Furnishing your homestead? Consider getting crafty; the rewards might be more impressive than you’d bargained for, says Anna Blewett
There was a moment a few months ago when I knew I had to take more time out for myself. Hurrying from the kettle back to my waiting laptop, cursor blinking impatiently, I glimpsed the TV programme my partner was watching. On the screen four aproned adults were gliding their hands over slick, folding clay, coaxing the lumpen heaps into elaborate moulds to make cisterns, u-bends and buttock-ready rims. “I want to make a ceramic toilet,” I heard myself say out loud. Strange times, but then that’s the curious, magnetic allure of craft.
If you missed The Great Pottery Throw Down, or The Great British Sewing Bee, or The Great British Bake-off for that matter (come on, you must have seen it!), you might not be familiar with your own latent yearnings to take time out and play, build with and arrange paint, clay, fabric, paper or cookie dough. Such activities could, however, be just what you’re missing.
“Having time for making and creating makes me a happier, calmer and more satisfied person overall,” says author and macramé fanatic Fanny Zedenius. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is essential to my wellbeing, but pretty close.” Fanny’s Instagram account, Createaholic, gives a clue to the role that craft plays in her life, and the passion it stirs in her 18,000 followers. “If I come up with an idea for a project and am unable to start working on it straight away it’s like something is gnawing in me. That in turn can make me feel a bit stressed and irritated. I realise that I am quite addicted to making and creating!”
The art of knotting strings – brilliantly shared in Fanny’s new book Macramé (£12.99, Quadrille) – is strangely transformative. Meditative and slow, it’s also deliciously tactile – soft ropes swishing through your hands as you knot them into taut patterns or swaying fringes. For Fanny, creative activities (or ‘pyssel’ as they’re collectively termed in her native Sweden) have been a way of life since childhood. “Whenever I had a particularly stressful time in school or at work, I would find that taking a break and focusing on a creative project would reduce my stress level significantly and I would be able to go back with a more focused and clear mind.” The rewards are material as well as psychological; a home filled with unique and bespoke pieces show the value of the product, as well as the process.
The benefits are measurable. A study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy reported that 81 percent of a sample of 3,500 participants with depression reported improved mood and even happiness after knitting. A regular area of research is the anti-ageing effects of craft with the journal Neurology suggesting crafting can stave off the early signs of dementia. More recent research into post-surgical delirium in older adults found crafting activities contribute to a ‘cognitive reserve’ that lessened symptoms. Far from straining eyes, concentrating on close work may improve eye function, with another study, this time at the University of California, finding dressmakers are 80 percent better at perceiving depth in 3D space than their non-creative counterparts.
Knotting, much like sewing, knitting, paper cutting, beading, throwing pots and any other craft technique you care to mention, is fabulously absorbing, pushing nagging anxieties and stressors to the sidelines for a while. And if crafting sounds insular and solitary, it’s not. Much like yoga, handcrafts provide mind and body exercises that fit as easily into a social group setting as it does a quiet night in on the sofa. Plenty of the research into the benefits of crafting single out the communal, collaborative effects of crafting groups. From a pottery evening class to a pub stitch ‘n’ bitch, there are plenty of opportunities to work amongst others.
And to spread the love with others too. “To me, the point of crafting is to bring joy to our surroundings and our loved ones,” says Erin Hung, the creative force between stationery brand BerinMade and author of Paper Parties (£16.99, Pavilion). “Half the fun is in creating something with your hands, and the other half is in seeing the delighted face of the person who is enjoying your creation. In our busy lives, it’s so important to slow down, channel our creativity and show appreciation for those we love.”
Erin’s fabulous projects use paper, a material that’s familiar enough to beginners to allow everyone to have a go. “There’s also something about its tangible nature that enables paper to spread joy from gifter to recipient in a very personal way,” suggests Erin. “That’s why we send cards for birthdays and wedding invitations – in fact the first wedding anniversary is marked with the gift of paper. Now more than ever, even in our highly digitised world, paper as a medium carries potent meaning as something that is momentous, heartfelt and, in the case of crafting, one of a kind.”
Handmaking, in other words, can cure what ails you. “I think that the benefits of crafting are very individual and may differ from one day to another,” says Fanny. “For some it can be a way of meditating and works therapeutically. It can help people process their thoughts, or it can work as a necessary pause in daily life’s overthinking and worrying.
“I’d say that we’re seeing an increase in the interest of different crafts, not just macramé, because we find that our modern lifestyle lacks a creative outlet. I taught myself macramé at the same time as I started working full time at an office which included a lot of stress and hours in front of the computer. I would come home after eight or nine hours in there, and work another four hours to complete orders, and it was probably the least stressed I had felt in years. Macramé helped my brain to let go of my day job and it was fulfilling to see actual, tangible results in the work my hands were doing!” So what are you waiting for? Time to get making!
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