Friday, 28 September 2012

Making Compulsions

I love to harness the good feeling I get from crafting and share it with others, it’s one of the reasons I write this blog. I like to keep a record of the things I’ve made – the challenges I’ve overcome and the buzz of actually completing something. 

I don’t worry too much about not blogging enough or how many followers I have – my only remit is to blog what I make or write about aspects of making and thrifting that have been good fun, like vintage fairs and markets.

And now in that subtle way the world works where everything is suddenly painted with the synchronicity brush, I’m aware there are quite a few groups in existence whose focus is on the well-being of crafting. There are groups where the focus is direct causation like Stitchlinks whose founder Betsan has explored the benefits of knitting and the relief from long term pain, Significant Seams use the health benefits of sewing to build community ties and support the vulnerable and disadvantaged, Out Of The Dark run a scheme whereby vulnerable young people learn craft skills in order to upcycle furniture into fabulous new pieces.

I’ve also stumbled across a Creating Wellbeing workshop recently, held at The Create Place (Bethnal Green E2 9PJ) where people can craft together and use the process to bolster their mental health.
I shared my experience of crafting keeping me sane with Katie Peters who runs the Creating Wellbeing sessions in the hope of passing something on. We clicked and I will be at the session on Sunday 7th October to meet and make with other people interested in crafting for wellness, I hope it's the beginning of a regular jaunt and I'm looking forward to meeting new faces!
Apart from the communal benefits of engaging in an activity with like minded people, having a goal, getting out of the house etc - creating things with my own hands keeps me happy. It’s what I do, I Make Things Up.

Why does crafting keep me sane?

I’ve always thought it noble to be able make something with my own hands, find someone who needs / likes what I’ve made and get money in exchange. So far I’ve never sold any of my makes directly, I’ve never done a craft fair or sold anything online – I don’t think I have the business wherewithal to not end up with a pile of deadstock crafted thingamabobs and huge bills for materials.

I have sold my skills to producing companies who in turn gave me money to make things for them – scenery and puppets mostly. I loved these one-off projects, creating an OOAK (as the parlance goes) in my workspace from initial sketched design to freeform pattern cutting and snipping sponge and fabric. I had a run of making things from household objects for a while – birds from umbrellas, flora and fauna from dish mops and scrubbing brushes and the like. I loved hunting down the materials, finding the perfect beak or the perfect eye in a found toggle or thrifted button. 

Puppets and illustration from my time spent at Polka Theatre in the 90's.

I write in exchange for a wage these days and yet I still make things, in fact the urge to make things is quite persistent, if not pathological. If my hands are not busy creating something and my mind not occupied with rotating craft related problems Matrix-like inside my skull (how do you get a seamless lining in a zipped purse for example) then I can begin to feel quite low. If I am not allowed to run with scissors or imagine crocheted Christmas card boxes with vintage cards found on eBay at midnight, either because I’ve got a shed load of ‘work’ work to do or because I have kids who need me more than my glue gun, then I can begin to feel distinctly mentally unwell.

I often wonder just how my brain is wired – I have a gift for language and can respond to things in written form, which is useful when I get paid for it and when I don’t write for a while I feel niggled and have to go back to the page. But I was never an avid reader as a kid and I’m not the type of writer who reads everything – book award longlists, classics, Blyton, cereal packets.

I prefer to watch stuff, I like pictures and art, I love the cinema and TV, I love how people choose to dress and I like making things to adorn my home and myself with. Whilst some kids were happiest reading, I was happiest making stuff. I used to stand at my dad’s elbow in the garage whilst he got on with DIY and then knock his offcuts into some sort of project of my own. 
I loved TV programmes like Vision On with a very youthful Tony Hart who made stuff, Blue Peter’s making slot was the best bit of the show – I turned out lots of things made from shoe boxes and sticky backed plastic.

I threw my clothes out of the cupboard, sculpted a diorama in there from scrunched paper and fabric, filled it with cowboys and Indians (yes I was a tomboy) and with a torch strategically hidden in the backdrop, added dramatic lighting. It was just a cupboard from the outside, but once you opened it – Wow! No wonder I became interested in theatre design.

It’s the act of making stuff that keeps me well. When my hands are occupied and my brain is engaged in a task of creating something unique and sometimes difficult, I feel happy and fulfilled. I love the different stages involved with making something – the planning, the sourcing, the ahhh factor when all the materials are lined up and ready, the finishing off (sometimes). I have more WIPs than I care to think to think about, this is because I get excited by new projects and can’t wait to get started. 

But I’ve come to the conclusion at long last that a WIP state doesn’t really matter, so what if I’ve only got one sock, half of a sewn bag, broken jewellery as yet un upcycled – I even have an incomplete cross stitched sampler from 15 years ago when my second daughter was born. It is the process of crafting these things and seeing the ideas take form in my hands that is the most important aspect – it keeps me grounded, focussed and somewhere in my head neurons are firing and good guy hormones are flooding my system.

Going into action helps my brain work, that’s why I love to dance and ride my bike too, crafting is a great brain exercise and if the action is quite simple – 100 rows in stocking stitch for example – then while my hands are busy my brain is free to ponder and unlock problems it has on the back burner. If I’m blocked in my writing I knit the answer into existence or I do some weeding, wash the dishes – it always works. Action beats stasis any day and as I have a tendency to live in my head, daydream and while away hours just thinking, I can succumb to entropy quite easily.

Surfing Etsy, Folksy and Craft blogs is not the same as actual crafting and too often I find myself numbing out on lovely handmade goodies – like a few too many glasses of wine after a busy day. This escapism leaves me feeling lethargic, zoned out, often with a deep sense of melancholy or craft megalomania ‘I could do that!’ 
Pinterest is the worst, I consider Pinterest quite evil – it eats my time and my active creative responses, I know there are crafters out there who love to arrange virtual pictures on virtual boards and can happily walk away feeling a deep sense of completeness (I’m looking at you Anna). Not me, so I avoid it.

I do sometimes feel a jack-of-all-trades, master of none and envious of makers who have settled into one discipline and honed their craft to an art. But there’s time yet and time also to think about the art of selling – if I ever manage to complete anything. In the meantime I happily go where my crafting compulsion takes me.


Thimbleanna said...

Wow -- what an interesting post! I see so many similarities between us, yet, differences too. I too feel like the jack of all trades and often wish I could settle on just one craft -- but then I would miss the others. So I hop and flit around -- like you I love to start those projects, but end up with too many UFO's. I need to learn from you and learn to embrace them -- instead, they weigh in the back of my mind and drive me crazy.

And pinterest? (Thanks for looking at me LOL.) It's an obsession. You are correct -- I do love it. But, I don't walk away feeling a deep sense of completeness -- it's more like a deep sense of confusion. I can't figure out what the draw is -- I think I must be looking for something and I haven't found it yet. Some days, I wonder if I ever will. ;-(

Thanks for such an interesting post. And keep on Making Up!

MommyTime said...

As a person who takes on more projects all the time (more more more!!), I totally get this. Sewing, photography, gardening, jewelry,'s too hard to pick just one. I think it's good to have so many interests. It proves just how creative you are. (At least, that's what I tell myself. :)

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