Weaving has long been associated with health, along with other textile and craft disciplines. For years hospitals had occupational health departments which often included handlooms and weaving equipment. For hand/eye co-ordination and for improving concentration and focus after major operations and for helping with mental health problems, weaving was invaluable. Then came the battle to keep occupational health departments which was slowly lost to successive governments in the UK, as were vocational evening classes. The wonderful centres of learning that several Victorian philanthropists (often industrialists who had profited hugely from the Industrial Revolution!) had set up were slowly whittled away. The facts that so many people lost a vital social connection and a numberof our treasured traditional skills crafts classes disappeared from these settings were not ‘relevant’ factors in any calculations.
In more recent years, a number of well-regarded craft courses such as weaving and ceramics departments have also closed in our universities which seemed to reflect the continuing decline of traditional and contemporary craft in some areas of the UK.
Then there was 2020. A year to be remembered for so many reasons.
And at the back end of the year, after the upsurge in craft courses online that have been so eagerly enjoyed by people all over the world, there seems to be a change of heart in the circles of government. Just a few short weeks ago, there was a quiet announcement that the UK government are now intending to open up centres of life-long learning in every part of the country. I’m not so naïve as to think that this is anything other than a realisation – somewhat belated, but very obvious in current circumstances – that mental health has been so hugely affected through COVID-19. The powers-that-be are really worried about the surge in unemployment, what to do to keep all those unemployed people active mentally and physically and perhaps able to bring new skills to bear in a world where the health of the nation is at crisis point and the health service hugely oversubscribed and stretched beyond its absolute limit. They realise they can’t afford the looming mental health catastrophe and they have to do something about it.
Never before in my living memory has mental health been such an important issue. I don’t think I have ever heard it discussed as openly by men and women across society and in professional life as now. A willingness of people in the public eye to speak out, and for more men to feel safe enough to talk openly about it is to be applauded. I know from my own experience growing up that mental health was talked about openly and usually honestly among the women I knew, whether in family groups, friendship groups or associations such as the Women’s Institute. Support was there and craft skills were one of the available options to help focus on something else and get together socially in what today would be known as support groups or bubbles.
All crafts and arts, whether using paints, pencils, sculpting tools for wood, metal, stone, clay and/or yarns open up a world of usefulness and creativity. Using our hands to create something is fundamental to the human condition. Combine that with the brain work necessary to construct a bowl, a hat, a cushion, and add a social component to share triumphs, disappointments and hints and tips, and you have the mechanism for healthy and happy minds and hearts. Using our heads, hearts and hands to express ourselves in many different ways is more important that ever, and one thing COVID-19 has given us is time to think, time to worry, but also time to decide that we can, and often must, take the time to learn these skills to help ourselves to better health and a closer connection to the world around us and nature.
Sometimes I have questioned long and hard about the worth, to myself and to others, about what I do and what I can truly offer others, especially in comparison to people who do so much for others, such as the people we have come to appreciate so much this year. My brother, for example, helps so many people through his own work and I am so incredibly proud of him and what he has brought to the scoliosis and paralympic worlds, among many other areas. But comparison is not a good thing sometimes.
This year so many of us have realised just how important our mental and spiritual wellbeing is and that weaving and other crafts, textiles and otherwise, are just as important and valid as anything else. By encouraging people to be able to express themselves through weave, whether learning a practical craft from scratch, or picking up new techniques to be able to create art through weave, this is a worthwhile life path, not just to me, but also to the people I can help. I feel invigorated that what at times had seemed to be a self-indulgent career choice now really feels like it has a purpose to help other people with a deeper connection than ever before. Weaving has always been a spiritual and meditative experience for me, as well as technically challenging and wonderful to share with my students (why is it that weaving attracts such lovely people??!) and it has always been a privilege to share my knowledge and love of weaving with others and hopefully to enthuse them to explore more and enjoy themselves.
But for 2021 and beyond, I have a greater purpose. I know that I am meant to be here to lead new people to weaving, and also to help existing weavers to create their own woven art – to assist you to be able to express yourself through your chosen medium in a way that resonates with you, feeds your spirit, relaxes you, inspires you, helps keep you positive and focused, centres you. Weaving helps us cope with stress, overcome disappointments and set-backs, connect with like-minded individuals and find our tribe. We learn to problem-solve, think outside the box, try things just for the hell of it, and share our highs and lows.
Weaving defines my life. I would be honoured if you would allow me to walk the weaving path with you in 2021 and future years, for the sheer fun of it and to see where our path takes us!
Warmest wishes, and Happy Weaving!