With our ‘Making It Better’ workshop for Sydney Craft Week rapidly approaching (October 6), I have been thinking a lot about the different ways that people use making to get through challenging times. I have been having lots of Interesting conversations and reading articles and books and waking up in the middle of the night with new ideas. As with most ideas that seem simple at first, it turns out there is a lot more too it than I first thought. Is craft work always mindful or can it be mindless at times? Can making to relieve stress become a source of stress in itself as we struggle to meet (usually self-imposed) deadlines? What are the essential common elements of therapeutic making? Are there any?
To explore these ideas further I have asked a number of makers to tell their stories. The first guest blogger is my Mum, Libby who writes about her own and her mother’s relationship with making and its role in some of the more challenging times in their lives. This is Libby with her Ashford Spinning Wheel and some of the fruits of her labours.
“Many of us have times in our lives when we need to wait: to recover from illness, for someone to come, for time to pass. Like many others I find I can wait much more patiently if my hands or eyes or ears are satisfyingly occupied.
My mother started spinning wool in the 1960s to deal with a regular and unwanted waiting period. Her widowed father came to proper Sunday lunch each week, and part of his routine was to sit and talk to (or more accurately at) my mother for some hours. She would have been very happy for him to talk at her while she did the gardening, but he was too heavy to sit safely anywhere but in a serious lounge chair. For her, sitting inside doing nothing but listening to somewhat repetitive stories felt like imprisonment. The spinning wheel was the perfect solution which kept them both happy and contented. She could listen to her father and at the same time derive satisfaction from spinning a single continuous thread from a mass of fleece. Grandpa talked away against the background of the quiet rhythmic pedalling as men have done for generations.
“For her, sitting inside doing nothing but listening to somewhat repetitive stories felt like imprisonment. The spinning wheel was the perfect solution which kept them both happy and contented. She could listen to her father and at the same time derive satisfaction from spinning a single continuous thread from a mass of fleece.”
Mum’s spinning practice evolved wonderfully, into dyeing with eucalypts and other natural dyes, knitting and weaving. The local branch of the HandspinnersGuild provided her with challenges, guidance and friendship for many years, and continued even after she entered a nursing home.
Despite being bedridden for six years, her knitting practice was an important element in the life she developed there, as she experienced the pleasure of making admired socks for family, friends and carers. Her knitting kept her feeling useful and connected.
“Mum sent me an Ashford traditional spinning wheel forty years ago because she correctly thought it would help me deal with the stresses and strains of family life.”
Spinning has also played an important role in my life, ever since Mum sent me an Ashford traditional spinning wheel forty years ago because she correctly thought it would help me deal with the stresses and strains of family life. However, it was a more portable project which helped me through a difficult time working out what to do now that all my children were at school. The days at home were lonely and unfulfilled, and I became quite depressed. During a summer holiday visiting family in Sydney, I found pleasure in stitching a needlepoint cushion with my hand spun fine white wool in an Aran stitch pattern.
The work demanded focus and attention to follow accurately the counted pattern with its different stitches, which provided variety and some challenge. I enjoyed the way it was developing. It was not a ‘creative’ project, as I had only selected and followed instructions that suited my state of mind perfectly at the time, without any need to make decisions. I was satisfied to be engaged in the project and to have something to show for the restlessness of that hot humid busy summer. The small white cushion is still in our apartment, reminding me of that time. I have had other anxious times since then, and continue to make them better by finding comfort and structure in my spinning and knitting. The images below illustrate some of my work.