Crafting For Crazy People Part II: Craftpod review*

As I’ve discussed previously on this blog, I use crafts as a tool to manage my mental health conditions, as well as for the enjoyment of creating, so imagine my delight when my mum gave me a quarterly craft subscription box for my birthday.

Luckily I didn’t have long to wait to try out my new subscription, since it came the following week. Much more cheering post than the usual round of bills, credit card spam and pizza menus (although those are always fairly welcome…)!

This particular subscription box is called Craftpod, and each box is themed around the season it’s released during. This one couldn’t have come at a better time, with January being even colder and more miserable than usual this year, and the theme is all about cosiness and comfort. Perfect!

When I opened the box, I found: a letter explaining the box, all the equipment and instructions for an embroidery project, all the equipment and instructions for a stamp-making project, a cute woodland-patterned postcard, a sheet of wintry stickers, a black chai teabag, and a bar of Vivani chocolate.

I’ll tell you more about the craft projects below, but I just want to mention the extra touches first that made opening the box so enjoyable for me. I absolutely love the tea and chocolate element in the winter box; it feels very self-care-focused, which is exactly what I look for in craft projects, particularly at this time of year. From my mum, I also knew that there would be two craft projects and tea, but I wasn’t expecting the extra stationery bits, so they were a really nice surprise. All of the collateral is gorgeous as well, which is a lovely little touch that makes the box feel that bit more special and treat-like. The instructions are also super easy to follow and written in a friendly, approachable way that makes it feel a bit like Jo is crafting along with you!

I’ve not had time to get stuck into the stamp-making yet, but I’m absolutely loving my embroidery hoop. It’s really simple but has enough detail and different stitches/parts to it to still be engaging, which is a balance I sometimes struggle to find with embroidery projects, since I’m not a particularly accomplished embroiderer… It’s also just repetitive enough with all the berries to be quite meditative (as Jo points out in the instructions as well), so very relaxing to do in front of the TV of an evening.

The stamp-making project seems like a good contrast to the embroidery, since it’s a bit more active and (for me at least!) exotic. I also love making things that are useable, not just decorative, so it’s right up my street. I’ll come back and post pics when I’ve made my stamps so you can see how they turn out!

Overall, I would seriously recommend this box for anyone who enjoys crafting, particularly as a means of self-care. As I mentioned in my previous post, I sometimes feel pressure to finish projects quickly so I can have something to show for my efforts, so the frequency of this box is perfect for me. Two projects every three months is enough to have exciting and relaxing things to do, but not so many that it feels overwhelming and just wouldn’t get used. If the box was monthly, I think I’d feel a bit stressed by the number of projects that ‘needed’ doing, and it would deplete the enjoyment a little.

This box feels like it was made for me, which was my mum’s comment when she gave me the gift, so great work, Mum! If you want to learn more about Craftpod, you can visit the website, or search the #craftpod tag on Instagram to see makes from current subscribers.

*This is not a sponsored post (if ONLY I got paid to chat about crafting!); I’ve just really enjoyed my first Craftpod and wanted to share the recommendation. If you’re interested in receiving fun, themed craft projects for every season, or gifting that experience to a crafty loved one, you can head to the Craftpod website to subscribe.

Crafting for Crazy People

As you may or may not know, today is World Mental Health Day. It’s a day that is quite close to my heart and indeed my brain, because (as I may have mentioned once or twice) I have several mental health conditions. Or, as my husband so sweetly puts it, I’m ‘batshit cray’… He also started referring to me as a ‘bipolar bear’ after he bought me a fluffy dressing gown for Christmas. I guess I can sort of see his point:

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Anyway, since it’s the Day of Cray™, I’ve compiled 5 reasons crafting is so good for your mental health (in general and as a tool for managing mental illness). Some are backed up by science, some are my own personal experience, and obviously none of them are actual medical advice because I’m not a qualified doctor (go see your therapists, kids).

I’m also not saying any of this is a substitute for some combination of meds/talking therapy/however else you want to deal with your shit. This is not a ‘have you tried yoga?’, ‘just eat more vegetables’, ‘have you tried just thinking positively?’ scenario, don’t worry. It’s just one tiny, crazy human’s point of view, ok?

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5 reasons crafting is good for your mental health:

1) Sense of achievement

When your mental health is bad, it can feel like you’re going nowhere/doing nothing/a terrible and useless human/etc. Craft projects let you physically make something yourself – there’s no refuting that achievement, even if your brain is determined to tell you you’re a worthless turdbasket – the evidence is right there in front of you.

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A rare finished piece – embroidery map of where I grew up. Took many hours; have yet to iron/frame/do anything with it…

2) Distraction

From distracting yourself from destructive urges/habits to breaking the monotony of lying on your sofa for a solid week unable to go to work, craft projects have the potential to break through the mental mist in a fairly unique way. More interesting than household chores and requiring less mental input than reading, they provide a diversion that’s fun and (at least nominally) practical. Hard to beat, imho.

3) Doing something nice for others

I find a lot of my craft projects end up as presents for other people, because I can’t really justify making more clutter (aka The Goblin’s nemesis) for myself. Making something for somebody else gives you the double whammy of having achieved something and done something nice for someone you care about. Win-win.

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4) All the dopamine

Apparently when we’re knitting or sewing, our brains release the happy-hormone dopamine. Crafting makes us chemically happy, and those of us with mental illnesses will take all the chemical happiness we can get! Even if your brain is chemically sound, a bit of extra dopamine goes a long way, so get your needles out and give it a go.

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5) Repetition, repetition

Something almost all crafts, from cross-stitch to print-making, share is an element of repetition. It both occupies and empties the mind. A lot of people compare knitting to meditation, but I was never super good at that, so I wouldn’t know. I’ll take their word for it…

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So, I know I said it wasn’t going to be medical advice, but I never said I wasn’t going to spout general human advice… I know some (or many) people reading this are going to go ‘hurr durr that’s all very well but how do I actually use crafts as a coping tool? Crafts can’t improve mental illness you idiot’.

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I mean, see above for that whole disclaimer, but I am going to share some ways I’ve found of incorporating my crafty hobbies into my mental-illness-management regime.

1) Have lots of VARIED projects going at once

At any given time I have at least 3 projects going. Between work, the business, and the wedding, I’ve currently ended up with 7 (hover for descriptions if you’re interested!). Because people know I like to make things, I also tend to get little kits as presents from time to time, which is great because I can stockpile them so that if all else fails and I don’t want to do any of my current projects, I can just start a new one!

As you can see, I also have a range of projects – easy ones for when I just need something to do, harder ones for when I need to immerse myself in something. And they’re different types of crafts, because sometimes you just don’t feel like doing a pre-designed cross-stitch kit… *

I don’t finish them quickly, but that’s ok, and that leads us to point 2…

2) Set small goals

For the love of your sanity, do not go into a craft session expecting yourself to finish the whole thing. Some projects are short ones you can blitz in a few hours, but the majority won’t be, and expecting yourself to churn out piece after piece can cause more stress than it alleviates! I try and set smaller, numerical goals (number of rows knitted, finishing one section of a project, etc.) so I still feel I’ve achieved something when I put down my needle/pen/pliers. Of course, sometimes you’re just not in the right place to craft, so it’s important to remember you can always…

3) Allow yourself to give up and do something else if it’s not working

Sounds simple, but your craft project should not become another stick for you to beat yourself with. When you’re anxious/self-critical/low, it’s hard to get out of that mindset,  but the last thing you want is for your creative escape to become a chore or a source of stress. If it’s going badly or you’re just not feeling it, give yourself permission to do something else.

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So there we have it: reasons why crafting is good for your mental health and ways you can use crafty hobbies as a crazy-management tool. Bit of a long post today, but what can I say – I really believe in the healing power of faffing about with bits of thread!

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*By the way, I was going to tidy my projects up and make them look Pinterest-ready, but in the spirit of honesty – and laziness – I decided to show them as they usually are: tangled, chaotic, and stuffed into a too-small craft drawer!

Disney Designs No.1: Poor unfortunate shells

Who doesn’t love a bit of nostalgia on an unseasonably-cold September evening? With the wedding coming up, I’m trying to stop obsessively checking the weather forecast for the weekend and lean into the cosy autumnal vibe instead. Lots of children’s books/films, bubble baths, and herbal tea (Twinings Lemon Drizzle Green Tea is the only thing getting me through chilly work afternoons at the moment, let’s be honest).

So, it’s not surprising that I’ve chosen now to start a ‘jewellery from Disney films’ blog series. (You may be thinking ‘hmm, large life change looming – is she watching kiddie films because she’s in denial about becoming someone’s actual wife?’, but if I’m honest, this series was The Goblin’s idea.)

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This was a pretty fun one to research, and I’ve learnt several unexpected things, like the difference between a nautilus and an ammonite, and the fact there was a Little Mermaid Broadway musical (how did I miss this?!).

Ursula’s necklace

Ursula uses her shell necklace to keep Ariel’s voice once she’s traded it for legs. The first time we see her, Ursula is already wearing the ornament, so it’s presumably something she values as a piece of jewellery in itself. After all, where better to keep the precious spoils of your nefarious deals than in your favourite accessory? (I mean it worked for Voldemort…for a while…)

According to the Disney wiki, Ursula’s necklace is a nautilus shell, which, it turns out, is not the same as an ammonite, although they look pretty bloody similar:

As this extremely helpful page explains, they’re both cephalopods (from the Greek for ‘head-feet’), but the main difference between them is that ammonoids are extinct. No news on why nautiloids survived extinction despite being pretty much identical to their extinct ammonoid siblings (apart from their small biological differences such as flesh tubes – yuck – and separations between shell chambers). Whatever the reason, I’m guessing Ursula uses one because fossils don’t tend to have handy storage chambers…

Fun bonus reminder: in the original Hans Christian Anderson story, the Little Mermaid sacrifices her voice by having her tongue cut out rather than putting her voice in a shell. That necklace would have been more Hannibal Lecter than Hans Christian… (Although Ursula has more in common with Hannibal than you’d think – more on that later.)

Fairytale facts: Disney budgets, Ursula’s characterisation, and prehistoric jewellery

1) Ursula is an octopus with only 6 tentacles due to Disney’s budgetary constraints – apparently animating 8 tentacles in 1989 was way more difficult and pricey than just the 6 they ended up with.

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2) In the original draft of the film, she was meant to be Triton’s sister, making her Ariel’s aunt. They decided to save that storyline for The Lion King, which I think is a good thing. I mean, how much more badass is Ursula as a character when she’s just generally power-hungry and keen for revenge than if she were explicitly usurped in some way (yawn)? Also, Ursula screws Ariel over for revenge, but what about the rest of the merpeople? She seems to just be a cannibalistic sadist with great charisma – what’s not to love?

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See? Cannibalism.

3) Ursula is not alone in favouring seashell jewellery; from Brittany to the Bahamas, and countless other cultures across time and space, it has and continues to be incredibly popular. So popular, in fact, that what’s thought to be the first extant jewellery, created 100-135,000 years ago, is made out of seashells:

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Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5504545

Back in the here and now, if you want a subtle silver version of Ursula’s magical pendant, my ammonite gives a nod to the sea witch without making your boss passive-agressively email you the company dress code…

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Unfortunately, you can’t use it to trap the voice of every pillock making obnoxious comments on the tram… May have to consider that for the next shop upgrade!

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‘Changing Rooms’: Tiding of Magpies edition

I was ‘off sick’ from this blog last week, because it’s hard to be sparkling when you’re 80% snot… I’m on the mend now, but between getting well and the endless wedmin that needs doing, getting back into business has been a slow process. You know how it is; things have piled up and your desk is covered in papers and you can barely remember how to solder (or is that one just me?). I decided the best place to start was with tidying, which then morphed into workspace interior design. It turned out pretty well, I reckon:

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There have been a lot of studies on what might be the best office decor to encourage productivity (natural light and plants are popular, apparently), and I even know somebody whose office floor is carpeted in fake grass (no, she doesn’t know why either). There’s conflicting evidence on whether art on the walls makes people happy or distracted, or both, or neither, but I’m coming down hard on the side of ‘happy’, hence the new picture wall above my desk.

And, whatever office decor trends are happening this month, when it comes to the link between my workspace and my motivation, having a pretty, well-designed area to work in makes me way more likely to get shit done. The amount of time I’ve spent figuring out which pictures to frame and what kinds of trinkets to display might seem frivolous, or like time which could be better spent on Serious Business Stuff™, but this redesign of my space has made me genuinely excited to get into the office for the first time in a couple of months. I’m looking forward to using my workspace for updating my spreadsheets, for goodness’ sake!

So, this week, I thought I’d give you a tour of my office (pretty bits and not-so-pretty bits alike). The beautification of my workshop has been quite a long process (almost a year now), picking up knick-knacks and practical objects here and there, and working out how the space is best used. That last bit has been pretty essential, because it’s a relatively small space; my office is currently one corner of our spare room.

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The early days of my (unusually tidy) office

One of the big benefits of our spare room is its oodles of natural light (obviously an essential for jewellery-making), which is why my workbench is crammed into the far end of the room (past the very glamorous sofabed, filing cabinet, and general storage area).

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All the light

The tight space does make for some pretty creative storage, though, which is why I chose a vintage bureau crammed full of cubbies and shelves for my workbench:

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Then came the organisational whiteboard (you can just see the influence of my primary-school-teacher sister):

And let’s not forget my miniature storage drawers, which are absolute life-savers with so many tiny bits of metal knocking about:

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So, before today’s decoration session, this was my workspace, and it wasn’t quite working for me any more:

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The pinned-up tool rack was a bit of a stroke of genius from the early days of the desk, but over time, the rest of the space has just got more and more crowded around all of the tools. It started to feel a bit like it was all closing in on my actual workspace, and it wasn’t exactly conducive to inspired design… The question was, what to change?

In the same way that making time for important things requires finding your ‘dead time’ and using it more effectively, sorting out your space means using up dead space. So, I cleared the books off my desk and onto the windowsill, moved the boxes from the top shelf of my desk to the more hidden shelves under the desk, and got rid of all the empty butane cans (total eyesore).

In place of the piles of boxes, I put some carefully-chosen ornaments on top of the bureau. Virtually every study ever done about the effects of a workspace on productivity agrees that plants are a must-have for an effective office. Sadly, I’m a plant serial killer, so I’ve gone for some fakes (which definitely do lift my mood, so clearly there’s something in all these plant recommendations):

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Fake succulents are a must

I also added a couple of more sentimental touches, including my snowglobe collection and a light-up globe my grandma bought me years ago, all of which I picked up on a recent trip to my parents’. The Goblin (a steadfast minimalist with a particular hatred of throw pillow) was obviously delighted when he saw the boxes of trinkets I was planning to infest our flat with, but he relaxed when I promised they’d only be in my office, not in the general living spaces…

The hardest part of the redesign was the picture wall, and I’ll admit I spent several hours sorting through my postcard collection, drafting possible layouts, and actually nailing the bloody things into the wall. Once they were chosen and installed, the finishing flourish was provided by a garland of glittery butterflies (a gift from my future mother-in-law; how well she knows me!).

I’m well aware that my insistence that everything be cute before I can poooossibly get to work probably isn’t enormously normal or productive, but it works for me (pun intended). If I’m having writer’s block or the designs just aren’t coming, the amount of pretty, interesting things in my direct sightline helps to inspire. If (like now) I’m pressed for time, and the rest of life is getting in the way of my business, the desire to go and use my ‘new’ workshop is a really helpful motivator which encourages me to make time to work. And, if nothing else, this round of redesigns gave me a legit excuse to go for a stroll in Tiger (where I got all of the photo frames as well as the swan pot); that’s definitely conducive to a good mental state!

What are your workspaces like? Are you a hoarder like me or a clutter-hater like The Goblin? More importantly, is your workspace meeting those needs and tastes? If not, get cracking and make your space match and facilitate your work. Unlike a lot of the stresses and frustrations in life, your physical environment is something you can always change, even if that just means running a duster round the place and putting all your mess in a pile. And if it means sewing adorable flower hoops and sifting through postcards, so much the better!

 

 

On trying new things and adjusting expectations

I’ve never been good at not being good at things as soon as I start them, so it’s no wonder it took me a year to start my Etsy shop. Business is one thing – it’s serious and nerve-racking – but when you’re this much of a perfectionist, hobbies are no different…

My mum mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she was going on a one-day embroidery workshop midway between Brum and hers, and as luck would have it I had already booked the day off work. I’ve been seriously burnt out lately between the day job, business and my health, so a day hanging out with my mum staring at threads sounded ideal. I’m not the most experienced embroiderer (satin stitch and back stitch were pretty much the only things in my embroidery arsenal before the class), but I naively thought I’d just be able to whip up a hoop full of art in 6 hours. Aww, bless past me…

So we were going to be embroidering landscapes, and the first thing to do was rub a  photo transfer onto the fabric. Cool, easy, no problem – oh wait, here comes the first failure. It took me FOREVER to get the bastard thing onto the cotton. I wanted to cry, because I’m a totally proportionate and reasonable person.

Anyway, according to Lorna (the lovely instructor), it was thicker paper than usual and not my fault. Don’t know if that’s true or if she was being nice, but I’m taking it! Eventually we ended up with this:

…which I picked because it looks like where I grew up:

So far, so difficult! I wasn’t not enjoying it, by the way, I was just frustrated with myself for not instantly being top of the class…

Luckily, the first new  stitch we learnt was split stitch, which is a bit like back stitch. Tree trunks started to appear in my bluebell wood (*cough* that’s what they said…):

We also learnt fly stitch, french knots and ‘lazy daisies’:

Despite enjoying the sewing itself, I was so much slower than everyone else in the class, and it was taking me an age to pick colours and get the hang of the new stitches. Other people were learning fancy stitches left, right and centre, and it was making me jealous. It was pretty obvious I was getting frustrated, so Lorna told me not to worry about what the others were doing, and just to keep going at my own pace. She was so nice and so not-patronising, which made a massive difference for me.

Once I had ‘permission’ to just focus on my own design, I was able to readjust my expectations and appreciate the multiple new stitches I’d learnt. I didn’t get nearly as much of the design done as I wanted to at the start of the day, but what I did do was ok:

Despite my frustration with myself, I really enjoyed the class, and it reaffirmed for me something I’ve been working on for a long time: adjusting expectations of myself. I’m not advising letting yourself off the hook and making excuses to be lazy, but sometimes being relentlessly hard on yourself is less productive than just accepting you might need to lower the bar a bit (who knew?!). It’s especially important if you’re feeling tired, ill or burnt out, because you’re probably already not at your best.

Aaaaand that’s why I’m currently not beating myself up (too much) for having melted a pendant I’d spent hours on today, and have given up my jewellery efforts for now to sit on the sofa and work on my embroidery instead…

If any of you are having trouble readjusting expectations today, this is your permission to go a bit easier on yourself. If you can’t do that, here are some pictures of my parents’ dog, Olive, in the bluebell woods at home to cheer you up:

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