Crafting can be a solitary occupation, and that’s probably the way you like it. It’s your precious ‘me’ time; when you’re absorbed in your work with no distractions or interruptions. When you’ve found your flow.
Oh, hang on – I’ve just got to check that notification…….
When being busy seems more important that being efficient, the opportunity to sit and spend some quality time on your current WIP feels like a luxury. It feels self indulgent to enjoy a few moments with no other demands on your time, but it’s important to find a mindful pursuit; something that allows you to be present and fully engaged in whatever you’re doing at that time.
No wait – I just need to answer that…..
Now that knitting and crochet have joined the VIP list of mindful practices we can confidently replace that 10 minute meditation and 20 minute yoga workout with a 30 minute granny square and still reap the rewards of mindfulness.
Er….is that my social media antenna I can feel twitching? I’ll just take a peek.
But the paradox is that whilst we yearn for a little peace and quiet, and that elusive ‘me’ time, we forget that we’re inherently social creatures and we thrive on connectivity. Which explains why we’re so easily distracted.
Oh, I’d better just reply to that one…..
A Room of One’s Own can so quickly turn to solitary confinement so it’s reassuring to know you’re still (virtually) connected to others. Social isolation wasn’t what you had in mind when you visualised your own creative space, but that’s how it can feel when it’s just you and your work. And your phone.
The artist in isolation is a common, and romantic, trope. Carl Jung, George Orwell, JK Rowling, Vincent Van Gogh and many more of our modern creative ‘geniuses’ all generated brilliant work in self imposed solitude. So is it really necessary, or has the notion of the solitary artist been reduced to a hackneyed cliché or an ironic meme?
Well it seems the answer is yes. It is necessary. If you want to do your best work.
Cal Newport is the author of the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World in which he explores the detrimental effects of those constant brief checks, quick glances and fragmented concentration.
FOMO (fear of missing out) is a phobia carefully curated and nurtured by the tech giants, and Infomania (specifically the fear of missing out on content and knowledge) can result in feelings of anxiety when off line and ‘disconnected’. Persistent multitasking and constant distractions prevent you from immersing yourself in meaningful work and can leave you feeling exhausted and unfulfilled.
But what if I’m not looking to write a Booker Prize winning novel, or win the 2020 Turner Prize? Why should I care about cultivating deep and focused attention?
Well, it’s simple; according to Newport people engaged in ‘Deep Work’ are happier. That’s it, and who wouldn’t want that?
But wait. Connectivity is part of the human condition isn’t it?
It’s wired into our DNA; studies show that people who cultivate social connections are happier and most of us simply aren’t prepared to swap human interaction with social isolation, however much we enjoy our craft.
Yes, that’s true and we can’t ignore that primal urge to sit amongst others. To tell our stories, listen to and be seen by others, share our craft and feel part of a tribe. But the key issue here is that you should look someone in the eye when you talk to them; that you make your connections in real life. In real time and in real spaces.
So perhaps it’s worth thinking about your ‘me’ time as either time spent alone and ‘in the flow’, or with other people, actively engaged in social interaction.
In my experience the act of crafting together is unlike any other social interaction. It’s a democracy that, when it’s managed successfully, enables everyone to feel part of something – with no expectations.
The extraverts will, at times, take over the discussion but periods of intense concentration will eventually draw this to a natural close. The introverts can enjoy the company of others, listen to the stories and anecdotes and chip in with their sharp observations and thoughtful words. The conversations will ebb and flow, and technical advice will be exchanged. Sometimes the intimate details of private lives will spill across the table, occasionally there’ll be tears, and there’ll always be laughter.
To sit among strangers can be a challenging but rewarding experience, and in February 2019 I did just that when I spent a week bringing people together to work on a collaborative crochet project in Norwich.The Norfolk Makers Festival is an opportunity for anyone to learn a skill, have a go at a new craft , or contribute to a community project and I decided to host a crochet ‘drop in’ for any one with basic crochet skills. The plan was to make a beautiful blanket which would be raffled to raise money for the Boudicca breast cancer appeal.
For a whole week we made as many granny squares as we could with gorgeous Rowan Felted Tweed kindly donated by Rowan Yarns.
The inspiration for the work was my ‘Homage to the (Granny) Square blanket and the result was a fabulous collection of colourful crochet squares, of various sizes, standards and colours.
At the end of the festival the winning ticket was drawn and the squares were collected to be seamed together. After several weeks it was finally finished and was displayed in the window of Norfolk Yarn and it looked stunning. For several weeks I received lovely messages from people delighted that they’d spotted their crochet square in the blanket and proud to be part of the project.
The finished result was impressive, and it had raised a significant amount of money for the charity. There was, however, another result. One that was less visible, but for me was more poignant.
Some of the people that sat with us at The Makers Festival had lost a loved one to cancer and they wanted to talk about it or simply contribute to the project. Some could crochet and talked as they worked and some couldn’t crochet but just wanted to join us and feel part of something.
Those are the interactions you can only truly experience in real life. When someone looks you in the eye and tells you their story you can’t switch off or look the other way.
We all know that crafting is good for our soul, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves why, and how. Just like meditation, yoga or any other mindfulness activity, if we want our crafting to have a positive psychological impact on our lives we need to schedule it in.
Quality ‘me’ time doesn’t need a special space, you can just switch your phone off and enjoy the ‘deep work’. But when you need social interaction perhaps you could work a little harder and actively seek it out in the real world. It’s definitely out there in the form of ‘knit and natter’ groups, ‘social sews’ ‘crafternoon teas’ and the multitude of workshops and courses at your Local Yarn Store. And if you can’t find a group – then start one!
You could also join me at next years Makers Festival and take part in the Wallflowers Collective. This is your opportunity to be part of something amazing as I’ll be facilitating the creation of a new crochet work of art inspired by my current project.
There’ll be a fabulous display of the Wallflowers crocheted by some amazing local crafters and you can book yourself in to a 2 hour crochet workshop, or join us for the whole day to work on this unique project.
We’ll use a range of different stitches and techniques to create beautiful textures and floral effects, so you can build your skills as you help grow the blanket. Also, every participant will receive a raffle ticket to win the finished result.
So, if you’d like to join me why not bring your friends, bring your group, your tribe – or just come as you are and you’ll be made most welcome.
Tickets are available through Eventbrite or you can contact me direct to book your place.
Now I can feel my antenna twitching again so I have to go……