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craft as therapy

Craft as therapy

by Clare

We explore the therapeutic benefits of craft on mental and physical health  

It’s no secret that we love craft! But in our fast-paced modern world, we need craft more than ever. Here, with the help of some of our talented Folksy sellers, we look at the therapeutic benefits of craft for both our mental and physical health, and hear from makers who have used craft to recover from traumatic life events, relieve stress, build self esteem and find moments of calm.

craft as therapy - heart flower under umbrella lino print
Heart plant under an umbrella‘ linocut print by Andrea Willette

Craft as an antidote to modernity

Craft can act as an antidote to our increasingly screen-based lives. Using our hands to create takes us away from our screens and allows our mind and body to relax. In an opinion piece for the Guardian last year titled ‘Craft has the power to save us all’, Rhik Samadder talks of a ‘welldoing’ movement, where people (especially teenagers and young people) are turning away from screens and social media, and turning to craft as a way to improve their mental wellbeing. We’ve seen craft workshops soaring in popularity over recent years and this trend is set to continue as more people discover the benefits of craft.

Craft is for everyone

You don’t even have to be good at your chosen craft to reap the benefits. Everyone can feel the benefits of craft, regardless of your skill level and expertise. In fact, even for experienced crafters, there is always something that can be improved on. There’s always more to learn, new patterns to try, new ways of working to explore.  

Some of our sellers have also found that they don’t need to be creating something to feel the benefit of craft. Simply sorting or arranging their craft supplies, organising their workspace or admiring their stash of materials boosts their mental wellbeing.

craft as therapy - pebble jewellery
Pebble pendants by Seaside Rocks

I definitely see my jewellery making as therapy. I think my favourite bit is simply rummaging with my seaglass finds and ‘sorting’ them…

Sophie Larsen, Seaside Rocks

Craft and mindfulness

The link between craft and mindfulness has been discussed frequently over the last few years. The idea that you can enter a ‘flow’ state of being during craft – an immersive state where you’re living in the present and fully connected to the here and now. For many of our sellers, craft is a meditative activity – one that can calm their minds and ground them in the present.  

craft and wellbeing - hand woven blue scarf
Hand woven deep blue sea scarf by Hem: Handwoven

I’m a weaver and it’s the most meditative process. It clears my mind and I love the intuitive nature of judging the tension and texture by touch.

Nell, Hem: Handwoven

We’ve also seen that interest in craft has increased since the rise in popularity of Hygge – the Danish concept of contentment, where you leave behind external pressures and find comfort in your surroundings, which can be linked to the concept of mindfulness. Textile crafts, such as knitting and sewing, are especially hyggelig, especially when done next to a roaring fire with a big steaming mug of tea in the winter months.

Craft as Therapy - hexagon coasters
Hexagon coasters by HaySheen

My craft is very relaxing as I mix colours and see them form beautiful contemporary shapes. It’s almost like being in another dimension. It definitely helps if I’m ever feeling stressed, as I can just shut out all those negative thoughts and be in a space that’s a complete state of calm and satisfaction.

Huma, HaySheen

Craft after a major life event

Taking part in a craft activity can release stress, especially when the craft involves repetitive actions (such as knitting, crochet, weaving, ceramics, needlework and woodwork). Many of our Folksy sellers started crafting as a way to try to relieve stress after a major life event: whether it be the journey into parenthood, divorce, health issues, retirement or the death of a loved one.  

I have always used crafts as my ‘me time’ but after a failed spine operation meant I could no longer work and was faced with a complete change of lifestyle in every way, I started Bearlescent. My husband says it was my ‘sanity’ and without it I would have ‘gone under’. It gave me a reason to wake up in the morning and kept my mind and hands busy.

Debby, Bearlescent
craft as therapy - embroidered pin cushion
Hand-embroidered pin cushion by Bearlescent

When I lost my job because of a chronic pain condition I lost all sense of worth. Making jewellery and selling it gave it back to me. When I discussed it with my pain management team, they said it was a fantastic mindfulness technique and to keep it up as it’s really good for your general wellbeing. The fact that I can do it around how my body is feeling is also great, as I don’t have to push myself on the days my body says no.

Jayne, GoRadLou

After a run-in with breast cancer in 2011, I realised I was no longer up to a ‘normal’ job, so took redundancy from the NHS and six months later started my business. If I know I’m going to be stuck with a long wait somewhere I’ll take a notebook or a small needlework project – a fiddly bit of stitching is very distracting. There’s an old Taoist proverb ‘creativity cures the chaos of the heart’ and I’d say it’s definitely true.

Samantha, Samantha Newbury

I definitely find jewellery making a brilliant way to relax. My daughter has autism, so life can be pretty full-on, with never a minute to myself sometimes (although I wouldn’t change her for the world). Having jewellery to focus on has really helped my mental wellbeing.

Jillian, Bead Chic By J

Craft can regulate our emotions

New research by BBC Arts and UCL has shown that taking part in a creative pastime can regulate our emotions and manage our mood. The research shows that there are three main ways we use creativity as coping mechanisms to control our emotions:

1. a distraction tool – using creativity to avoid stress
2. a contemplation tool – using creativity to give us the mind space to reassess problems in our lives and make plans
3. a means of self-development to face challenges by building up self-esteem and confidence

Being able to regulate our emotions through craft can be really beneficial , especially for those living with stress, depression and anxiety.

I’ve had a few major bouts of anxiety over the years and I suffered a particularly bad bout that started about two years ago and resulted in me being signed off from my day job for six months. I found that my sewing had a remarkably calming effect on me. I attended talking therapy and my therapist told me to use my sewing to calm me down when I was feeling particularly anxious. She also suggested using mindfulness techniques and combining those with the sewing by focusing on things like the feel of the fabric and the sound of the sewing machine. It really helped and I’m convinced that my sewing was an important factor in my recovery.

Helen, Pocketful Creations
Craft as Therapy - Hedgehog cushion with toadstools
Hedgehog cushion with toadstools by Pocketful Creations

I find crafting so therapeutic. After suffering with PTSD it helped me massively to keep myself calm and take me away from the stressful and depressing situation I was in. I would highly recommend craft for anyone wanting to help reduce stress and anxiety.

Fizz, Elizabeth Erin Jewellery

Craft is definitely a therapy for me, as I suffer with depression and fatigue and fibromyalgia. I first introduced it as therapy for my daughter due to severe anxiety and PTSD, then I carried on with it, going to college to study a diploma in jewellery design and eventually giving up my career in local government.

Adrienne, Oku Designs

Craft as physical therapy

There have been many studies on the mental health benefits of craft, especially knitting, but there are also physical benefits. Craft-based activities have been an integral part of occupational therapy for decades. Soldiers returning home from the First World War were taught to knit as a way of taking their minds off the pain and trauma they had experienced (also known as diversional therapy). Learning a craft gave them a sense of purpose and the same is true for crafters today. While craft is not capable of healing physical pain, the relaxation and relief from stress it provides can go a long way to help people to cope with their pain by increasing their sense of wellbeing.

I ran craft workshops for my local stroke group for a number of years. It was amazing to see how they helped people with concentration, dexterity, companionship and gave them a sense of achievement. Those who initially didn’t want to take part sometimes benefited the most. It wasn’t what they were making or doing but the act of doing it.

Gaynor, Gaynor Marshall Designs
craft as therapy - eat sleep knit repeat print
‘Eat, Sleep Knit, Repeat’ print by Gaynor Marshall Designs

Having led a busy life and a successful beauty business I suddenly developed acute aggressive rheumatoid arthritis in every joint of my body two years ago. The only time I feel like the person I was is when I’m in my craft room and I hope I can keep going for another couple of years. It’s a blessing.

Fiona, Creative Painting by Fiona Elliot

My Aunty Jean suggested I take up cross stitch when I was first diagnosed with ME. That suggestion has proved a lifeline during many years of being bedbound and housebound.

Victoria, Piccola Crafts

Craft and ageing

Craft has been proven to improve cognitive abilities, including improved memory, concentration and problem-solving.  Quilting in particular has been found to be beneficial for older people as the intricate patterns are cognitively demanding (The Impact of Sustained Engagement on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: Park, Lodi-Smith, Drew, Harber, Hebrank, Bischof and Aamodt). In fact, using your hands for craft triggers activity in 60% of your brain, so can help to keep your brain active and healthy as you get older. 

craft as therapy - embroidered Scandinavian felt heart decoration
Embroidered Scandinavian Christmas heart decoration by Samantha Newbury

So what are you waiting for? Find a local craft workshop, pick up a craft book from your local library or buy a craft kit from one of our Folksy sellers, and discover the wellbeing benefits of craft for yourself.

Start selling on Folksy

And when you feel ready, you can even start selling your own makes on Folksy too.

Join Folksy

Credits: Yarn in main image photographed by Alison from Sakarma Handmade; Red Squirrel by Abbey from Seen and Known

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2 comments

Sara Kellard September 23, 2019 - 9:12 pm

I am a Jack-of-Trades in the Craft scene, loving variety in textiles – knitting, crochet, embroidery and felting. Painting too.
After mental illness and separation, now feel I can’t face being unemployed. Can anyone in Folksy employ me to make up their designs?

lisa davis September 25, 2019 - 8:24 am

What a well crafted blog post – ha! – and so true. HMRC will even take ‘therapeutic earnings’ into account too. I have chronic neuropathic pain and make all my jewellery lying down. It is so important to feel productive, even if it’s only to make a pair of earrings.

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