Left-handed crafts for mental health

Crafting to support our mental health

This blog shares some of our thoughts on how crafting can help our mental health and wellbeing. But there can be barriers to doing crafts or working on art , especially when we’re doing it on our own.

There’s a reason knitting circles have been popular in Scotland for generations! And why online craft peer groups work so well. Spaces to help each other out, learn new skills, and chat are amazing for our ongoing wellbeing.

There is a unique joy in learning how to create something. This blog shares how Leon and Dani have been trying new ways to craft, despite some challenges in the process!

Dani’s left-handed sewing

Sometimes we choose to make changes in our life and happily find ways to adapt to them, but sometimes something happens that we would never have chosen.

A few weeks ago I fractured my shoulder. Of course, being right handed, it was my right shoulder. To allow the bones to heal I had to keep my right arm immobile and take a few weeks off work. Normally, I have a few hobbies I do when I’m not working: drawing, jewellery making, running… but I had to stop all of them and “just rest.” It was really difficult, and frankly, really boring! I was sad and annoyed that I couldn’t do anything, and getting sick of watching TV.

As part of our Permission To Dream project I help to support a wellbeing craft group. Shortly before my injury we had started on a small embroidery, which I had set aside once I couldn’t use my right hand any more. As I got more used to using my left hand, and more desperate for SOMETHING to do, I decided to give it a try again.

Photo of Dani's embroidered peacock

This was my first embroidery project, so with either hand I was learning to do something new. Over the course of about three weeks I managed to finish it. I had found something that I could physically do that satisfied my craving to be creative and to use my brain. After weeks of feeling really useless I also had a sense of accomplishment.

Leon’s knitting without a pattern

Like many people, I’ve been working and learning online for over a year now. And it took that long for me to realise I need more offline hobbies! Watching tv, writing on a computer, or catching up with long-distance friends are lovely, but my mind needs different ways to relax after a full day online. In the winter, I was getting to the point where my eyes were buzzing with screen fatigue!

I had helped post Ruth’s lovely knitting blog a few months before, and was really impressed. I know how to knit, but only simple rectangular scarves, so I wanted to create something more interesting. I’m also quite into fashion, but I like avoiding the cost and environmental impact of buying new clothes. So while charity shops were closed, I thought it would make sense to try making my own.

But knitting patterns are hard to read. They’re a bit like sheet music – it takes some time to learn what all the symbols mean before you can follow the pattern.  Because of ADHD I find following recipes and written instructions difficult – my mind wants to jump to the next step!

What I did was find the simplest pattern for a jumper I could find, then re-write it in my own words as I went. Online videos also helped when I didn’t understand the pattern. The first jumper was pretty wonky. But now I have notes I can follow easily, I’ve been able to adapt the pattern to better fit me. These jumpers are very simple, but with these building blocks I should be able to create some interesting designs.

Photo of a black jumper Photo of purple knitting and a ball of wool Photo of a purple jumper in progress - it only has one arm

The best thing is how easy it actually is. I didn’t think I could go from knitting a rectangle to knitting a jumper, but these jumpers are just 4 rectangles sewed together! Taking a skill to the next step without expecting immediate perfection was very rewarding.

More blogs and resources

Mindwaves is a brilliant community source for news and podcasts about art and mental wellbeing. If you want to find some inspiration, check out Mindwaves’ art and creativity blogs here.

The Scottish Government’s Clear Your Head resources share lots of self-care and wellbeing tips.

If you’re interested in how crafting can help build local community, check out Fiona’s blog on community crafting. She writes about a collaborative knitting project she started this spring, raising money for a local gardening shop!

If you’re thinking about starting a group for crafting with people in your community, our friendship groups guide shares tips on avoiding cliques and creating an inclusive space. Note – it was written before Covid-19, but many of the tips still apply online!