than throwing away a dead t-shirt, you get a no cost crafting opportunity and a whole new something.


The quest for pretty things

IMAG0354I live in a small flat, and it’s not a property innately full of character. Lots of little boxes, and when I first landed, lots of white walls, beige carpet and all the personality of a motel or travelodge. I’ve been working on improving that.

I like playing with fabric, it’s something I can do in my downtime that has little or no cost and some utility. I’ve also discovered that if I sit down to do some crafting, it gives me the necessary headspace to think about writing fiction. I can use it for breaks between scenes while I’m gathering thoughts, as an offset to block and a way of creating space for the writing. I’m seldom in a state where I can just sit down and write, and crafting helps with the transition. So, this was made alongside quite a lot of story.

The underpinning is a hessian sack (bought from the Stroud Valley’s eco-shop). To this I added blue and green background fabrics, and the patches of colour in the centre (fabric mostly sourced from freecycle). The leaves, flowers, trees and birds all came from swatches of curtain samples, picked up very cheaply (fabric shop in Mills Courtyard). I pinned all of this to my sack, sewed it down and embroidered the edges and the bird (there’s a fantastic haberdashery near Bank Gardens for embroidery silks). The frame is wool spun by Theo, which I knitted using an adaptation of her pointy scarf pattern.

It now adorns the back of the bedroom door, hanging from a door-towel-hook-thing, and the ‘pole’ across the top of the fabric, is a bound together bundle of aluminium slats from a cheap blind I picked up in order to Frankenstein it into a much more cheery Roman blind. I don’t waste much. I’m now plotting a second one of these hangings, to cover a glass door, and afford a bit more privacy for anyone staying over. My son was so enthused by the first one that he’s asked to be involved in the design and layout stage of the second, although he doesn’t have the needle skills for the sewing (yet) but is inclined to learn