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!

Creative anxiety: some tips to get your small business moving despite yourself

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action.” – Carrie Fisher*

Starting an Etsy store has been on my goals list for a good two years now, so why did it take me until December 2016 to bite the bullet and actually open Tiding of Magpies? I mean, there are obviously a ton of different factors, but if I was going to boil it down into one reason, it would be this: anxiety.

Now, anyone who knows me IRL will know that my mental health isn’t the best, but I’m talking creative anxiety, not can’t-leave-the-house, medical anxiety. It’s something that affects even the most ambitious and confident creatives from time to time, and never more so than when we’re starting out. Because, let’s face it, starting something new is scary. Putting yourself and your work out there is no small ask, and it’s so tempting to immerse yourself in market research and procrastinate by tinkering with your products and your brand and a million and one other things. I feel you. But if, like me, you’re struggling to get started, here are a couple of things that might help.

Be prepared…

There are a few things you need to be ‘ready’ to start selling: a name, some products you’re proud of, a platform on which to sell them, a way of getting products to your customers, a working brand identity, realistic prices, an idea of the market you want to enter, and an online presence. Sound intimidating? That’s where preparation comes in. Being prepared is crucial for success, but it’s also crucial for actually starting something which could be a success in the first place. Feeling like you know something about your area and your business is an essential part of overcoming creative anxiety and putting yourself out there.

…but know when to stop preparing

That said, there’s no such thing as having every possible duck in a row with this sort of business. Honestly, you’ll never feel ready. The closest you can get is to have the key details in place and a decent idea of the market you’re about to enter. It’s mostly the practicalities which will trip you up in the early days, so once you have got the details sorted, you’re ready to go. You can tweak your brand and everything else once you know what works and what doesn’t, and the only way you can know that is to just take the leap. If you sit around forever trying to know ‘everything’ before you start, you risk never actually doing it. Plus, online platforms like Etsy make it so easy and so cheap to start selling your handmade goods that you basically get a free pass to try things out. Still need a push? Consider relinquishing a bit of that control (easier said than done when it’s your ‘business baby’, I know, but bear with me).

External factors

My dad, who is a wonderful human (but always right and, my God, he knows it) was actually the catalyst for the ‘grand launch’ of Tiding of Magpies. We were on the phone last November when he came straight out with it: ‘So, when are you opening your shop? It’s nearly Christmas, just pop some things online and see what happens. You might not sell anything but you’ll get your jewellery out there.’ In his annoyingly-right way, he had given me the shove I needed. I stopped fussing over every word on my Twitter bio and obsessively polishing the various pieces of jewellery that were mounting up on my workbench, and decided to open my shop by the start of December.

My dad had given me the encouragement, but it was setting the target and telling people about it that finally got my store open. I fixed Friday, 2nd December as my opening date and started telling everyone who’d listen what date my stuff would be on sale – partner, friends, family, Instagram followers, both of my parents’ dogs… Once the outside world was ‘holding me accountable’, I felt a real obligation to get my shit together. Of course, nobody would have been upset or angry with me if I hadn’t met my target, but I knew I would, and that everyone else would know I’d failed. That turned out to be enough.

Look for some inspiration

This helps before, during and after you start out, in my experience. These are a few podcasts, blogs and Instagram accounts that help me if I’m feeling negative about my business.

Being Boss – These ladies never fail to get me motivated to work hard and aim high, plus they do it all in a chatty, entertaining way.

Create and Cultivate – A ton of inspirational women doing feminist crafting and sharing ideas. Discourse + inspiration + creativity = my dream! Their Instagram is pretty fab, too.

Rachel Lucie – Yorkshire-based jewellery designer whose blog is full of lush photography and interesting behind-the-scenes posts.

Rising Tide Society – Gorgeous, motivational images and advice. Need something to kick off a business brainstorm? Look no further.

Silver Pebble – I booked onto one of Emma’s workshops for my Mum’s birthday present after seeing her in Mollie Makes Magazine, and it was a pretty key moment in figuring out my design process. Her Instagram feed is stunning (and makes me wish I could draw).

Quick disclaimer: Inspiration is great, but if, like me, you’re prone to perfectionism and self-criticism remember that your success and someone else’s success aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s easy to scroll through Instagram for a bit and become paralysed with the thought that you’ll ‘never be as successful as x, y or z, so why bother?’, but that’s bullshit. Inspiration, not comparison, is the way forward.

Look, I know ‘just do it’ is basically a crap piece of advice unless you’re selling sportswear, so…

…do your homework, make things you’re proud of, and then kick anxiety in the face and go out and start your business! It’s hard and it takes time but it’s so incredibly exciting to do something you really love and to discover that people outside of your immediate circle actually value your work (literally and figuratively). I know anxiety deals in ‘what ifs’, but what if you get an order, or two orders, or even just someone favouriting a product? The emotional boost that gives you will be worth it, and anxiety can do one.

Fiiiiinally, if anyone else has tips or opinions on starting a small creative business, let me know – I’m still figuring this stuff out myself…

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*Obviously I’m still gutted about Carrie’s passing and may or may not be quoting her at every opportunity, but it’s also solid advice.