For years, makers have known about the calming benefits of creating, but how did mindfulness and crafting go mainstream? Lottie Storey finds out.
Modern life is stressful. If it’s not work, it’s money. If it’s not money, it’s multi-tasking. If it’s not multi-tasking, it’s screaming kids. If it’s not screaming kids… Little wonder our heads feel like they might explode. But, there is an antidote – mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is about being present in the moment rather than being stuck in our heads,” says Dr. Barbara Mariposa, author of The Mindfulness Playbook. Dr. Mariposa’s work focuses on mental and emotional wellbeing, and she firmly believes there is a link between making and mindfulness. “When we engage in an enjoyable craft, our brainwaves slow down in the same way as when we meditate. The chatter in our heads that makes us feels stressed and anxious fades into the background.”
Crafting a solution
For many crafters, this connection will come as no surprise, as they’re already attuned to the mindfulness that making can bring. “If you’re following a pattern or counting stitches, you have to be in the moment and focused on what you’re doing. You can’t allow your mind to wander,” says Laura Pashby, a photographer, writer and crafter.
Emma Friedlander-Collins of Steel and Stitch agrees. “In an age when we’re constantly being fed negativity through TV and the media, having something creative and practical to focus the mind on is calming.”
For Lucy Davidson of Peas and Needles, “making is great for the soul. You can get bogged down looking at others’ creations and comparing yourself, which leads to not feeling good about your work. The best thing to do is just make.”
Dr. Mariposa explains the link between this sense of calm and crafting: “Brain and body co-ordinate in real time as we focus on the task in hand. Our skills improve and we see results for our labours, which increases self-esteem, satisfaction and self-confidence.”
The notion of craft having mental health benefits is becoming increasingly mainstream, as demonstrated by the launch of Mollie Makes’ sister magazines, Project Calm and In The Moment. For Project Calm Editor Julie Taylor, “mindfulness is all about observing – and enjoying – what you’re doing in detail. While you’re concentrating on what you’re doing, you’re totally in the moment, absorbed by using your hands to manipulate the paint, yarn, fabric or thread into your creation. You tune out thoughts and worries, and you connect to your senses instead.”.
“We tackle a broad range of subjects such as art, feminism, travel and yoga, looking at each one from a creative and mindful perspective. Like yoga, mindfulness is also a practice, so the more you do it, the easier it’ll come to you.”
Find your focus
As Julie points out, the idea that emotions can be made more manageable through making doesn’t rely on any one craft. Everyone has their own way that works best for them – Rachel Winchester of Handmade by Holchester sews. “During stressful times I turn to craft to distract me and help give me space from the issue. Some people meditate or go for a walk, but I’ll get out my sewing machine instead.”
Elsewhere, Laura Bradley bakes: “After the initial outburst of energy, gathering all the things I need into one place, I relax into it. Baking recipes I’m familiar with is almost instinctive, so it gives me a chance to be alone with my thoughts.”
As making offers such meditative benefits, could it become a tactic to cope with real life? And for people of all ages? Dr. Mariposa’s first-hand experiences with her clients certainly reflect this, and Emma believes so too. “I started making when I was tiny, and it became my fallback way to relax. I feel so grateful that my parents encouraged it, as it’s given me an incredible coping mechanism in a world that is constantly pushing you to whizz through it. Making things stops you, slows you down, gets the brain and hands in sync, and is like taking a long breath out.”
So next time you suffer from a lack of focus, or find yourself lost in a fearful fog, wondering what tomorrow will bring, pick up a project and make yourself better.
Illustration by Naomi Wilkinson.