Fuelled by the times we live in, craft is booming. With Covid-19 lockdowns, many have turned to craft to occupy themselves or to make scrubs and masks. And as awareness grows of the climate emergency, people are reducing, reusing and recycling more, and upcycling as well. TV programmes like Sewing Bee and The Repair Shop tap into, and bolster, these trends. So how might craft – as distinct from art – improve wellbeing?
Craft can help people in myriad ways. As with art, it concentrates the mind: if people are absorbed by sewing, measuring or cutting, craft may allow them time away from dwelling on the darker side of life. Craft can also create a feeling of independence and capability, which boosts confidence. And time spent making or sewing is probably time spent with colourful fabrics or patterns, with beautiful objects which themselves could lift the spirits. Craft is literally constructive and positive.
So how is crafting most beneficial? Is it the creating or the creation which helps? Is it the modelling, the sewing, the time actually spent making? Or are the end products the main reward, seeing and using what you make? It will depend on the craft and on the individual maker. With so many different crafts, it seems impossible to compare their impacts. It seems too simplistic to say that knitting is calming or wood-carving is expressive.
Making from new might have a different impact from upcycling. If people feel depressed or overwhelmed by pollution and planetary decline, then upcycling could become a positive way to regain some control and to reduce their carbon footprint ( as well as easing any money worries). Many crafts build patience or improve concentration. Crafting might be a way to get to know other people and share common ground, easing loneliness. Crafts have become important in many care homes, where residents enjoy participating in crafts they find practicable – as illness and older age do limit creativity if people lose the dexterity they migh tneed or if their eyesight deteriorates. The sheer range and diversity of crafts helps immensely, as peop;le can all respond or take part in different ways. And craft is a multi-sensory experience, which is known to boost wellbeing on different levels. Just think of the different materials you might use: clay, wood, glass, felt, silk, ribbon, wool, paper…People who have autism respond positively to multi-sensory stimulus like this, and it’s also helpful for people with sight or hearing loss, by opening up other senses.
Every craft’s impact differes then, depends on the individual taking part: and this is why it is so difficult to assess and monitor their use in wellbeing. Countless people have stories to share of how they find craft helpful, but funders and practitioners need metrics too. Slowly, cncrete research is growing. What Works Wellbeing’s 2018 evidence review on Visual Arts And Mental Health was the first review of its kind, and covered crafts as well as fine art. It cited evidence, for example, that modelling could help people with post-traumatic stress disorder, and presented case studies like a design studio working with people referred there by mental health practitioners over three years at a time.
So craft can be a way people find to calm themselves or to feel more positive, or can actually become part of wellbeing interventions led by others. Lockdown may come to an end, but crafting only looks set to go on growing. It would be great if you would like to share how craft helps you or other people you know in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you!
And talking about art and craft, would you like to take part in an art for wellbeing project – on a plants theme – from home this May? Each week I will email activity ideas to participants: different ways of painting, drawing or crafting plants, with step-by-step instructions and examples. There will also be ideas of music to listen to and ways to enjoy plants in nature. The project will be flexible and informal, no experience needed. Please book using Eventbrite by going to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/plants-on-paper-tickets-148230881557 Thank you!