Stitching for Wellbeing

Since 2012 I’ve been lucky to teach as part of some incredible community projects in Leeds and Manchester. These projects were aimed at helping people to use creativity as a way of improving their mental health and wellbeing. My own work tells stories about my life using fabric and thread, using the traditional craft of embroidery to make stitched drawings and fabric sculptures. My mental health is often the story behind the work and I’ve created pieces that talk about depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Mental health and wellbeing is something I’m really passionate about, and I want to help other people learn a new craft and find a happy place where they can create something from a few simple materials. Wellbeing is a word that we hear so much, especially as we’re experiencing a global pandemic that affects us all in different ways. For me, wellbeing means taking some time to help ourselves feel better, slowing down for a while to make something with our hands, read a book or listen to some music. The act of making helps me to focus and feel calm.

My first community project took place in Manchester in 2012, working with arthur+martha and two homeless charities in the city. Lois Blackburn and Philip Davenport (arthur+martha) have a lot of experience working with different groups of people including older hospital patients, holocaust survivors and young children.

The Warm & the Cold gave me the chance to work with professional artists and use my skills to help other people tell a story about their life. The project outline was to work with homeless people to create a group quilt inspired by the Ted Hughes poem of the same name. We worked in two venues in Manchester, the Big Issue offices and the Booth Centre.

From the first meet up, I was humbled by how friendly the people were. They shared stories about their lives and shared a joke or two with us over a cuppa. I made friendship bracelets with people and helped them learn how to embroider using simple stitches onto a piece of denim fabric. The project was a wonderful way to bring together people stories and from the small pieces of denim we made a quilt that was exhibited in The Holden Gallery at Manchester Metropolitan University.

After the Warm and the Cold, I went on to work on different community projects in Leeds like 365 Leeds Stories, a collaboration with Matthew Bellwood and Alison Andrews. This project brought stories from older Leeds residents to life using hand embroidery and old maps printed on to fabric.

In 2018, Arts & Minds awarded The Yorkshire Centre for Eating Disorders at Seacroft Hospital a creative grant to allow them to work with a professional artist. I worked with the staff and patients to help them develop creative skills using textiles. The workshops lead to a piece of work to display in the reception area of the ward. The grant was also used to buy sewing equipment so that staff and patients could continue to work with the skills they had learned.

It was great to see how the patients and staff worked together on the project, supporting each other at the sessions and during the week. People grew in confidence as the weeks progressed and this came together to create a piece of work called the Positive Patchwork. Using their recovery as a starting point we created a banner which gave out positive messages of hope for the ward.

“The Positive Patchwork aims to spread messages of hope and optimism for the future, and to motivate us all to sustain positive changes in our lives”

Jo Taylor, Occupational Therapist at Connect

In March of 2018, I was invited to visit the House of Lords with Linda Boyles to talk about the Creative Health report from 2017. The report is about how the arts can help keep us well, help our recovery and support longer lives.

“It is time to recognise the powerful contribution the arts can make to health and wellbeing. There are now many examples and much evidence of the beneficial impact they can have.”

Creative Health Report, 2017

I have been continuing to work on community projects that help inspire people and benefit their wellbeing. My latest project has been in partnership with the Thackray Museum of Medicine and Getaway Girls, an organisation based in Harehills who work with young women from different backgrounds including young mums, women with low self-esteem and women seeking asylum.

“Getaway Girls empowers young women to build confidence and resilience, develop new skills and take positive risks in an environment which offers co-operation and support.”

Stitching for Wellbeing was inspired by the Lorina Bulwer Scroll, a piece of hand embroidery made by a woman living in a Great Yarmouth workhouse in around 1893. The scroll is a very long hand-stitched letter that talks about people Lorina knew alongside current events of the time, interwoven are her thoughts and outlook on a world that had deemed her insane.

Lorina Bulwer has been the inspiration for the project and each week I visited the young women from different groups at Getaway Girls with Museum staff members, Charlotte and Leah. Taking with us a handmade sample of the scroll, we sat around the table, sharing food and stories as we stitched onto a fabric. People shared stories about their mental health, friends and children as I showed them how to stitch.

Even if you have never embroidered before, I recommend picking up a needle and thread and having a go. There are some great resources on YouTube and Pinterest to inspire you and you can check out my past posts for some ideas on how to make your stitching a bit different.

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