The wellbeing benefits of crafting

Crafting and creating are about so much more than the finished product. It is all too easy to appreciate the soft undulations of a hand-thrown vase; the warmth from a crochet blanket; the intricacy of an embroidered wall hanging, while forgetting the hours of time and energy poured into these labours of love. For many makers, the finished product is almost incidental; if they simply wanted a warm pair of gloves, they need only peruse their local high street. But crafting is about so much more than the end product. The enjoyment comes not in completion but creation.

When the creative process becomes simply a means to an end, enjoyment can quickly dwindle as Jane Lindsey, founder of Snapdragon Life, discovered. Over the best part of a decade, Jane built up a business selling her freehand embroidery. After starting out at craft fairs, she was contacted by Not On The Highstreet and soon had to employ a team to keep up with the demands of the shops and websites she supplied with her embroidery. Snapdragon’s business grew and grew.

Crafting for pleasure

After celebrating her 100,000th order a couple of years ago, however, Jane’s mindset changed. Tailoring her products to stand out amongst thousands of other brands on marketplace websites had removed her unique approach: “I thought actually, I have moved away from what made me special as a designer”, Jane told On The Make podcast, “Why don’t I go back to the roots of my business, working from life and not caring what they look like on a thumbnail?” This led to the advent of Snapdragon Life, a site where members can buy discounted bespoke crafts that reflect Jane’s personal style, from embroidered cushions to mugs printed with her floral sketches. Finally, she could return to the joy of creating for creation’s sake.

Crafting is about so much more than the end product. The enjoyment comes not in completion but creation.

Crafting for wellbeing

Crafting is integral not only to Jane’s livelihood, but also her lifestyle. Fifteen years ago, Jane and her family left their life in the West End of Glasgow, where she’d been working as a gallery curator, and relocated to Loch Lomond National Park to lead a quieter, slower-paced life. Jane has an auto-immune condition called Addison’s Disease, which means her hypothalamus doesn’t send signals to her pituitary and adrenal glands: “My body is a little like a car with the wrong grade of petrol in it. It doesn’t run smoothly, it putters and misfires; I get random symptoms; I am always very tired and very hungry.” As with many autoimmune (and also mental health) conditions, stress can be a huge triggering factor, and focussing her energy on creativity and crafting as part of a quiet lifestyle is key for keeping symptoms at bay.

Crafting for mental health

Scientific studies are finally starting to consolidate what creators have known for years: that crafting has a hugely beneficial impact on our health and wellbeing. One study, for example, found that knitting frequency had a significant relationship with feeling calm and happy. Regular knitters were also shown to have higher cognitive functioning. Another study investigated the impact of knitting on managing symptoms of anorexia nervosa. Almost 75 per cent of participants reported that it lessened the intensity of the anxiety they felt and cleared their minds of eating disorder preoccupations. And it isn’t just knitting: an investigation published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing found that the inpatients of a private psychiatric hospital who partook in art and craft therapy groups improved notably across a number of psychometric measures during their time in hospital.

Research into the benefits of crafting for mental wellbeing is continuing to grow. Drs Anne Ferrey and Emma Palmer-Cooper of the University of Oxford have been developing one such research project. As well as being scientists and researchers with a background in mental health, they also knit and crochet in their spare time. Keen to find out more about the link between yarn crafts and mental wellbeing, they established The Yarnfulness Project. Their ongoing research engages with members of the public who knit and craft to find out more about how this benefits their wellbeing.

Getting into the flow

Anecdotally, many crafters, particularly those who knit, have said that the repetitive action can have therapeutic effects on a busy mind. Some find that certain repetitive crafts help to alleviate rumination – a common symptom of those experiencing depression or anxiety, whereby negative thoughts play on a loop in their minds. One explanation for this positive outcome is that the repetitive actions of activities like knitting enable them to enter into a state of ‘flow’. Flow is a term coined by renowned Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi to describe the altered state of consciousness that comes from total immersion in a challenging task. When fully absorbed in such a task, the outside world seems to disappear for a while.

Your mind has to really focus and ignore the rest of your worries.

This state of flow is one that Jane knows only too well. She finds it key to managing her stress, which in turn helps to limit the impact that Addison’s disease has on her life. Jane finds there are two kinds of creativity that boost her wellbeing: “One is something where I really need to concentrate – perhaps drawing a flower from life or learning a new skill. Your mind has to really focus and ignore the rest of your worries. The other is something easy and repetitive like basic knitting, where it becomes like rhythmic walking: a lovely, soothing thing.”

Crafting for self-care

For many, crafting is a crucial act of self-care. The satisfaction that comes with the finished product at the end of a project can create a truly uplifting sense of accomplishment, but this would mean nothing if the reward was instant. The finished vase, blanket or tapestry represent more than material gain; they embody a sense of personal achievement that can only exist from true dedication to a creative process. You can’t put a price on that.