Time was when we would all have been making something: knitting, sewing, painting, quilting, woodwork, pressing wild flowers, writing a journal, making pots or baskets, mending everything from clothes to lawnmowers. Then technology began to dominate our lives, such occupations often fell by the wayside and – perhaps in part a contributory factor – anxiety and depression escalated.
Crafting is both an enjoyable antidote to the speed and transitory nature of modern life and a way of socialising without pressure – knit and natter groups, for instance. With one in four people suffering mental health problems, it is also increasingly recognised as having a positive impact on our minds. ‘Making and mending things can help us make and mend ourselves,’ say Rosemary Davidson and Arzu Tahsin, the authors of Craftfulness (to be published by Quercus in October).
‘Making things with our hands activates different brain circuits to, say, office work,’ according to a report on the health benefits of knitting (knitforpeace.org.uk). The repetitive movement of knitting, likewise tapestry, quilting and similar crafts, promotes the release of the calming neurotransmitter serotonin, which also lifts mood and dulls pain.
Fascinatingly, all two-handed movements across the mid-line of our bodies (eg, playing the piano) are recognised as using a lot of brain capacity, leaving less room for negative thinking. Knitting and other forms of crafting can also be a form of mindfulness, producing the same alpha-wave pattern in the brain and helping the person to deal with feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.
Mental health charity Mind (mind.org.uk) is right behind this trend. ‘We know that many people find craft activities to be great for their mental health, because they can help you switch off from day-to-day pressures and turn negative thoughts or feelings into something positive,’ says Karen Bolton, head of community and events fundraising at Mind. The charity is so convinced of the benefits that it has launched a Crafternoon campaign to encourage people to get together with friends, family or colleagues and make simple things – from happy jars to paper lanterns or, my favourite, a little lavender-filled teddy bear – and raise funds for Mind. Get a Crafternoon pack by registering online at mind.org.uk.
The Handmade Fair (see left) is also supporting Mind by selling Crafting Kits for business owners. These are intended to support employees’ wellbeing by encouraging them to take time out to get creative. All proceeds will go to Mind. Kirstie Allsopp, who presents the fair, says: ‘We want people to put down their mobile phones, pick up their craft materials and forget their stresses.’
Each Crafting Kit costs £20 and contains an inspiring range of materials and tools for ten to 20 people. To order, email handmadefairteam@brandevents. co.uk, with ‘Handmade Fair Crafting Kit’ in the subject box.