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Health & Wellness

Help Boost Your Well-Being with a Crafting Hobby

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Whether you knit, crochet, sketch, paint, weave, quilt, bake bread or create pottery out of clay, there is pleasure, purpose and even psychological benefits in making something from scratch.

That’s the premise of a new book Craftfulness: Mend Yourself by Making Things by longtime friends and fellow crafters Rosemary Davidson and Arzu Tahsin.

Davidson recently spoke to GetOld about the positive impact of crafting from her home in London. 

Get Old: How long have you been crafting?

Davidson: Ever since I can remember. When I was about five or six, my great aunt taught me to knit and my grandmother taught me to sew.

GO: Is crafting a daily activity for you? 

Davidson: Pretty much. I knit every day, mostly in the evenings. I just started a baby scarf for a friend’s son. I do woodcutting, and I recently took a class on darning, so I spend a lot of time using the technique to mend moth holes and embellish woolens.  And, once a week I meet with four other women friends to do pottery in the studio of another friend, who was our children’s pottery teacher.

GO: You and Arzu want to encourage everyone to craft. Why?

Davidson: We believe that creativity is part of being human. People often don’t think they’re creative. Maybe that’s because when they were young somebody told them that they weren’t good at art. But we all have an intrinsic urge to make something. Crafting adds meaning, new experiences, new encounters and fresh areas of interest and inspiration to our lives.

GO: How do you believe crafting is connected to health and well-being?

Davidson: There’s both purpose and play in making things. From a mental-health standpoint, the satisfaction of creating something with your hands may help build self-esteem, confidence and resilience. You begin to feel, ‘if I’m able to do this, what else am I capable of doing that I might never have thought possible before?’

What’s more, as you knit, crochet, make a pot or knead dough, your mind is rested because it’s focused on that one activity alone. In this way, using your hands and your imagination to express an idea or an emotion and produce an object, is very much like meditation. Awareness of the outside world is reduced as you’re deeply absorbed in your task, and afterwards you feel may reinvigorated and relaxed.

GO: You’ve written that crafting was a form of therapy for you when you went through periods of depression. How so?

Davidson: When I experienced severe and prolonged bouts of depression, there were times I wasn’t really capable of doing anything. I’d lost my ability to concentrate. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t function as an employee so I wasn’t working.

One of the few things I could do was knit. In my experience that repetitive, rhythmic activity helped calm me.

GO: If someone has never had a creative hobby, how can they get started?

Davidson: It’s important, above all, to enjoy what you’re doing. There’s a sensory, tactile side of craft that that’s very individual. Some people are going to be drawn to thread or fabric, other people to paper and paint or charcoal. Maybe there’s something you remember enjoying as a kid that beckons to you again.

Think of something you’ve always wanted to have a go at and just, literally, start. Take pen to paper, brush to canvas. Try to approach the activity as you imagine a child would, letting go of self-judgment and expectations. Remember, nobody is good at something the first time they do it.

Start with something easy that’s not an investment of hours and hours. If you’re going to try knitting, begin by knitting the simplest square or scarf. Whatever you choose, you might want to take a class or learn from a friend. Or you can take a tutorial in your own home. You can easily find how-to videos on every imaginable craft.

Part of the fun is the surprise. With pottery, what’s so delightful is that you never know what you’re going to get until the pot comes out of the kiln. Sometimes you make mistakes and it’s not at all what you imagined. I embrace imperfection with a smile.

GO: Do you believe there’s particular value to having a creative pastime in midlife and beyond?

Davidson: I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot. At different times in our lives the way Arzu and I crafted was different. When we were young mothers and working incredibly hard in our careers, crafting was a way of getting away and being solitary. Now that I’m in my fifties, that’s very much changed and the social element of crafting has become important.

These days crafting is a way for me to engage with new people and new communities. It’s quite vital for me to have my Saturdays when I meet up with my group of pottery friends. We get ideas and inspiration from each other and we laugh quite a lot.

I hear from other women that as they begin to move into retirement or part-time work, crafting gives them a new sense of purpose and the excitement of learning new skills, like jewelry-making or painting. As I get older, I’m also really looking forward to one day teaching my grandchildren how to knit.

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