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Can Craft improve health and well-being?

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Can Craft improve health and well-being?

*blinks in the sunlight*

Well HELLO there! It HAS been a while!

I’d really like to report back ¬†that I’ve been super busy making and selling and being uber-productive. But the truth is that I’ve been stepping down, having a ponder, making things for me and learning to simply ‘be’.

More on that later.

Fair warning as Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close this post WILL actually touch on mental health. Mine. So if that makes you a little uncomfortable then now’s the time to go and make a cuppa.

Still here? Oh. Good!

A few months ago a respected friend, Momtaz aka @TheCraftcafe , asked me to guest on her, then new, weekly show on One Harmony Radio who are a community internet radio station based in Brockley, SE London. At the time I was in, shall we say, a ‘difficult place’. I had been off work for months and the doctors had been chucking scary words like ‘Anxiety’ and ‘Depression’ in my direction. Frankly I was in a bit of a state about it all. Talking sense? To an actual person? Over the airwaves? Not uppermost in my thoughts.

But I had HOPE (wonderful stuff. I highly recommend). So we made a flexible plan and, several weeks later, I found myself sitting in front of a microphone at an unheard of hour on a Saturday morning.

Momtaz introduced me as her ‘Best Dressed guest ever!’ thereby cleverly ensuring that I would be putty in her hands for the duration of her show. Good one, Momtaz. Although it was nerve-racking, (watching Momtaz in action was like an masterclass in Radio to me. So effortless!), the topic is so close to my heart that I found it easy to chat and open up. The hardest part was shutting up when the little coloured lights were on/off/whatever they do. Flash?

Me being all 'best dressed' 'n' sh*t

Me being all ‘best dressed’ ‘n’ sh*t

I learned to sew in my teens thanks to the patience and expertise of my mum. Newly single and working to a tight budget she would turn her creative hand to most things out of necessity. I liked it. Loved it, in fact. Now my mum ‘persuades’ me to sew everything for her. Fair enough.

Throughout my life the Arts, in a variety of forms, have always been my place of solace. My natural home. I became a kick-ass (not literally. Illegal apparently) dance teacher and always marveled at my students ability to create and express themselves regardless of ability, age or gender. When, after a pesky injury,¬† I began to focus more on my sewing skillset it never occurred to me that the same wouldn’t apply. People are often surprised that I taught boys to sew. ‘SACRE BLEU!!’ they exclaim. (French-speaking of course….with a flair for melodrama). Craft knows no gender. Fact. It’s SO much more than the activity. It’s that feeling of pride, of making something from practically nothing. Learning a new skill or perfecting a new one. That feeling of worth and achievement. It can’t be beaten! One of my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE things is to show others how and then watch them run away with it. (not literally because that’s dangerous) To those of you who say ‘Oh I’m no good at *insert suitably creative activity here*” I say ‘Pah’! And ‘Try!’. And other (clean) one syllable expressions.

The advice for the millions (yep. Worth keeping in mind next time you feel like you’re on your own) of people out there experiencing Anxiety or Depression is well documented. And a great deal of it involves getting out and ‘doing’ things. In the spirit of ‘doing’ you can’t go far wrong with trying a new skill. Can you see where I’m going here? My experience has always been that when the going got tough (seriously resisting the urge to embed THAT Billy Ocean tune into this post) if I could get to my sewing machine, or pick up a crochet hook or teach myself to knit half a sock *glances feebly at half knitted sock* then I’d be moving in the right direction. UP (in case you hadn’t figured it out).

IMG_20150319_241959795

It might work for you.

Back to Radioland. So Momtaz and I chatted and I made a bit of sense (allegedly) and we how we laughed and Momtaz played some FAB-ulous music (what happened to PM Dawn? Anyone?) and before we knew it the show was over! *sniff*

At time of writing I am still a Work in Progress. But aren’t we all? I’ve made some positive and life-shifting changes (to put it mildly). But I know I won’t be giving up sewing (or teaching others to sew) anytime soon.

Of course now I also want to be a DJ….

The trouble with boys…?

“You teach Textiles? In a boys school? To boys? Do they like it?”

I have always encountered near incredulity when mentioning my specialist subject to others. I actually trained as a dance teacher many hundreds of years ago (must be the green tea). I became accustomed to surprised reactions to the fact that boys even did dance at secondary school. Throughout my career I have been fortunate enough to work in schools where the Performing Arts are cherished. Schools that actively encourage both sexes to express themselves through this medium from Year 7 (1st year) up through GCSE and A level Dance. Extremely successfully too. Then bits started to fall from my body and a fabulous opportunity to teach textiles came tumbling into my lap. What was a girl to do? Sorry, I mean, what was a girl – who LOVES sewing, designing and creating with fabrics – to do?

This year class Year 8/TY2 have the pleasure of my company. Last year I taught my Year 7’s to sew by hand and they took home puppets they had made based on fairytale characters…

Glodi and Prince Charming

and sock monsters upcycled from old socks…

Eden and his socky - Stripy!

after the best part of a year. This year my task is to teach them how to use a sewing machine…. in SIX weeks!

*Rolls sleeves up*.

On friday at the beginning of the lesson as I finished taking the register and 21 eager faces looked at me expectantly . I announced the introductory lesson topic… ‘The History of Sewing’.

One lone, brave boy (we’ll call him X – for Xtremely foolish – shall we?) summed up the mood of the class “We’re sup-POSED to be doing sewing! Not HISSSS-tory!”

Don’t you just love children?

Once I had re-established the ground rules for expressing one’s opinion out loud, we continued. I displayed a script on the whiteboard and invited volunteers to read out a paragraph each. It was full of exciting facts about the history of sewing. I am serious by the way. The boys became particularly animated when learning about early thread made from animal sinew (true) and French tailors rioting back in the 19th century in uproar at the possibility of losing their jobs to industrialisation (“like the Summer riots in Lewisham miss!” Hmmm)

Once complete, I handed out envelopes which contained slips of paper with the same information. The class were given two minutes to arrange the paragraphs in order. Cue much hilarity. I noted (smugly, I admit) that X seemed to be having a great time motivating his group to finish quickly. Next came the quiz part. I read the questions and the first member of each group to hold up the relevant slip and read the correct answer gained a point. Simple, yes? Have you ever taught 12 year old boys?

Actually it was good fun…well I had fun stretching out the anticipatory silence before reading out a question reeeeally slowly. Isn’t that the point?

What am I trying to say? It doesn’t matter whether the subject is deemed ‘traditional’ or not, boys and girls will enjoy it because, believe it or not, they love to learn. And if they can have some laughs along the way….you’ve got them hooked.

Here’s the best bit…I hated Design and Technology at school! Funny that…

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