The Ultimate Therapeutic Solution: Stitching

5th February 2021

After navigating our way through the upheaval of 2020 and arriving where we are today, at the beginning of 2021, the journey between there and here has seen almost all of us experience change in some way or another. 

The difficulties encountered last year have encouraged us to revisit a topic which has been addressed many times before, but due to its significance is absolutely worth re-visiting. That is the subject of stitching and mental health.

Instinctively, most of are already aware of, and testament to, the benefits needlework brings to our mental health.

Words such as ‘mindfulness’ and ‘stress-reduction’ get tossed around frequently and with good reason. However, what is curious about the links between stitching and good mental health is how often the benefits can seem contradictory.

Clare Hunter, community textile artist and author of Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle, noted how sewing always offered her a measure of privacy. She grew up in a large family with lots of noise and not a lot of opportunity for individuality and self-reflection. When she could focus on her sewing, she achieved a form of private pleasure which was hers alone, despite what was going on around her.

However, in contrast, many stitchers see the value of their craft coming from the sense of community and togetherness it brings. This was brought into stark relief over the course of the past year when so many people were unable to meet with their stitching groups or guilds or were physically separated from their stitching friends.

Nevertheless, the sense of community still came out through the magic of the internet, whether through online groups, shared videos, social media or the ubiquitous Zoom calls. The sense of togetherness did not disappear. In fact, it might even have grown stronger with communities expanding thanks to the globalised nature of the internet.

A further benefit of stitching, tied up with the popular notion of mindfulness, comes from the focused contemplation arising out of methodical repetition. From mastering running stitch, through to the calming movement involved in knitting or crochet, or even the wonderful simplicity of forming coloured crosses on squared fabric, repetition encourages the stitcher to be in the ‘now’ in a way akin to watching the waves on a shoreline.

Nevertheless, the sense of achievement that comes from mastering a complex stitch, design or technique has also been shown to increase self-esteem. Trying something new, particularly something which has always seemed too difficult, can have huge benefits to confidence, self-image and self-acceptance.

Many of the stitchers who came to the craft through the charity Fine Cell Work during their incarceration, attest to the sense of achievement they gained from learning how to thread a needle, master a stitch or complete a project. Stretching themselves beyond their comfort zones was key to reaping lasting benefits.

Finally, the idea of stress-reduction is often entwined with the need for peace in a world overtaken by noise, demands and endless distraction. There is no noise when a thread pulls through the fabric. 

A stitch makes very few demands on us, and there are few distractions which will pull us away from the simple joy of working in our favoured medium. As a result, many stitchers associate their craft with a sense of quiet they can’t achieve anywhere else.

For some, rather than craving silence, they benefit from expression – occasionally loud and strident but always heartfelt. Groups like the Profanity Embroidery Group in Whitstable in the UK formed, based on their common belief that swearing is beneficial for them, loudly in fact using their needle and thread, for them to come to terms with the difficulties of life, and express themselves in new and powerful ways.

Everyone feels anger at some point but stitching allows the group to diffuse that anger in creative ways which, in turn, offer immense benefits to their personal wellbeing.

Stitching, knitting, quilting, crocheting, weaving and sewing have all been shown to provide profound benefits to the mental health of the people who do them. There is no need for perfection, no need for judgement and no need for the approval of others.

Although the benefits which come out of practicing a craft may differ and vary in scope for everyone, what remains undeniable is just how good it is. 

2020 demonstrated first-hand the very tangible link between stitching and maintaining positive mental health. So much so, we’re confident the lessons we all learned will endure well into the future and serve to better prepare us for whatever challenges lay ahead.

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