Wellbeing seems to relate directly to a persons’ mental state and whether or not they are happy. It is all about looking after yourself by taking time out and gather your thoughts in order to be a happier, healthier person.
In this lecture we focused on how textiles and craft can help someone’s wellbeing. We focused mainly on stitch (embroidery) and knitting.
We looked at this oil painting by Thomas William Wood. It shows hoe embroidery, more specifically, quilting, was used to help soldiers. During the first world war, they introduced quilting to the soldiers so that during long periods of waiting around they had something to do. They also had injured soldiers making quilts so that they had something else to concentrate on in order to distract them from their injuries and the pain they may be in. I found this quite interesting because things like quilts seem to be a feminine activity that maybe housewives did at home when everyone had gone to bed, whereas it was a skill that many men knew how to do as well.
This was a piece we looked at which was produced during World War II by Mrs Day Joyce who was an internee at Stanley Camp, Hong Kong. This bed sheet is a collection of embroidered notes that she made whilst working at the camp as a nurse. There are many symbols that she used in order to hide the meanings of what she was embroidering. This was extremely interesting because it was like a secret language she created to accurately store what she was seeing. It is a form of diary entry. A form of expression in such a hard time, especially when it was difficult yourself due to the circumstances.
Another example we looked at was the Changi Girl Guide Quilt. This was produced by 20 young British girls who were imprisoned in the camp during world war II. They produced the quilt as a gift for their girl guide leader and had to scavenge for their materials. This quilt served as their optimism because it kept morale going so that they had something to keep them going and stop them from dwelling on the negatives. It helped them build a sense of community because they met up secretly and sewed together. This is important as it meant they did not feel alone in such desolate conditions.
We were shown an organisation called Fine Cell Work that work with prisoners, teaching them embroidery so they produce a variety of products that the public can buy. This charity uses this as a motivation for the prisoners because it provides them with an activity they can do whilst in prison so that they don’t get board or resort to violence with other prisoners. It means they are able to work and earn a little money so they feel that they have not been forgotten about. It provides them with a new skill that they take away from their experience of prison and hopefully stop them from re-offending. It is being used as type of rehabilitation because they have time to reflect on why they are in prison and assess what they did wrong in order to stop them from doing it again.
Emma Swinnerton (University of Huddersfield Textiles graduate, 2014) has approached embroidery from a mental health perspective, focusing on how the practice can help your own mental wellbeing, by slowing down and taking the time to embroider and think.
One of the key themes of mindfulness seems to be ‘Slow’. This means taking time with things and not rushing. Having time to consider what you are doing at that moment and not thinking about all the other things that may be going on in your life, and giving yourself a chance to reconnect with the materials that you use and therefore yourself.
As a knitter, this aspect really interests me because I have experienced the calming affects of knitting myself so I can draw a lot of parallels. I find that knitting provides you with a sense of stability because it is something that you can return to whenever you want and it is a skill that you never seem to forget. You may forget how to do something, but as soon as you get the needles and yarn in your hand, they immediately know what they are doing even if you don’t.
It is quite comforting because of the connotations that knitting has and the memories that it conjures.
Knitting has been link to mental health before because it is the only technique that uses both sides of the brain and can help to prolong the affects of dementia. An organisation called ‘Stitch Links’ are looking into the effects knitting has on wellbeing. They are currently looking into how knitting can be utilised into helping people suffering from long term illnesses or even terminal illnesses as a way of helping the patients to come to terms with their illness and accept what is happening to them.
Many of these topics are approached with a practice based research method because it is all about the idea of ‘Making’ and using the technique to be reflective and therapeutic; using craft as a distraction.