A frivolous pastime?

Today, for one reason and another (I’ll spare you the details), I have been wondering whether all the time and energy that so many of us put into the creative crafts is well spent. In particular, I have been thinking about the place of countryside crafts in environmental education.

I do understand that, by many, crafts are considered the preserve of ladies of a certain age with plenty of money and time on their hands. To a certain extent this is true… just as everyone who goes fishing is a working class man and all football fans are young blokes who drink lager. Perhaps I am just being defensive about an activity that I love, but I genuinely do see craft (countryside or otherwise) as a valuable way to spend my time.

Demonstrating the qualities of the wool of different sheep breeds on a felt making course

Demonstrating the qualities of the wool of different sheep breeds on a felt making course

At Denmark Farm we run a whole range of courses at a whole range of levels: from felting for beginners to Phase 1 Survey for professional ecologists; from basketry to bat identification; from food growing to field survey techniques. We train all sorts of people to do all sorts of things, but I would be hard pressed to rank our educational activities in order of importance. A stool-making course does not train someone in woodland management, but by having consumers who demand locally produced wood for furniture-making, we are developing a ‘market’ that might lead to the preservation, or indeed planting, of more woods. Our felting courses emphasise the value of using British wools and understanding the qualities of the wool of different breeds of sheep. Since different species and breeds of livestock deliver different conservation outcomes because of, for example, grazing preference, bite site and hoofprint size, the availability of a variety of animals is key in delivering a range of biodiversity objectives.

In addition, simply engaging individuals with activities that link them to the value of the countryside and associated natural resources is important. Sadly, many of us are distanced from the natural world and never realise the connections between it and, for example, our food production. Recently, the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees has been in the news. Such insecticides, their manufacturers claim, are good for agricultural production. However, we now know of their devastating impact on pollinating insects and the knock-on effect of this on crops has severe implications for the production of food plants that rely on insect pollinators. By drawing people into the countryside in which all these interactions take place, we can introduce them to the issues and engender an interest and understanding. It is hard to feel invested in a system if you are completely disconnected from it.

Creating something useful

Creating something useful

Furthermore, by offering training in crafts, we build resilient communities in which individuals have the ability to deliver some of their own needs – whether that is producing charcoal, making clothes, encouraging pollinators by building a bee house or, even, earning a living. Encouraging creativity is valuable in itself. Once you know you can make a basket, what else might you be encouraged to try? Creating is a powerful activity and one thing can certainly lead to another. If we are always spoon-fed – with our food coming in a plastic package and our clothes on a hanger – we may never explore our potential to take control of the goods and products we rely on.

My experience of craft classes is that they are remarkably co-operative. Participants help each other, find shared experiences, make friendships and take new ideas forward. Sometimes the outcome is as simple as increased confidence and support, sometimes it’s the formation of a new community or a group project. It may even be something more dynamic – the phenomenon of craftivism is growing and can make powerful political statements as well delivering all sorts of practical benefits.

And finally, I cannot help but feel that the world is a better place with beautifully made things in it: items made with care and love, to be treasured and not simply discarded on a whim.

Moving on creatively

My diploma portfolio and the masterpiece

My diploma portfolio and the masterpiece

Yesterday I finally packaged up my permaculture diploma portfolio and sent it off to be assessed. It’s taken me 2¼ years (much less time than most people take) and I cannot express how pleased I am to have got it out of my hair for the time being. It had started to feel like it was always lurking in the corner of the room – glaring at me and accusing me of neglect. Not true, of course – I put a great deal of work into producing the 10 designs therein but, as with everything, I always feel I could have done more. Anyway, It’s gone now and I can stop fretting. All being well, I will make my presentation about it at the biennial permaculture convergence in London in September – I have a slot booked and a couple of volunteers to sit on my peer review panel (I need a few more, but I’m not going to tempt fate by making too many arrangements too far in advance).

So, what’s next? Well, I have the masterpiece to finish. This is going to provide the focus of my presentation in September and I still have a fair bit of work to do on it. I have three more squares to arrive (one each from Lizze, Katy and Lorraine… oh and there’s still room for two more if anyone has an urge to contribute a quick one) and then I can finally stitch them all together and do the edging. And after that…? Well, no more studying for a while. I want to focus on creative activities and I have a whole list planned:

I've already started work on my first pattern

I’ve already started work on my first pattern

  • Making bling bags to sell/barter
  • Stocking and opening my etsy shop (finally)
  • Making my Bavarian crochet afghan
  • Crocheting covers for the big cushions on our sofa (Sam has been eating the zips off the existing ones)
  • Making my felt/leather bag that I bartered the materials for
  • Writing up some of my crochet patterns (yes, Narf, I’ve started the one for that square you like so much)
  • Finishing the hoodie I started when the weather was so much colder
  • Working on a tapestry that Has been sitting around untouched for a couple of years
  • Contributing to the community craft projects at Denmark Farm (more on this soon, including details of how you can join in)

Along with the gardening, blogging and cooking, that should keep me busy at home! Oh, and of course I’d better do some paid work too… lots of editing as always and some teaching (next course is an introduction to permaculture at Karuna). Finally, I am hoping to have a bit more time for visiting friends near and far. You never know, I might turn up on your doorstep one of these days!

 

Crafting my way to happiness

Alpha wave generator

Alpha wave generator

Regular readers of this blog will know that I dedicate quite a lot of time to craft projects – crochet, knitting and felting in particular, but I also do needlepoint, embroidery, paper-making, and more. Some of my creations are useful things (socks, gloves, bath puffs), but some are quite frivolous… the collection of knitted slugs probably have little practical use! However, there are more reasons for craft activities than just the finished item.

Knitting and crochet are portable and I take my projects with me to all sorts of situations. For example I often knit socks whilst travelling, attending courses and conferences, teaching  and when participating in meetings. I do often have to explain to people that my knitting does not mean that I’m not paying attention nor should they consider it disrespectful – it’s just something I do with my hands and that helps me to think. Don’t believe me? Well, I have been knitting for more than 35 years, so it does come quite naturally and  there is sound evidence showing that knitting is associated with the production of alpha waves by the brain. According to the Bicybernaut Institute

Alpha brain waves are seen in wakefulness where there is a relaxed and effortless alertness

Production of these brainwaves reduces stress and is associated with creativity. They are also linked to heightened imagination, visualisation, memory, learning and concentration. And knitting (along with other craft activities) encourages their production. The Circles website, for example, states that

The act of knitting has some inherent and intriguing qualities to it. It has been shown that when we knit, our brains produce the alpha waves of a relaxed meditative state… Clinical studies have found that the repetitive action of knitting creates a calming effect. Yes, more alpha waves than when meditating or doing yoga. Due to this, it is quite effective to use knitting as a mechanism for opening up to self-exploration, growth and healing. From simply adding knitting to a traditional therapy model of talking and processing with a guide, to knitting a specific project chosen or designed to evoke specific paths of exploration, knitting is one of the most relaxed and enjoyable, while highly effective, modes of growing your self-awareness that you can experience.

Last week I attended the latest in a series of meetings that have all been rather stressful. However, for the first time, I took some knitting with me and was delighted to find that I came away much less tense than usual and, along with the progress made in the meeting itself, with about a quarter of a sock more than when I started. I also didn’t feel the need for a large glass of wine as soon as I got home!

Alpha brainwaves are produced when we do all sorts of craft activities… things that are gentle and repetitive and that allow us to relax, thus freeing our minds. We can combine creativity with our hands with mental creativity. I have never been comfortable with sitting thinking about my breathing in order to relax and mediate, but give me some wool, water and soap and I will happily felt my way into a meditative state! So that’s what I’m off to do now, I have a felted peg bag to finish and some ideas about a chapter for a research handbook I’m writing to get sorted out in my mind, so excuse me whilst I go and get soapy… and thoughtful!

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