Written by Tash Goswami of Blethering Crafts
What’s your most treasured tool in your box? For me it used to be a lovely curved small wooden modelling tool. It was my most important tool and was until 1996 when my hands suddenly became crippled with pain. A few doctors later and yep you’ve got it – Carpal Tunnel. For those who don’t know this condition – it’s a repetitive strain injury of the nerves in the wrist. It affects more women than men. I had operations on both my hands and thankfully it was successful.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that the most important tool in my box is me! No matter what your craft it’s the same for you too. All makers use their body as a major part of their tool kit when you think about it. From using their hands to manipulate materials, their arms and back to load and unload stuff, their eyes to look at what they are doing and their brains to devise brilliant creations or to problem solve. In fact let’s face it our bodies are our multi functional toolkit that we all have in common! Yet many of us fail to look after this most important tool (ourselves) properly! It’s often not until something goes wrong that we even take notice. Wear and tear is inevitable but there are ways to minimise and reverse damage!
Assess yourself and the way you work. Do you hunch over because your table is too low? Is your seat adjustable? Do you do very detailed work in light that strains your eyes? Do you have to carry heavy loads regularly and if so how aware are you of your posture? Do you do repetitive work for long hours without a proper break? Do you forget to eat or drink until your body starts screaming at you in a Little House of Horrors way – FEED ME! By being aware of your working habits, you then can see where you need to adjust your surroundings or the way you work. So in the famous words, ‘because you’re worth it’, I decided to share some top tips in self care!
- Pace yourself. Make time for regular breaks, get up and move around. I used to do very long periods of working and then find myself groaning like an old door when I finally got up. So if you find yourself going urgggh and then releasing your breath in a whoosh as you bend down or get up, then take notice! If you find it really hard to remember to stop, then set an alarm on a clock or mobile phone to remind you to stop and take a break. Pacing yourself also means planning ahead and trying to avoid gluts of working.
- Organise your working space with you in mind. Make sure the things you use all the time are easily reached, keep storage solutions simple. There is no point storing materials on a high shelf and having to go up and down a ladder to get them, maybe looking at under table storage as an option. I use an IKEA box shelving unit as my table base.
- Keep it clean and save your lungs! If you work with dusty, fibrous or fine particle materials get into the habit of damp dusting – i.e. using a water spray to fine mist the air which brings air borne particles down to surfaces and then with a damp cloth wiping them away. Vacuum with a fine particle filter cleaner, something with a HEPA filter or animal hair filter is usually very good at not chucking out fine particles back into the air.
- Cherish your hands. After a period of work, soak them in cool water for about 10 minutes to reduce any inflammation, wiggle your fingers around and gently rotate your wrists. If you work with drying ingredients such as clay or plaster, then moisturise them as often as you can. If you have painful wrists then do yourself a favour and see a doctor – I wear wrist supports now after every heavy work session for at least a couple of hours – which allows me to really rest my hands.
- Learn how to lift properly! The most common cause of a slipped disk is bending at the waist to lift something…bending at the knees and squatting down instead can save you from the nasty pain of a pulled back or slipped disk as well as the time off to recover.
- Avoid Eyestrain by working in well lit areas. Daylight is best but failing that get a good daylight bulb lamp. Also if you do a lot of detailed work you might want to consider a hands free magnifying glass.
- Ventilate your environment especially if you are working with volatile materials such as oil based paints, white spirits, turpentine, epoxy resin glues etc. The fumes over a period of time can affect your nervous system and moods…irreversibly.
- Feed the body. It’s is easy to slip into quick fast food snacks that are not too healthy, especially if you cannot bring yourself to break away from making. It helps to try to eat a more sustaining meal rather than that quick fix chocolate bar! Also better nutrition maintains your body and your energies better also don’t forget to keep hydrated.
- Nurture your creative mind. If you are anything like me then there are a million and one ideas and not enough time to do them all, however there are times when I find myself at a creative blank and then I pick myself up and go off seeking inspiration. I keep an ideas book where I note down all my mad, wacky and ‘oooh yes’ ideas, I also put in quotes, images and basically anything that catches my eye. I also use The Artists Way, which is a 12 week programme written by Julia Cameron. I find it an invaluable tool in developing my creative mind but there are many other similar self help options to restarting your creativity. If none of this is appealing to you then maybe try to visit an exhibition, see a film, go to your local museum or a place of interest to spark your creative juices or maybe try your hand at another craft form.
The bottom line is that you cannot trade your body in for another one and if you wait until something goes wrong then it might never be able to be put right again. You could say this article is about health and safety or you could look at it another way – it’s about investing in your best asset and pampering yourself because you are worth it!