Having something to do with your hands, something you control and do by yourself, can help you find your calm. Gaining confidence in a space where nobody can tell you what to do has a special empowering effect. Ending up with something useful and even beautiful truly makes crafting or art an amazingly powerful healer.
Creative practice, particularly hands-on projects have been known to induce a calm focused state called “flow.” In my reading I came across several scientific studies and web resources explaining how that works. When words fail you, choosing a project and creating something personal for someone can help express deep, complex feelings.
In Sutton Foster’s new book, Hooked: How Crafting Saved My Life she chronicles how creative projects helped her through scary and difficult times. I listened to it on downloadable audio using the Libby app.
Her descriptions of the projects and how they related to what was going on in her life are simply stated but profound. I loved how she used crafts like cross-stitch (her mother’s craft), collage and crochet (her favorite) to gain control and produce tangible objects while building her confidence and self-worth. This book inspired this article. I recommend her book and checking out her Facebook page.
Personal stories of crafting improving mental health
I reached out to authors and co-workers for their stories of how crafting or art helped them.
Author reconnects to herself through crafting
I got a wonderful response from Kathryn Vercillo, the author of Crochet Saved My Life: The Mental and Physical Benefits of Crochet and Hook to Heal!: 100 Crochet Exercises for Health, Growth, Connection, Inspiration and Honoring Your Inner Artist.
Kathryn said she struggled with debilitating, immobilizing depression that resisted treatment. She heard doing things you enjoyed as a child might help connect her. Kathryn fondly recalled her mother teaching her to crochet a chain, so she picked up some yarn and a kid’s instruction book and set to it.
Kathryn said, “It stuck! When so many other attempts to help myself heal just didn’t. The fact that I could sit in my bed, ignore the overwhelm of the world, and barely move my body yet still make beautiful, amazing, functional, creative things with my two hands was indescribably healing. It helped me reconnect to myself, to color, to texture and ultimately to the people and the world around me.”
She reminds us she still needs all the “usual” things to continue to heal herself – medications, therapy and a support system. Kathryn’s research and opportunity to interview hundreds of crafters for her books and column for Happily Hooked magazine have informed and inspired her in new ways for crochet to heal.
Kathryn said, “What started as a very specific, individual healing – the focus that took me out of my ruminating mind, the self-esteem growth of making something I could gift or use, the serotonin boost of the repetitive motions, the grounding of touch and color over time has become the community and all of the inspiring people I’ve met who are crafting to heal, who have healed me most.”
She has made everything from crocheted dresses to wall art with yarn, a needle and just “her two hands.” Kathryn also has a web presence with several sites focusing on various aspects of crochet, mental health and mindfulness.
Her comments ended with a bit of advice for those just starting to crochet. “Try it, then try it again. Be gentle with yourself. Ask what craft can do for you instead of trying to be ‘perfect’ at it. Tap into that online craft community and open yourself up to the amazing possibilities of yarn.”
Here are some great books on crafting as healing including Sutton’s and Kathryn’s works.
Crafting to increase family connections
Karen who works in marketing for the library said she’s always been a “crafty” person. She remembers as a child salvaging a cherished but broken plate and creating a one-of-a-kind gift for her mother. Recently she has been creating “up-cycling” projects with her daughter. Karen sees her glue gun as a powerful tool for elevating her attitude and bringing a bit of joy into everyday life.
Speaking of making lemonade from life’s lemons, Karen found a small bright side to the COVID-19 lock-down. She said, “This sparked more creativity in my working from home and inspired my daughter to tap into her creativity. Our love of crafting has developed into genuine, quality mom and daughter time. We love to do thrift challenges, creating something different with a handful of common objects.” Karen said she gets a lot of inspiration from magazines like “Do It Yourself” and “HGTV” accessed on the library’s free online magazine platform Flipster.
You can find inspiring projects and instructional videos free on the library’s Creativebug Access.
Making sense of feelings through art
Natalie a co-worker, who was diagnosed with depression as an adult, shared that she finds drawing, painting and photography have been ways for her to make sense of her feelings and showcase her moods as art.
Natalie said, “My art helps me show my feelings, get over things and feel like I have done something with my life.”
She also knows what it’s like to have your work publicly appreciated. In 2011 her flower photo was chosen for display in the Springfield, Missouri, Skaggs Community Hospital Surgical waiting room.
Natalie said, “I was proud of this because it showed that even with my depression at the time, I had worthwhile things to contribute to society.”
Expressing feelings through art & crafts
I have also used art and crafts to help me express feelings and create something I am proud of. Creating art gives me the freedom to choose all the materials, design and colors. That combined with the sense of accomplishment of making a real, tangible thing can really help shore you up when things look bleak.
I have drawn trees and horses since I was a child. Recently, I brought out my scissors and recreated some new paper trees like those I made years ago. Creating the silhouettes of black limbs “growing” in the space between the blades and the paper was definitely a “flow” experience, almost a meditation.
These horses were part of a book display I made for work. I made several images in different color combinations and this rainbow one with one of each type. They expressed all the things I’ve loved about horses – freedom, beauty, joy, color and energy. When I got them out they inspired me. I’m setting up a creative space in my new apartment to get some of those things back in my life.
Check out these titles to see how others have enriched their lives. Discover ideas for using art, craft and hobbies to learn about yourself and grow one sweater, collage or picture at a time.