Friday, 7 October 2016

Crafting and creativity - they're good for your health, you know...


I thought I might use this chance to big up the power of creativity, creating and craft, and to try and show you what a difference rediscovering my creative mojo has made to me in recent years.

Back in early 2014, I found myself in something of a dark place. Significant changes had taken place in the structure of our family unit; ultimately very positive ones, but at the time I was struggling to cope and finding things harder than I ever expected to.  I hid it from most people, even those close to me, but I was struggling, big style, and to be honest it scared the heck out of me.  I was eventually diagnosed with a form of depression; the diagnosis was a relief and the subsequent prescription a big help.

So, what does this have to do with Comfy Marmalade, I hear you ask?

Well, when I was pretty much at my lowest point, I saw a small poster in the window of our local newsagents.  It was for a business called Stitch which is based in a nearby town, and was promoting a weekly, two-hour 'drop-in' session for sewing and yarn-based crafts.  The Husband encouraged me to go along and see what it was all about - I ummed and aahed and nearly backed out, but gave myself a stern talking to and went along.

I was greeted by Linzi, chief Stitch-er, and I warmed to her immediately. My initial judgement of character has proved to be accurate - Linzi is a fantastically welcoming and smart lady with the most amazing corkscrew curly hair, huge smile and a cracking sense of humour.

"Is there anything in particular you're keen to make or learn, then?" she asked.
"Well," said I, "the one craft I've tried to master and failed at spectacularly is crochet."
"Oh good - go and see Betty over there; she's teaching those two ladies how to crochet, why don't you join in?"

Hooks and wool - basic tools of a crocheter

I love grey and orange together - couldn't resist this photo!

Now, as it turns out, Betty, bless her cotton socks, had come along for the first time herself that evening, and had kindly offered to teach Nikki and Cathie, two local reprobates who were also first timers, how to crochet.  Betty is one amazing lady, the grande dame of Stitch - in her early eighties, she's smart, stern when she needs to be, funny with an occasionally filthy sense of humour, tactile and knowledgeable.  Betty is naturally maternal and she certainly 'looked after' me in those early weeks, which, as it turns out, was probably just what I needed at the time.  She had no idea what I was going through (no-one at Stitch did) although I did talk to her about it some months later.

And would you believe it - over the course of those two hours, Betty managed the impossible - she taught all three of us how to crochet.  Here are a couple of my very first projects:

The colour combinations are awful and the stitches aren't great -
but I was (and still am) SO proud of this small blanket

Second attempt - getting braver with more colour changes...

And as my skills developed and I realised I had achieved my goal, something inside me clicked…

I had needed a creative outlet.  Not just since things had changed at home, but for years previous without realising it.  Up until 2007 I had worked in creative industries but, as a mortgage and kids kicked in, I took a job which did the trick financially and practically, and was enjoyable for the most part, but offered me little creatively.  Over the years I'd become more and more detached from my creative side; and when things went pear-shaped with the depression my need for a creative distraction manifested itself even more.  Moreover, I needed something for me - not me as a mother, or a wife, or a daughter, a sister, an employee… just something that would allow me to be me.

In the following weeks and months, I developed my crochet skills with the help of Betty and those at Stitch.  I treasured the two-hours on a Wednesday night when I could immerse myself in all things crochet, and became proficient enough to be able to continue my endeavours at home independently.

I still go religiously every Wednesday night, sometimes to do some crocheting, sometimes to try and develop my relatively basic sewing machine skills, always for a giggle and a chat.  The Girl has always been craft-y and she now attends the super monthly kids craft sessions Linzi runs.  And sometimes, I go with cake that my wonderfully culinary husband 'crafts' for us.  They all think he's amazing…  I do, too…

One of the Husband's most recent offerings to the Stitchers - what a star!

Learning to crochet didn't obliterate my depression, of course not, but it certainly helped me in my recovery.  Studies have been carried out which show that taking up a craft can have significant emotional benefits, and I don’t doubt it for a second.  My depression slowly began to lift as my creative juices flowed - clearly some of this was clearly down to the tablets, but I know that a sizeable part of it was down to my crafting at Stitch - the skills I learned and the friends I made who, without knowing it, propped me up and provided me with something to cling on to and be proud of.

Deciding on where to place the squares for one of my numerous blankets;
this one now has pride of place on the Boy's bed during the colder months.

Crafting doesn't have to be something that you excel at.  It doesn't matter whether or not you produce a masterpiece; it's the doing that counts, not the end result.  Crafting could be crocheting, but it could be baking, embroidery, making shapes out of potatoes and dabbing them on paper, colouring in - it doesn't matter what it is, what matters is that you enjoy it.

Learning a craft, and enjoying the company of like-minded people, even for only two hours a week, gave me a lifeline and a focus.  It didn't solve my problems, but it gave me a distraction and a creative buzz, both of which I desperately needed.

I will be forever grateful to Linzi, Betty, Nikki and Cathie (still reprobates) and the wonderful gang at Stitch.  I don't they realise what a difference they made to me in those early days, and how much I still enjoy going now.

I should add that this is not an advert for Stitch (although I will happily sing their praises from the rooftops) and Linzi had no idea about this post - but it is an all-singing, all-dancing advert for the healing powers of crafting and creativity.  I hope it's not been too depressing (excuse the pun) a read, or a bit of a downer for you; actually I hoped it might be the opposite and provide some positive vibes, inspiring and encouraging others to take consider taking up a craft.

I promise that this will be the first and last mention of my medical ailments!  My next post will be about how you can bag yourself some bargain furniture, and next week I'll be showing you a Comfy Make with an autumnal theme…

Bye for now xxx




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