Love Crafts have asked craft bloggers to answer the question ‘Why Do You Make?’ and so I’ve been thinking about this over the last few weeks and I think I have an answer.
I make things to help me with my mental health. I am a naturally very anxious person, I always have been – I’ve suffered with insomnia since I was a child (a doctor even tried to prescribe me chamomile tea to help me sleep lol. Top tip! – a child with a sweet tooth is not going to drink the pond water that you call ‘chamomile tea’). It goes beyond being ‘a worrier’ and impacts many different aspects of my life. Despite being an anxious person since childhood, my mental health really took a nosedive after becoming a mother, worrying about a child is different to any kind of worrying and the lack of contact with the outside world combined with massive hormonal shifts knocked me for six. Here are some of the symptoms that I deal with on a daily basis:
Most people do feel anxious at varying times, it’s a totally normal emotion to feel anxious about doing something new, going to a job interview or taking an exam. I am not suggesting people don’t feel anxiety, especially when we are contending with a deadly virus in our day-today lives right now! But when my anxiety is bad my memory issues combined with incapacitating procrastination make sure I pretty much can’t get anything done. Leaving the house to do something as simple as the supermarket shopping gives me physical symptoms so unpleasant (racing heartbeat, trouble breathing and sweating, lots of sweating) that I actually avoid leaving the house at all.
Fortunately, thanks to something Matt Haig said on social media, I am now able to recognise my anxiety is like an old sporting injury that flares up in bad weather. I know that when I have my bad phases, it isn’t going to last and I will feel better soon. During those times I need to try and take care of myself, and access a toolkit of measures that I know help me specifically – avoid the news, drink lots of water, try to exercise (the seratonin really helps to relieve my symptoms) and crafting.
I returned to sewing just a few months after becoming a mother in 2015, I needed to do something that was just for ‘me’ and have some time to myself. But knitting is the craft where I feel the biggest benefit to my mental health, I find it relaxes me more than sewing and the repetition quiets my mind. Keeping my hands busy is also a good way to calm me down when I feel restless. I am so happy I learned to knit two years ago!
A large-scale international online survey of knitters found respondents reported they derived a wide range of perceived psychological benefits from the practice: 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 Luckman – How Craft is Good for Our Health
I can confirm that I feel more relaxed and reduced anxiety as a result of my knitting practise, as well as a sense of achievement. Learning a new technique or finishing a project both fill me with an enormous sense of achievement that it’s difficult to find in other aspects of my life right now (unless you can count getting to the bottom of the laundry pile an achievement??). With each different pattern, I am learning something new and improving my skills which can result in a big confidence boost!
One of the major causes of my anxiety is a tendency to be very self-absorbed. I am not confessing to being incredibly selfish, far from it! I am just very inclined to be stuck inside my own head and obsess about my own thoughts. My husband finds it amazing that we can go outside and I won’t see the faces of any of the people we pass or notice anything about my surroundings. It was like a lightbulb that switched on when a therapist told me this is actually one symptom of my anxious brain – Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) teaches us to focus on our external environment in order to feel better. I have to actively try to ignore my brain and listen to the sounds of my surroundings and notice the colours of things around me in order to push my mind to observe the external.
For the shy, the ill, or those suffering from various forms of social anxiety, this control, as well as the capacity to draw away any uncomfortable focus upon themselves and instead channel this into the process of making, is a much valued quality of their craft practice.Susan Luckman – How Craft is Good for Our Health
It is unsurprising then, that even in the comfort of my own home, focusing on knitting gets me out of my own head and concentrating on something external – can have very real benefits on dissolving those anxious thoughts and actually feeling better!
One of the strengths of craft practice, especially as a contributor to well-being, is precisely that it can be both solitary and collective, and it’s up to the individual to decide.Susan Luckman – How Craft is Good for Our Health
Taking control over when and where I engage with others is an incredibly important aspect of dealing with my social anxiety, being around others can make it far far worse, but sometimes being around others is exactly what I need to feel more like ‘me’ again. As Susan Luckman says in the above quote, with knitting it is up to the individual to decide whether we make it a solitary or a collective hobby and that is so incredibly helpful to me. I can sit and knit at home when I feel too overwhelmed to go outside and feel calmer and more relaxed thanks to the repetition and keeping my hands busy. I can choose to share my craft on the internet, here on my blog or on social media and enjoy lovely online chats with people all over the world. Online community is something that is so amazing for those of us with social anxiety as we can control what we say, when we say it and whether or not to avoid those interactions if we need to. But knitting can also be an in-person social event, I’ve been to lovely yarn shows and chatted with lovely people and I’ve been to knitting socials and met others who really seem like ‘my people’. It is the perfect hobby for those of us that feel socially anxious.
I make things with my hands to switch my brain off negative thoughts and switch it on to learning something new, doing something with my hands and making beautiful things. I get joy from making clothes that fit my unique body, wearing something that I made gives me a sense of achievement and finding the online knitting community has given me a sense of community.
I immediately turned to knitting at the beginning of the pandemic, I cast on this shawl just two days before the UK went into full lockdown and finished it within 3 weeks, I just couldn’t put it down, it was like a comfort blanket for me! The pattern is the Andrea Mowry Find Your Fade shawl and I made it with scraps, the pattern is so repetitive it was comforting and cosy and just what I needed at that time!
You may wonder, as I blog mostly about dressmaking, that I haven’t mentioned sewing much in this blog post. I must admit that I do not find sewing to be as therapeutic to me as knitting is. Sewing changes with each different step of the pattern and I do not find it as comforting as the repetitive nature of knitting. Sewing is also a lot more physical – getting up to the iron, moving fabric to my sewing machine then my overlocker it requires a lot of moving about, something I don’t always have the energy for and definitely not as relaxing as the cosy hygge nature of curling up of the sofa with some knitting and putting on an audiobook or a film! Sewing does sometimes trump knitting for how distracting it is though – if my mind is really racing I find sewing can really do a good job of distracting me, especially if I am sewing something difficult! The repetitive nature of knitting can sometimes be so simple that my brain doesn’t switch itself off properly.
If you are interested in learning more about the mental health benefits of crafting I highly recommend reading 4 Reasons Craft is Good for You and How Craft is Good for Our Health if you have a few minutes to spare. If you are struggling with mental health remember that you can always reach out to The Samaritans and to better understand your own anxiety (or if you know someone with anxiety) I highly recommend reading Notes From A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig (maybe listen to the audiobook while you knit for some ultimate self-care?!).
So tell me, do you craft for the mental health benefits? Has sewing or knitting helped you at all during the pandemic? Let’s chat!