Updated: Nov 3
World Mental Health Day is a poignant reminder of the importance of prioritizing mental well-being in our lives. It's an occasion to reflect on the various ways we cope with life's challenges, and one avenue that often goes overlooked is the world of textile crafts. As a cancer survivor, I've personally experienced the therapeutic effects of knitting, crochet, and feltmaking, and through my work, I've seen how these crafts can significantly contribute to mental health and overall well-being.
In this article, my aim is to explore the connection between textile crafts and mental health through my personal journey.
1. Through mindful connection with textile crafts, I discovered a profound sense of well-being and contentment. One of the most profound aspects of textile crafts is the way they immerse you in the present moment. The repetitive motions of knitting and crochet, the gentle manipulation of fibres in feltmaking - these activities demand your focus and attention. This mindful engagement can help break the cycle of anxious or intrusive thoughts, providing a welcome respite for your mind. When I was going through cancer treatment and then recovery, I had lots on my mind. The main question: Will I survive? It was during this challenging time that I discovered the huge benefits of knitting. When I was knitting, I simply could not think of anything negative. Each stitch became a small, soothing victory, and I realized that I was knitting my path to a cancer-free future. With each loop of yarn, my mind became stronger and more positive. I found myself able to concentrate on my recovery and to yearn for a return to a normal life, one where I could be with my children and savor the simple joys. Then, I discovered the world of felting. Vibrant colors, luxurious fibres - it all captured my interest. I was still vulnerable mentally. However, working slowly with layouts, mixing different colours while listening to beautiful music, kept me smiling and gave me lots of hopes for the future. The tactile nature of felting and the enchantment of colors allowed me to embrace my creativity and find solace even during the most trying times.
2. I also discovered that emotional release through the art of crafting offers a therapeutic and creative outlet for inner expression and healing.
Getting creative with textile crafts is like a magical way to deal with your emotions. Whether you're knitting a warm blanket or making a felted sculpture, it's like turning your feelings into something you can touch and see. It's like a little achievement that makes you feel better and helps you let go of those emotions.
Let me to share one of my stories, Crafting Through Emotions.
Not too long ago, I found myself in a storm of emotions. An argument had left me upset, tears streaming, and anger bubbling within me. It was one of those moments when you feel like the world is crashing down around you.
In that turbulent state, I instinctively reached for a bundle of wool and my trusty needles. I began to needlefelt, not having a clear plan or a finished project in mind. It was almost as if my fingers were guided by an unseen force.
As I shaped the wool into a small, undefined form, something extraordinary happened. My racing mind, once consumed by turmoil, suddenly turned its focus to the woolen ball I was creating. In an instant, I found myself daydreaming of a large, inviting rug, a cozy room adorned with beautiful cushions. It was as though I had embarked on a creative journey without even realizing it.
In that moment, the upset that had gripped me just minutes before became insignificant. I felt a profound shift in my mood. I was happier, more at ease. It dawned on me that I had overreacted during the argument, that my stubborn insistence on proving my point without truly listening had caused more harm than good.
With my newfound clarity, I was ready to extend an apology. I was ready to mend what had been fractured. And in that small, transformative moment of crafting, I found not only solace but also the path to resolution and happiness.
This experience served as a powerful reminder of the therapeutic potential of textile crafts, how they can help us navigate our emotions, find inner peace, and even mend the bonds of connection with others.
3. Stress Reduction: finding serenity in textile crafts, along with emotional release, is another reason I keep practicing feltmaking and other textile crafts.
Textile crafts offer a unique kind of stress relief. When you pick up those knitting needles, crochet hooks, or dive into feltmaking, something magical happens. Your body begins to unwind, your heart rate slows down, and a soothing sense of calm washes over you. It's like a warm, comforting hug for your mind and spirit. These crafts have a way of gently nudging stress, anxiety, and even those stubborn bouts of the blues out the door.
Life can be quite stressful, with its everyday challenges and unexpected hurdles. Like many of us, I wear the hats of a parent to two children. My daughter is facing the demanding task of navigating her challenging GCSE exams, while my son completed his A levels and embarked on his independent life at university. Those two years of him going through A levels were incredibly stressful, and for his sake, I had to stay calm and be a steady presence. These academic endeavors alone bring their fair share of stress, but we've also been dealing with the constant worry about the safety of my family and friends back in Ukraine, a place deeply affected by the impacts of war.
Yet, there's one place where I find solace and respite from the anxieties that life throws my way—the doorway to my feltmaking studio. Stepping inside transports me to a completely different world. Here, my mind unwinds, and I can focus solely on my creative projects. I begin to visualize the final outcome, and once I have that vision in mind, nothing can deter me from achieving it.
In this creative space, my mind and hands work in harmony. They join forces to bring to life the ideas and projects that bubble within me. It's a place where I find refuge from life's stresses, a place where I can transform my thoughts and dreams into tangible creations.
This experience has taught me the incredible power of textile crafts, like feltmaking, as a source of mental respite, a haven of concentration, and a pathway to bringing my imagination to life. It's my sanctuary where I can momentarily set aside the worries of the world and create something beautiful.
4. From my experience, people, especially those going through physical illnesses, find that creating something brings a profound sense of accomplishment.
When you finish a knitting, crochet, or feltmaking project, it's like a little victory that can make you feel really good about yourself. It shows that you can set goals, work on them, and make something wonderful. This feeling of accomplishment is especially important for folks dealing with health issues, as it can give them a big boost of confidence and strength.
Crafting Through Adversity: A Personal Triumph. I'll never forget the days when I sat in that hospital room, facing the daunting reality of chemotherapy. I was weak, unable to do much, and the journey ahead seemed like an uphill battle. During those challenging times, my knitting projects became a lifeline.
In the midst of my first round of chemotherapy, I picked up some yarn, not the fanciest, but all I could afford at the time, cheap acrylic. I began to knit a scarf. It was long, and with each stitch, I felt like I was stitching a piece of myself back together. Completing something tangible during illness, especially cancer, was incredibly important. That scarf became a symbol of a new beginning.
As I moved on to the second round of chemotherapy, I embarked on knitting a hat. With every row, I gained a surge of confidence. I had created something beautiful, something to call my own. It was a small but powerful victory, and it reminded me that I had the strength to face down cancer.
By the time I had completed over 70 chemotherapy sessions, I had also finished knitting a dress. The moment was unforgettable. I was told I was in remission, free to leave the hospital after three months of living there, but I couldn't just walk out. I still had the final stitches of that dress to complete. So, I left the hospital wearing my knitting dress, complete with a matching scarf and hat. It was the beginning of my life after cancer, filled with countless amazing projects and a newfound sense of strength and resilience.
This journey taught me that creativity and crafting can be a powerful source of healing, resilience, and hope in the face of adversity.
5. Crafting together not only fosters creativity but also creates a strong sense of belonging among like-minded individuals.
Textile crafts have this wonderful way of bringing people closer. Whether you're in a knitting group, crochet circle, or attending feltmaking workshops, it's like stepping into a world of togetherness. You get to chat, share stories, and create beautiful things with others.
These crafting communities become your haven of connection. They're a way to combat that feeling of being alone or lonely. It's like finding your tribe, where you belong, and where you're never alone.
For me, sharing the joy of crafting, especially feltmaking and other textile crafts, became as natural as breathing. I had experienced firsthand the remarkable benefits these crafts brought to my own well-being. What's more, I witnessed many others going through journeys similar to mine, searching for solace and connection.
It was a calling I couldn't ignore—I wanted to help. My journey began with setting up a knitting group at a local charity called FACT Cancer Support. We gathered, needles clicking, over cups of tea, and shared laughter. I proudly introduced many to the world of knitting, and I even converted them to the joys of continental knitting.
But my journey didn't stop there. I soon ventured into teaching feltmaking workshops, giving birth to a local community I fondly called "Felting Friendzy." Our members included retirees and individuals facing various mental and physical challenges. What I noticed was profound—their well-being improved when they came together.
It was during Covid that the idea for the Felt With Lena Club was born. I thought, "Why not reach more people and unite them through the art of felting?" It became my privilege to serve, empower, and be there for them. I hold a deep love for life and for people, and my greatest desire is to see less pain in the world. Through my craft, felting, I aim to make that world a little brighter, one beautiful creation at a time.
I invite you to join my Facebook group, 'Felting With Lena, Felting Together,' and also explore my Felt With Lena Club. We open the doors to our club three times a year to welcome new members where we learn, laugh, share and felt together as a supportive community.
Finally, I would like to emphasize that my journey as a cancer survivor vividly illustrates the transformative power of textile crafts. Throughout my battle with cancer, knitting, crochet, and feltmaking served as sources of solace and strength, providing a precious respite from the turmoil of illness. These crafts weren't just distractions; they were wellsprings of purpose and hope. They allowed me to regain control in a situation where so much felt beyond my grasp, offering a means to create beauty amidst chaos.
On this journey, I also established knitting groups and feltmaking classes at the Fact Cancer Support Charity, where I witnessed firsthand the remarkable impact of textile crafts on the mental well-being of individuals facing health challenges. Teaching feltmaking, creating online classes, and running workshops have been privileges, enabling me to share the therapeutic potential of these crafts with others.
As we observe World Mental Health Day, let us remember that healing and well-being come in many forms. Textile crafts offer a unique avenue for cultivating mental health and resilience. They provide a canvas for creativity, a path to mindfulness, and a bridge to community. Whether you're a cancer survivor like me or simply someone seeking solace and self-care, consider picking up your knitting needles, crochet hooks, or felting tools. In these humble materials, you might just find a source of profound healing.
So, this World Mental Health Day, let's celebrate the therapeutic power of textile crafts and continue to create, connect, and heal.
Let's celebrate the transformative power of textile crafts. Stay creative, stay well!