Crochet lover and crafty guesthouse owner Mandy O’Sullivan reveals how creating a crafty hashtag brought her online community together…
We all know that crafting is great for your mental health, but for Mandy O’Sullivan it really was a lifesaver. After the devastating death of her mother it was picking up her crochet hook and connecting with people on social media using the hashtag #craftastherapy that not only got her through her darkest days, but inspired her creative life in Australia.
When we catch up with Mandy O’Sullivan she says she’s “a jack of all trades, master of none” but we couldn’t disagree more. From running her own gorgeous guesthouse in Millthorpe, New South Wales, creating crochet patterns, freelancing as an interiors photographer and running her own creative living blog – Red Agape – Mandy is living the creative dream! From the country home she shares with her husband, three kids and menagerie of animals (two cats, two dogs, four alpacas and eight chickens in case you were wondering!) we found out how Mandy juggles it all…
Hi Mandy, how did the hashtag #craftastherapy come about?
Today is the third anniversary of my mother’s passing from brain cancer. During this stressful period, my chronic health condition flared out of control. During this challenging time I turned back to craft after years of non creativity. I started by making a paper wall hanging out of old sheet music that belonged to my grandfather. It wasn’t a hard project, but it required repetition and concentration. This helped me a great deal. I had recently discovered Instagram and loved the sharing of beautiful creative images, so I posted a few shots of my paper flower with the hashtag #craftastherapy This was something that many crafters related to and pretty soon other people started tagging their projects too.
How has craft helped you?
I don’t even know how to begin to answer this question because craft and being creative has completely changed my life. It saved my life during 2012 and has since helped me to build my confidence and pursue creative endeavours that I wouldn’t have imagined myself capable of doing. Craft is my downtime at the end the day. It’s my ‘me’ time. The repetitive motion of rhythmic stitches untangles my mind and helps me to relax.
Why do you think craft is so good for mental health?
There’s something about the repetitive motion of creating stitches, folding paper, brush strokes etc that calm and clear the mind. The concentration needed can also be a welcome distraction from stress and worry and give your mind a little break and completing a project can be a huge boost for your confidence levels too. Some stories I have heard through the @craftastherapy account have been quite devastating, but there are also many who craft simply because it relaxes them and makes them happy. All stories are valid and we try to create a community that is inclusive and accepting.
What are your top tips for starting and growing a hashtag?
I was lucky with #craftastherapy. I didn’t set out to grow a hashtag with such a large following, it happened by accident. You could call it serendipity. But if you’re trying to create a hashtag of your own it’s something that you are passionate about and believe in 100 per cent. It’s also important to recognise the point at which you need help. I got to a stage that I just couldn’t manage it by myself. Luckily I had lots of wonderful, kind and creative people that were keen to jump on board and moderate the @craftastherapy account. I am grateful for them everyday.
How did you learn to crochet?
A good friend got me started initially and then I just started collecting crochet books and googling anything else I wanted to know. I’m left-handed, but I was determined to learn how to crochet right-handed because I didn’t think I was smart enough to decipher patterns backwards! It took me a while to rewire my brain but I got there in the end.
What’s your favourite thing to make and why?
Mandalas are still my favourite project. They are quick, colourful and there’s something about working in the round that I adore. They really are a no pressure project and I always feel relaxed when I make them.
What does your workspace look like?
At the moment my workspace is literally one wall of our family office. I have very limited space so I have to be ultra organised. Thankfully we have built in cupboards in our office, so I can store a lot of my craft stash in there. I use a pegboard on the wall over my desk to keep all my essential within easy reach. I organise my yarn in jars, which keeps them safe from bugs. I’m currently designing my very own studio space, which will be in a converted storage container in the little forest behind our house. I am beyond excited about it! It will have a designated styling and photography area, desk, lounge, workspace and massive inspiration wall. I can’t wait!
What does your average working day look like?
I really don’t have an average day. On days where the Guesthouse is booked, I have to travel there, which is a two hours journey to clean up and set up the house for guests. It’s usually a full day that involves lots of hard work in the form of making beds, cleaning the house and organising hampers. I love playing host though, so it’s something I enjoy. I also restyle, adding different pieces to the house, so repeat guests will get a different experience each time they visit. On photo shoot days, I travel to the locations and meet the homeowner then spend another two hours taking photos and conducting an interview. I love visiting other people’s homes – there are some really creative and stylish people in NSW. I really love my days at home the most though, working on patterns and images for commissions. It’s definitely where I feel the most creative.
What’s been your biggest craft fail?
I started a weaving about two years ago that I haven’t touched for over 12 months. It took me so long to warp up the frame that I haven’t had the heart to take it off, but I don’t love it. I won’t complete projects that I’m not enjoying, which of course results in half finished projects gathering dust in the corner of my office. I really need to admit defeat!
What does making mean to you?
Making means everything. Aside from my family, making is the single most important thing in my life. I’d feel like an empty shell if I couldn’t create anymore.