Before I retired last year, I worked in addictions. I started out working in that field years ago as personal assistant to a prominent addictions psychiatrist in a community drug service. He would share with me his love of doing needlepoint and tapestry for relaxation and as a foil for the intensity of his day job.
Later, I worked in management for a national charity involved in supporting GPs and other people who work in the addictions field. Part of my job involved travelling to conferences across the length and the breadth of the country which frequently meant long train journeys. Often I would be sharing the journey back to London with some of the speakers from the conferences and one woman in particular stands out in my mind, I shall call her Maggie. On the conference podium, she spoke eloquently of her experience of using drugs for many years and the challenges she encountered being in treatment for heroin addiction. She tended to dress mainly in many layers of black and to be honest, she was a tad intimidating. Sitting across from me in the carriage, we would both be a bit guarded. We were so different. Intelligent and knowledgeable, I was soon grateful to have Maggie’s good company on the train home as we spoke of family life, or what books we were reading.
On one of these trips, Maggie brought out a needlework project as we chatted away from Liverpool to London – embroidery with the most intricate and complex patterns, stitched with fine needles and jewel colours, her work was way out of my league. Luckily, I would usually have my knitting on me. As anyone who does handwork knows, there is nothing like passing the time sitting with others who are similarly engaged in making something beautiful. Talk about breaking down barriers! She became a good friend and a crafting companion on those long journeys. We were not so different after all.
On holiday in Cape Town a few years ago, I was introduced to a group of women who swim in the Atlantic Ocean at Kalk Bay early most mornings. They call their gang The Blue Tits. I joined in, although I never did earn the badge of honour of that particular club, going into the water only knee deep. Swimming and shrieking over, we would change out of our bathing costumes, cross the road to a nearby park and out would come the knitting, crocheting or embroidery and easy conversation would follow as we checked out each other’s projects. Staff from a nearby café would run back and forth bringing coffees and breakfast baps in return for generous tips. It was a blissful way of passing time – I could have sat there all day. Sometimes I only have to think of The Blue Tits to bring a smile to my face in the middle of a UK winter.
Experiences like these have strengthened my belief in the power of crafting as a way of connecting with people no matter where we are or what is being made. Research points towards art and crafts and the links with wellbeing and never has it been more important to seek out calming activities or to connect with others than in the past year.
Sometimes it takes a long time for the seed of an idea to take shape and I have wanted to find a way of introducing people to the pleasure and the enjoyment of making something, however small or their level of expertise. I am grateful to have had the opportunity this year to develop embroidery projects for The Spectacled Weaver. I am also thankful to be a crafter who has an artistic and cool son-in-law who is prepared to indulge my flights of fancy and – apart from the fun – I hope that my fledgling business could provide a way in to join the crafting tribe as a route to improved wellbeing.
In the meanwhile, I am happy to have found a new tribe at The British Craft House.