This week is Mental Health Awareness week. It’s a timely reminder that for some people this is an interesting and informative opportunity to hear and see more about the lived lives of others who have ongoing mental health conditions. For at least one in four of the population, some of what they’ll be seeing and hearing is their life. It’s not a spectator sport, it’s not fascinating or even always sad – it is just how it is – the ups the downs and the periods that feel indescribable. Mental Health Awareness week is an absolutely brilliant opportunity to remind us all about the potential complexities of living with an ongoing condition. Everywhere in the media there are signposts for seeking help and support, brilliant ideas for how to live ‘better’ ( a rather subjective term) and perhaps most importantly – real people talking about how life is for them. If you don’t have an ongoing mental health condition, the chances are that you know somebody who does and awareness is the very best tool you can equip yourself with. There is some brilliant stuff out there – just get looking.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been part of a group or a small community. In the olden days this was a face to face community, brownies, scouts, youth clubs, dance group, walking club, neighbourhood watch etc.
Today these are still out there but increasingly we’re becoming members of online communities. I’m part of crochet clubs, reading clubs, groups for my home town, wellbeing forums and a number of arts and crafts groups. All of these are brilliant and I can feel part of a community as, between us (me and other keen participators out there) we work out tricky stitch problems or why that granny square has only 3 corners – you know the kind of thing! However, my online community don’t chat to me as I crochet or admire my lovely new wool and they can’t be there to just chat about the stuff our days are made of, because they are busy with their own lives, dipping into and out of the online communities.
It remains a real joy to spend time regularly, with fellow crafters. It never matters if they are better than you or if they are beginners. What matters is that for a short while you are part of a community who do what you do.
Use your online communities for inspiration and sorting out knotty problems, but do consider finding a local group of people who do what you do and relish the company and support that only real human beings can offer.
This article from the Telegraph from 2014 dropped into my timeline today. It outlines the spectacular (and occasionally gory) knitting practices out there. There were women using knitting for code in the war, knitting at the guillotine, even an extraordinary set of islands in Peru that are basically knitted out of reeds. You can find the article at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/qi/10638792/QI-how-knitting-was-used-as-code-in-WW2.html
We’ve worked hard this term to create a yarn bomb that builds on last term’s theme but is also different. Unsurprisingly, we chose Spring and have been knitting and crocheting flowers, butterflies, garlands and squares. A late arrival to the theme were pom pom chicks who are currently standing guard over the main office.
A very big part of the project is the construction. We walked around with various items trying them out, finding the very best place to fit them in. The teamwork required to install a yarn bomb relies on a keen eye or two, the power of discernment but also, more imporantly a true spirit of adventure. It may be that you are wondering where this spirit finds its outlet but if you’ve ever stepped from chair to chair, trying to find the exact spot where that carefully crocheted butterfly will hand, you’ll know what I mean.
It’s one of the real pleasures of installing a yarn bomb to witness other people’s reactions. I’ve spotted a number of staff and students taking photos, stroking the wool and gently repositioning the odd leaning chick. Because we have hung butterflies and flowers on the ceiling people are looking up and reaching to touch them. A yarn bomb is definitely a hands on experience, from its very beginnings to the finished ‘bomb’.
What is knitting?
If you’ve ever wondered where the word comes from (or even if you haven’t) here’s a quick overview:
The word is derived from knot and ultimately from the Old English cnyttan, to knot.
Nålebinding (Danish: literally “binding with a needle” or “needle-binding”) is a fabric creation technique predating both knitting and crochet. That said, one of the earliest known examples of true knitting was cotton socks with stranded knit color patterns found in Egypt from the end of the first millennium AD.
The first commercial knitting guilds appear in Western Europe in the early fifteenth century (Tournai in 1429, Barcelona in 1496). The Guild of Saint Fiacre was founded in Paris in 1527 but the archives mention an organization (not necessarily a guild) of knitters from 1268.
With the invention of the knitting machine, knitting “by hand” became a craft used by country people with easy access to fiber. Similar to quilting, spinning, and needlepoint, hand knitting became a leisure activity for the wealthy.
It seems that we’ve moved on a lot from this leisure activity for the wealthy. When I was at primary school, all jumpers and cardigans were knitted – not from choice – but from necessity. It simply wasn’t an option to buy a school jumper so we were forced to wear the you’ll-grow-into-it knitted garment. This may explain why a whole generation or more had an aversion to home made knitwear made out of scratchy wool/acrylic and why now, when we choose to knit or crochet, we are choose yarn that is the very opposite of utility yarn. Whilst it may no longer be the past-time of the wealthy, there’s no denying that wool can be very expensive – but it doesn’t need to be.
We’ve been buying inexpensive wool/acrylic mixes for our next project which is all about shape and colour. Perhaps, importantly, we are thinking creatively about how to use our colours, and again, perhaps most importantly of all, we are thinking as a group of workers with wool.
Often, I look around at us all knitting and crocheting in the common room and am reminded of how many artists have chosen the knitter as inspiration. Is it the tranquility of features absorbed in the task? Is it something about the posture of the knitter, the bent neck, the symmetry of hands at work? Is it perhaps the contrast between sitter and their environment? For us, it is all of these things and a great deal more.
To Yarn Bomb – Yarn bombing, yarnbombing, yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting or graffiti knitting is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk.
Our lunch time knitting sessions have a new focus and we are knitting and crocheting with a view to a departmental yarn bomb. The project has inspired non-knitters to pick up needles and non-knitters and non-crocheters to start making pom poms.
It’s one of life’s small pleasures to see somebody who has always wanted to be knitter discovering the magic that 2 sticks and a ball of wool can create.
In our working lives success is measured in meeting targets, exceeding goals, being innovative and proactive and above all, doing our jobs well. Knitting isn’t all that different except as the holder of the needles you get to be the boss. You set the goals, you choose the pattern (beginner, intermediate, advanced), you choose your wool and then it’s all up to you. Your workforce is comprised of balls of yarn and a needle or two and it’s up to you to make them work.
Not everything will be a success. I have jumpers with one arm longer than the other, hats that are too large for a human head, a sock with no foot in it (that’s the most tricky part) and more Granny Squares that challenge the concept of ‘square’ than I can count. Yet each of these attempts are one step closer to the perfect jumper, hat, sock and square. I can’t say that I’ve mastered all of the above but I am perfectly happy to keep trying to meet my own targets.Our yarn bombing project is a truly collaborative endeavour and the enthusiasm for it seems unstoppable. Watch this space.
This is an interesting article that begins with a discussion on how wonderful some knitting websites are and how, on the whole, people are generous with their time, their ideas and their positive comments. It then draws a harsh parallel with the practical issues surrounding parenting. The article pays attention to the harsh criticism and parent shaming that seems to be rife on social media sites where it seems perfectly acceptable to be downright rude about somebody’s children and where the old adage ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ has been abandoned in favour of harsh, unmeasured criticism.
This is perhaps a rather unorthodox way of talking about parenting but it does make sense. As parents we create our children, they become our great project, knitted up with care and love into what we hope will be our finest work, a work to be admired, cherished and loved for many years to come. What then would we do if others set out to pick apart this project and begin to unravel the good work? I guess we re-knit. We pick up the stitches and carry on.
I am often in awe of great knitters but maybe we just don’t take enough time to be in awe of great parenting, or perhaps more importantly, we seem to have plenty of time for parent shaming.
You can read this article at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/25/well/family/the-opposite-of-publicly-shaming-parents-knitting.html
Betsan Corkhill is the founder of Stitchlinks – as Betsan says”
Stitchlinks is a Community Interest Company (CIC) which is a non-profit organisation.
It has three arms –
- A supportive community for anyone who enjoys, or wishes to enjoy, the therapeutic benefits of crafts, particulary knitting. Use it to improve your health and wellbeing whether you are fit and well or living with a longterm medical condition.
- A research arm which is pioneering research into the therapeutic benefits of knitting and social activity groups.
- A resource for clinicians, teachers, group leaders, the craft trade and other professionals who wish to use knitting therapeutically. (http://www.stitchlinks.com/about_us.html)
I can really recommend both the site and signing up for the newsletters. Stitchlinks if full of both inspiring and informative ideas that explain how useful knitting and crochet (and indeed any kind of craft) can be in providing a space to concentrate the mind. Sometimes you just need something simple to work on – something that is almost automatic – a square or a simple scarf, and sometimes you need something very distracting. For me, this is anything that needs counting. Having to focus on the work in hand allows very little space for anything else.
Do take time to explore the wonderful Stitchlinks site. It’s time very well spent.
Emma – Student Support Officer
I was ‘taught’ to knit by my mother. Her way of teaching was to show me how to do it, take it off me when it went wrong and then despair altogether. Unsuprisingly I didn’t persevere with it. However, when we lived in New Zealand for a year in 1993 I was concerned to see that it was expected that everyone could and would knit. It was almost impossible to buy jumpers in the shops and wool was ridiculously cheap and plentiful (five sheep per person) and school children wore home made jumpers and cardigans. Having exhausted my options for getting someone else to knit them I joined the local library and took out the Usborne book ‘How to Knit’. It was brilliant and with a bit of help from friends I made jumpers for all the whole family – whether they liked it or not. Once back from New Zealand I let my skills lapse until very recently when I discovered crochet and am now – pun intended – hooked.
Teri – Administrative Assistant
Other than creating wonky scarves and a single chain of crochet resembling a plait when I was in primary school I would consider myself a complete beginner. I find watching knitting and crochet fairly therapeutic so when there was the opportunity to actually get involved I was more than happy (and slightly apprehensive) to get stuck in. I decided to learn crochet as I had spent weeks watching a couple of colleagues create really pretty flowers in a considerably short space of time. What struck me first was how remarkably simple it was/is to create these flowers once you’ve got the basics (which aren’t that hard!). After the initial bit of effort and paying attention the payoff is massive, before long you are able to create something that looks pretty and complete. I really enjoy being able to take part in an activity that although it occupies part of your concentration and focus you can still socialise and talk. It really is the perfect group activity (once you’ve figured out the basics!). It also makes sure I get away from my desk at lunch time, I have a break from work, I don’t think about work and take part in an activity that is calming and sociable; it’s almost like a reset so that I’m able to regroup for work in the afternoon.
Gemma – Recruitment and Events Coordinator
Knitting is always something I associate with my Grandma. She had taught me how to knit the basic stitch when I was about 5 years old, but I had never really got into it. I remember being mesmerised by the speed in which her needles seemed to weave, the clicking of the metal and the rapidly growing garment, yet it always seemed like something more associated with an older generation and therefore out of reach. At the age of 23, my Grandpa had a stroke. As he had to spend a lot of time in hospital, my Grandma found herself on her own for the first time in the whole of their marriage. To try and give her something to keep her occupied, I found her a pattern and asked her if she wouldn’t mind knitting me a cardigan. Once it was finished she told me how comforting she had found it to be knitting again and to have something to concentrate on, whilst everything was going on out of her control.
A year later, I found out a friend of mine was expecting a baby and so I seized the opportunity to take up knitting. I was shown how to cast on, knit and purl and I just knitted and knitted. The first thing I made was just one long piece of straight knitting (a knitted bump warmer), which I took everywhere with me, taking every opportunity to add to it and get absorbed by the therapeutic act. Since then, I have knitted a number of different things, teaching myself along the way. I find that suffering from depression means it is hard to engulf myself in anything, but knitting (as with sewing) allows me that break from my wandering thoughts. When I’m working on a project, I feel excited to return to it, reluctant to put it down, similar to the feeling of reading a good book. When I’m knitting and watching TV, the knitting stops me feeling anxious that I’m wasting my time. And the great sense of achievement I get when I can physically see what I have created, is not a feeling I tend to experience by any other means.
Megan – Postgraduate Administrative Assistant
My brother and I are 13 months apart in age, and occupying us both as children could be pretty challenging for my poor mum, especially on trips.
On a family holiday (I want to say to the Isle of Wight, but we are talking over 20 years ago) she was faced with exactly this challenge when taking us both on a ferry to our destination. My brother was pretty content to run up and down the deck of the boat, but I suffered dreadfully with motion sickness, and had to be distracted to prevent temper tantrums.On a little wooden bench, my mum presented me with a “my first knitting” type of kit.
I very much doubt I completed much of the little scarf myself, undoubtedly thrusting the red plastic needles at my mum in frustration whenever I got into a tangle, but to this day knitting and crochet still keep me distracted for hours, and I love to relax on my lunch breaks or in the evening with crafty little projects. They are still the perfect distraction.
Some of us are enthusiastic amateurs, some much more accomplished and a great number of us are keen beginners. We started with a bit of crochet, which, once mastered, is a very easy way to make something quickly. Whilst knitting and crocheting is not all about speed, there is something very satisfying about an ‘automatic’ project – something that is completed in one or two sittings. These flowers require some basic crochet skills, just enough concentration to be absorbing and are very quick to do. Making a beautiful blanket might take a while but that’s what our lunchtime sessions are for.
You can find an easy to follow pattern here http://revlie.typepad.com/revolution/2011/06/japanese-flower-tutorial-picture-by-picture-you-can-do-this.html