Me surrounded by shibori. Photo Credit: Barbara B. student in my class
Now that we're all staying home as much as possible, it’s no surprise that many of us are picking up new craft and projects. When I was little, I remember the adventure of starting a new project, opening a new kit or cutting into a new piece of fabric. It was that excitement of a new creative journey: what I’d make, how I’d solve a certain problem, and what I’d learn about myself. And at the end of it all, I had the extreme satisfaction of seeing or wearing the completed project. A proud label of achievement: “I made it myself”.
Crafting is a dynamic process, where we sink into a venture and overcome challenges. When we sew, knit or paint, we leave the worries and pressures of daily life and immerse ourselves in handwork. The joy of creation takes over and we lose ourselves for a few hours. Engaging in a project inevitably leads to mood improvement, elevating spirits and giving us an escape from the stress of the world around us.
Engaging in a project inevitably leads to mood improvement, elevating spirits and giving us an escape from the stress of the world around us.
Looking first at finding our flow, then the reasons we craft, and lastly at craft as therapy, we will delve into craftin, how it improves our lives and the unexpected benefits of craft.
Finding Your Flow
There is such a thing as peak creation mode, and it comes with a lot of benefits. In his TED Talk, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tackles the question of "What makes a life worth living?" He notes that once basic resources are covered, acquiring more material resources does not lead to an increase in happiness. He then turns to creative people for answers, artists and scientists, and starts to look at what “made their life meaningful and worth doing.”
Csikszentmihalyi explains, “[W]hen you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new, (a person) doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels. He can’t feel even that he’s hungry or tired. His identity disappears from his consciousness … So, existence is temporarily suspended.” He calls this the “flow experience … an effortless, spontaneous feeling.”
A key point he makes is that, in this “flow experience,” time seems to disappear and you, as an artist, “forget yourself, you feel part of something larger” and then, “what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.” Csikszentmihalyi is tackling the question of how to incorporate more flow in everyday life.
Turning to crafts and forms of art you enjoy are a good way to find your flow, escape the stressors of daily life, achieve relaxation and ultimately, happiness.
Chopsticks make the simplest tools. Photo credit: Emma Fineman
Why We Craft
Crafting comes in many forms: sewing, painting, knitting, cross stitching, ceramics – a few among many – but all, as with art in general, have a wealth of positive consequences on the mind and life of the artist.
An NPR article explains how art helps our brains and tells us about how it aids us to “imagine a more hopeful future,” engaging us as artists to think, from the vantage point of the present, of what the future may hold. Additionally, it “activates the reward center of our brain,” “lowers stress,” and helps us “process … emotion”.
Smiling shibori student. Photo credit: Ecologiquefashion
With all the turmoil that we are experiencing lately – uncertainty and anxiety, turning to crafting can provide an easy and effective distraction. More than that, it brings us joy, engaging our senses and captivating our full attention.
According to Robert Reiner, Ph.D., a New York University psychologist and the author of a study on the benefits of crafting, the findings prove what crafters already know: Crafts de-stress. “The act of performing a craft is incompatible with worry, anger, obsession, and anxiety,” he says. “Crafts make you concentrate and focus on the here and now and distract you from everyday pressures and problems. They’re stress-busters in the same way that meditation, deep breathing, visual imagery, and watching fish are.”
Growth and Achievement
Crafting stretches our problem-solving skills when facing complications and this builds to the sense of accomplishment and mastery. From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (mentioned earlier): “When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life." It challenges creativity, pushing the limits of the artist and causing personal growth.
The sense of achievement that comes with successfully wrapping up a project recalls all the positive aspects of creation, reinforcing the growth and constructive emotions experienced along the journey.
Connection and Community
Lastly, crafting can build community, whether it’s through idea and inspiration sharing, troubleshooting or knowledge transfer. Sharing our creations also allows others into our life, passions, and interests, starting a conversation and creating a bond. Trust, respect and ultimately, community build around these interactions and relationships. Don’t you want to start a craft project right now?
Craft as Therapy
Delving deeper into the benefits of craft, we see that these have been harnessed in treating the human mind. Craft widens sensory experience by using simple handheld tools to create, forces the artist to be resourceful, make decisions and judgment calls, and connects us to being human. In his book Cræft, Alexander Langlands describes his feelings upon completion of a project as he gathers up his things: “I was mellowed, philosophical and relaxed. But more than anything I felt connected - with a place, with a past and with myself."
The article “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health” talks about how craft has, lately, been “used in a variety of ways to heal emotional injuries, increase understanding of oneself and others, develop a capacity for self-reflection, reduce symptoms, and alter behaviors and thinking patterns.” More than that, “artistic self-expression might contribute to maintenance or reconstruction of a positive identity”.
Also there’s a great article on CNN that states: "Crafting can help those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain, experts say. It may also ease stress, increase happiness and protect the brain from damage caused by aging."
In a landmark study by Robert Reiner, Ph.D., a New York University psychologist, researchers took 30 women (15 experienced sewers and 15 novice sewers) and measured their blood pressure, heart rate, perspiration rate, and skin temperature—all gauges of stress—via biofeedback before and after they performed five leisure activities that required similar eye-hand movements. The pastimes included sewing a simple project, playing a card game, painting at an easel, playing a hand-held video game, and reading a newspaper. The results showed that sewing was the most relaxing activity of the five studied: It produced drops in heart rate, blood pressure, and perspiration.
I think this is so fascinating. There are so many other articles written on this subject. For example, the blog Mind Body Green writes “Why Crafting is great for your brain, a neuroscientist explains."
In Nancy Monson has written a book on Craft to Heal. On her blog, she says "All we need is permission from ourselves to spend time creating and the courage to push beyond our comfort zone so our projects truly express what’s inside and help us to unblock, purge, and transform our feelings. “
And right now, all we have is time so it's time to craft. I can imagine once this pandemic is truly over and we all emerge from our cocoons, we’ll have amazing projects we can share with each other in real life.
Currently, I’m working on patching up a jacket. What are you crafting and creating? Have you discovered crafting helps you through these times? I’d love to know. Drop a line in the comments.