Welcome! The Craft Sessions aims to bring together people who craft for joy. We are all about fostering a love of hand making and discussing the ways traditional domestic handcrafts have meaning and context in our everyday lives.
Back in November of 2012 I was thinking of starting The Craft Sessions. There wasn’t really a retreat in Australia at the time and I was deep in the middle of motherhood. I needed to do something and as craft had really saved my life during the early years of having kids, I hoped that I could help connect other crafters so they had that same support - and hopefully a bit of joy in their lives.
But I was afraid.
Who was I to start a retreat? Why did I think people would care, and want to come? What happens if it failed? What if I disappointed people? What if what I did wasn’t good enough?
The fear was quite paralysing. I hadn’t started anything before. I hadn’t run my own business. I didn’t have an online presence at all. The question my brain got stuck on was “who do you think you are”.
And then one of my small people got obsessed with Clare Bowditch’s album The Winter I Chose Happiness as an album they used to go to sleep. I listened to that album over and over again. And it got to me.
It’s a beautiful album but there were two lines, two phrases that made my heart sit in my throat. And I heard them every single day.
......all the dreams put away On the shelf of someone else Someone better than you
— Clare Bowditch, song One Little River
Why wasn’t I living my dreams? Why wasn’t I even trying. Why did I think that this project should be done by someone better than me? What kind of BS is that?
And then in the very next song - every single night as my kid was going to sleep I would hear ….
You’ll be a little bit older in October.
— Clare Bowditch, song Amazing Life.
Holy fuck. Even now that line breaks my heart, and fills me with hope all at once.
I will. I will be older in October. And my life is just flying by. And what am I waiting for?
There was a series of other things that happened between that November and June of 2013 when I started The Craft Sessions but those two lines were the thing that changed my life and got me to push go on the project that my heart was set on.
The next part of the song One Little River goes…..
Your heart wants to speak the truth Your heart wants to be known Wants to be known by you
— Clare Bowditch, song One Little River
So as always to bring this back around to craft…. I use this line all the time in my craft. When I’m telling myself a story about why I’m not good enough, clever enough, skilled enough to tackle a complex project, I come back to this line. “You’ll be a little bit older in October”. Because I will be.
I want to be brave and fight against the parts of me that tell me to stay small and safe.
I get one life. And I want in.
Let’s get on my loves and make the thing that we really want to make. Ignore the stories. You will learn as you go, and the only way to make the thing you want to make is to practice in the gap.
PS. The reason I thought of this was because Bowditch has released a new song today called Woman. And if you don’t follow her on instagram please do @clarebowditch. She is a shining light of a human.
I often talk on this blog about craft as a wellbeing practice. Like mindfulness, meditation and exercise, craft changes us for the better. It elevates our mood, provides us with engagement, a sense of achievement and meaning, and creates comfort in the moment. It also connects us to community, whether that be other local makers, online communities, or simply the people we are making for.
Each of these tools - mindfulness, meditation, exercise, craft - is a valuable support in my life. But there in one, unacknowledged and little understood, way* that craft kicks it out of the park, in terms of the everyday wellbeing that it provides in my life**. You see when we craft, we are creating a physical object; through the process of craft we create objects that we live with, love and enjoy as part of our everday. This object exists in our lives long after our physical engagement with the process of making is over. The object we create is more than an simple object; it is an artefact of the process that we went through to make it. And like any artefact – the objects that we create through our craft hold history.
Artefact (noun): An object made by a human being, typically one of cultural or historical interest.
— Google Dictionary just now.
Why is this significant? Because the artefacts of the craft process, the objects we make, are visible representations of the process we have engaged in to make the thing. And we humans are visual creatures. Like a photograph, they capture a moment in time. How we felt, where we were, who we were with, and why we were making this particular thing. The object we make embodies our reasoning, our choices, our stories, our feelings and our values in that moment.
Our history is held within the fabric we have made or manipulated. And history is important, as it speaks to us of who we were and who we were trying to become.
Stray sweaters - both adored by the kid in question. One is so stained and manky I would love to toss it. But she would cry. And that would make me a terrible parent. :)
I’ve been making for many years now, and so as I walk through my home, I clock the things I have made everywhere I look; sometimes consciously but often sub-consciously. This sub-conscious seeing means that my heart is regularly reminded of who I was, who I am and who I am trying to be.
The objects we make remind us of who we are and what we are capable of.
These reminders don’t need to be conscious to be valuable. My heart knows what it sees, even when my head is not paying attention. It reminds me – continuously, lovingly and hopefully – that I have capacity and agency in my life. I can do things. I can change things. I can create something wonderous, something new.
These reminders serve to make my heart buoyant, and elevate my life by adding depth to the interactions I have with my environment as I wander about doing my everyday. For example doing my chores in clothes that I’ve made, is an inherently richer experience that one where I’m wearing something soulless from the shopping centre.
Interacting with meaningful objects can improve our lives. We are feeling creatures who get joy through interacting with objects that hold meaning and intention. This is not materialism – it is not objects for objects sake. For example the experience of blowing my nose with a tissue is not the same as blowing my nose with one of my nana’s hankies that I inherited when she died a few years ago. While there is research that says that “stuff doesn’t make us happy, experiences do”, what is special about interacting with the artefacts of our making is that object is an embodiment of the experience. The object is a souvenir but rather than reminding us of a place, it reminds us of the experience of making it, and all the inherent meaning associated with that process.
Smallest kid on her way in from the garden.
When I see a kid zoom past in an outfit I have made for them, specifically to make their beautiful spirits feel loved, then I am reminded of my connection, my intentions and my love. When I look at my couch and see a cushion I have made - a cushion where I tried a new-to-me technique - I am reminded that I am brave enough to get out of my comfort zone, that I can sit with discomfort of not being good enough, and I can prevail!! The objects I make show me that I can act with agency. That I can change my stories and my life, for the better. I can make something beautiful if I try, even when I doubt myself and even when I make mistakes.
Not everything I have made holds these beautiful uplifting soaring memories. Somethings hold stories which are full of mistakes and things I could have done better. Objects I’ve created where my decision making was off, or I was too lazy, or tired, or sad, or angry, to go back and fix the mistake. These objects are also important in this lived experience, because they remind me that I am a human in process, and that I will always be a human in process. I will always be making mistakes and trying to do better. But they also remind me that part of life must be undertaken with a who-gives-a-shit attitude. That sometimes a half-arsed job is the only way forward – it’s all we are capable of in that moment and that is enough because we are enough. And when perfectionism is getting the better of me – when I am feeling that my worth is tied to my output – then this reminder is so important. Perfect is the enemy of good and sometimes 80% done is done. The object still fulfills it’s purpose and I am worthy of love.
I heard David Whyte speak a few months ago and he spoke of how we are practicing, in each moment, for who we want to be in the next. The fabric we create holds that intention – who were we practicing to be on that day? Were we practicing courage by trying something new? Were we practicing generosity by making for another? Were we practicing a new story about who we are by intentionally moving away from a story that no longer served us? Or were we simply trying to comfort ourselves so we could sit with our sadness or fear or insecurity? This comfort is a gift we give ourselves; a gift of time and space where we acknowledge that ignoring our pain, does not serve us. Allowing ourselves the comfort of craft – and then there being a visible reminder in our homes of us treating ourselves with grace – is so very important.
Those big kids are sitting here next to here.
Over the years, as the things we have made begin to surround us, these artefacts we have created demonstrate to us, over and over again, the depth and richness of our lives. These objects that we make – the artefacts of the process – deepen the connection we have to ourselves, and remind us, over and over again, of the good in us and what we can do when we act with intention.
“Craftefacts” - A New name for the objects we create.
I’ve been pondering these ideas for the last few years – about how the objects we create are artefacts of the process, and how these objects elevate our lives. And how we don’t have language for what it does for us. And if we don’t have language for something we can’t communicate it’s significance.
We need a name so that we can talk about these objects more easily. And so that we can spread the word about this wonderful, life giving, elevating aspect of craft that is little understood.
Artefacts isn’t quite the right word as it speaks of “cultural and historical significance”, whereas the significance of these objects is much more personal. My suggest is that we call these objects “craftefacts”.
Craftefact (noun): An object made by a human being that has personal meaning, value and historical significance to that person that made it, or the person who owns it.
— Felicia Semple, this blog post.
Whereas an artefact has cultural and historical significance, the significance of the objects we make, our craftefacts, are generally only significant to us, and the people we love. And that is where the beauty of these objects lies. That they are personal; that they hold our personal stories.
These objects, the craftefacts we create, are significant to our lives and to our wellbeing. A large part of the richness, depth and meaning that craft gives us in our lives comes from living with the objects we make. Craftefacts ensure that the process of making doesn’t stop when the physical making ends, because we get to live with, and love, them. The process of making a thing includes the process of living with the things we have made.
I fully acknowledge that “craftefacts” is a slightly clunky, possibly silly word :), so I’d love any other suggestions you would like to make? Maybe there is a word I don’t know about? And I’d love to hear how you relate to the objects you have made, what they show you about yourself, and how they make you feel….
*There are actually a couple – but this is the main one.
**Not that I am dissing them. I do all three of them and love them. But mindfulness, meditation and exercise are over when they are over. They do not have an ongoing visible representation of their presence in our lives, other than our minds and our bodies being in better shape than before we did them.
Wow. Thanks for your super response about #theyearofthescrap. I can’t wait to see what you all make - and to learn from your learnings.
Some of you have started to tag up your older scrap projects with #theyearofthescrap on instagram that there is already a body of knowledge and ideas there for us all to learn from. I’ve started tagging some of my older projects and will do more this week. I’ve been trying to make with scraps for a few years now, and so I have many examples already - but this project is me trying to take it up a notch and really reduce the build up that is happening when I make more projects from materials than scraps. And to make more meaningfully while I do that.
There is a beauty and a buoyancy that comes from being surrounded by meaningful objects. For me the most meaningful projects are ones where I consciously align my making with my value system in order to truly live my values. Taking responsibility for my waste is a strong value of mine in other areas of our life - and is an ongoing work in progress. I try, I fail. I try some more. This project #theyearofthescrap is trying to do meaningful making in the truest sense of the word. I know these projects will add joy to my life every time I wear them or see them walking past me on a random kid I grew.
How much waste do we make?
I just want to take a second to think about how much waste I produce. If I buy the materials specified in any pattern there will always be waste. Designers must add some wiggle room and so have to over estimate rather than under estimate to ensure all people have enough materials to create the project. Now I don’t buy as much as is suggested ever really (how to buy more strategically is another post) but I still have scraps from every project. It is a reality of making.
For every 3-5 sewing projects I make I estimate I would create 1 scrap project’s worth of scraps.
With knitting it is a little different. For every 5-10 knitting projects I create I believe I would create one kid cardigan sized or adult-sized scrap project.
Obviously these numbers are totally guestimated but it is worth thinking about. That means in order to stop my scraps building up I really need to be making with scraps regularly.
A five ply scrap project from many years past. My girls wear this little sweater all the time.
Five silvers and two blues in the finished cardy.
What scraps ask of us….
My most successful scrap projects are ones where I have really put in the time and effort to plan, while also acknowledging that planning only takes you so far and so ripping will be part of the process. Using scraps means that often the only way to see if it works is to try it and see if it works. There is no alternative.
For those of you to whom rippings sounds horrifying, I wrote a post called Ripping For Joy a few years ago that talks about why and how to enjoy #rippingforjoy, but in the case of scrap projects learning this skill is essential. Without ripping, scrap projects are destined for the scrap heap.
A case in point - the pretty little silver and blue colourwork cardy above was ripped more than once in order to get the scraps to blend. Instead it has been worn for years and is a favourite.
In order to make with scraps you need to plan but then step into the uncertainty. There is no right answer, your gut instinct may be wrong and you may need to try again. But with each time you try you learn a little bit more about what you like and what will make these particular scraps sing Hallelujah.
What I’ve also learned from sitting in on Mary Jane Mucklestone’s classes last year are that you don’t always know what will work when you combine it. Sometimes something really ugly looks beautiful when you combine it with something else. Sometimes you need to leave something you don’t like, and add something else on top before truly deciding if it works or not. Sometimes the adding of another colour really grounds the ugly into something beautiful. A little basic colour theory – ala Joseph Albers – can help this make sense if it’s new to you but the jist is that a colour will look totally different depending on what colour surrounds it.
Scrap projects involve our creativity and our problem solving nouse. They involve stepping into uncertainty and sitting with the possibility of failure and not making it mean anything. Scrap projects will inevitably have moments of failure littered in their wake because they involve us using and creativity – and creativity cannot exist without the possibility of failure. Because making without the possibility of failure is simply following instructions to the letter – which is not a creative act.
But all that said, when they work, which they often will, they can become some of the things we are most proud of. These projects can cause our little precious hearts to “leap like a newborn lamb” everytime we spot them out of the corner of our eyes*
All my worsted and aran weight scraps - mainly they blend with a few weird outliers.
There are no rules - only preferences!
One of my preferences - in fact much of the reason this project exists - is that I want to practice and learn and experiment in order to come up with ways of making my scraps not look so scrappy. You might like a scrappy looking project but for me I want to try to make my scraps look more like an intentional choice.
The great news is that if you are human you probably have preferences which equate to some kind of taste. Which means that other than the odd outlier here and there (you can see my outliers in the photo above - here’s looking at you fluro yellow and you deep purple) most of you will have an existing colour palette that is visible in your scraps. We like what we like. It could be broad, it could change over time, but I find that most of my scraps look beautiful together. Not all…. but most.
Combining Marle, Flat, Flecked, Speckled and Tweed?
This is all about personal preference. For me, I’ve found that the one combination that really doesn’t work for me is to combine a totally flat yarn colour in amoung yarns that have a fleck, a marle or a tweed. As there are very few yarns in my collection that are totally flat it’s all good, but the ugly sweater’s only really jarring point is the back which is a flat purple.
Storage and Equipment
I keep them in plastic boxes**, stored together by yarn weight, so that over time I slowly see them together over and over again as I add to the box. This means – hopefully – some ideas start to form.
There is one piece of equipment that gives you a lot more when it comes to combining scraps and playing yarn chicken (where we are knitting with not-quite-enough-yarn)….. and that is a set of electronic scales. If you don’t have one - of course you can make without them but it makes life immeasurably easier as you are able to determine if you have enough yarn for a project OR you can divide your scraps into sections for a sleeve and body with a little bit of rudiemnatry maths.
I got mine for Xmas a few year ago. My kids thought it was an odd thing to ask for.
One of Anna Maltz’s beautiful scrap teaching frocks.
I want to flag a couple of design features (and designers) that are making patterns that are extremely useful to us when we are looking at combining scraps.
Have a look at Sweaterspotter’s website. Anna is a master of the scrappy colourwork sweater. My foray into this space was my colourwork sweater you can see above which used five different silvers and two blues to make this sweet colourwork sweater that my daughters still wear. I have never taken finished photos but will get one of them to put it on to show you how it turned out. Since this first project I’ve made many others including the hat pattern below.
Colourwork is the place to use up your scraps!
I love a two stripe sweater in a tweed with a third contrasting colour for bands…. Or a three stripe sweater as shown in the picture below. I’ve made so many of these sweaters that my girl children now beg for no-scrap sweaters. This is kindof a problem.
Try dreareneeknits or westknits who both love a fade. They are many other designers who have shawls and sweaters perfect for using up your scraps.
One of my favourite scrap sweaters for my kids which used three colours of leftover Felted Tweed.
Andrea’s latest Shifty sweater was made for scraps. I’m thinking of using the scraps from the lead photo on this post.
Ways to improve your scrap blendOverdyeing
This was suggested a few times over the last few weeks – that you overdye a bunch of colours to pull them all together. You can make this even more environmentally friendly by using food waste to do your dyeing. Check out the amazing Samorn Sanixay’s feed for some scrap-dyeing magic.
I’ve used this idea a few times. The mohair in one colour – which I have purchased for the project – allows you to use up scraps while pulling them all together in the same way that overdying would. Have a look at this wonderful set of swatches by Helene Isager which shows how mohair combinations can work.
Marle and combining yarns.
Sweaterspotter has some wonderful examples of using marle (a combination of two yarns) to wonderful effec
This sweater was made with one strand of scrap mohair and one strand of sock yarn. It pulled the yarn colours together and altered the weight of the yarn which made it perfect for this sweet Iris Sweater by Wiksten Made.
Combining two fingering weight yarns to make a worsted weight yarn.
I did this to get the right colour as I didn’t have any mustard/ochre worsted weight yarn suitable for this hat.
Marlisle - a technique made popular by Sweater Spotter’s Anna Maltz.
Using mohair to pull these scraps together?
Other posts on this topic…
This topic is filling me with so much joy. There needs to be some posts about how to minimise our waste when we are purchasing for a project. One on fabric - as there are many lessons to be learnt here and choices to be made, and one on yarn. Some of these things I was taught by my mum who was a master at cutting a pattern out of not enough fabric, and therefore not ending up with those 20-30-40cm scraps that are so common. And then I’m going to write a post about figuring out how to combine yarns and figuring out if you have enough…. Such a fun project.
Please keep tagging and I look forward to seeing what you come up with on #theyearofthescrap.
*Once on a roadtrip with my girlfriends in my early 20s we camped at beautiful Depot Beach for a few days and borrowed books from the tiny little 10-book library at the National Park Office - basically Mills and Boon and Tom Clancy. There was a Mills and Boon novel which had a line “When she saw him, her heart leapt like a newborn lamb. And when he left she felt like a lamb that had lost it’s mother”. It is one of my favourite lines from a book ever, and never fails to make my heart leap when it randomly pops into my head. Sadly I can’t credit the author as I don’t remember who they were.
** Moths are bastards.
A sweater’s worth of blue/grey scraps….. some of these don’t go. Leaving them on the floor for a week is one of my favourite planning techniques. Over the week - I try different combinations and time helps make thing clearer.
Every few years I find myself drowning in scraps. Fabric scraps overflowing out of baskets and piled into tubs that have to be stored in the shed. Yarn scraps that outweigh and overwhelm the actual small stash that I maintain after years of Stash Less practice. Scraps that are so visible and visceral they have their own weight. And just like many years ago when I started Stash Less, this weight creates a feeling that isn’t conducive to meaningful life-giving making. Instead when I walk into my study I feel a sense of responsibility and overwhelm because to carry this many scraps is out of line with my values. And being out of alignment feels heavy.
I value thoughtfulness and mindfulness, thriftiness and waste awareness. I aim to be conscious about my resource usage. I want to think about my impact. And so to have more scraps than stash – as is the case at the moment has given me pause.
What to do. What to do with the waste I’ve created from my making practice. Waste that is my responsibility. Waste that I don’t want to continually shift to others by giving it away*. Waste that I don’t want to think of as waste.
What to do when my kids are so sick of scrap sweaters that they now beg to have sweaters that are all in one colour. What to do when you associate crazy patchwork with a childhood where less was sometimes less. What to do when you associate scraps with an outcome that is #lessthan rather than #morespecial. When you think of scrap projects as scrappy.
Now as I’m saying this, please don’t for a second think that I don’t love some scrap projects. I do. So many of them. But my relationship with them is a little ragged. To give you some context, I grew up in the 80s in a household where scrap projects were common, crazy patchwork was celebrated, and every other kid in my class was wearing a three stripe navy adidas trackie. My mum was a woman ahead of her time but when you are 10yo adidas can matter and I still find myself as a 44 yo trying to shake off this association with scraps.
So what to do….how to change the associations I have about scraps being less than. And how to create a joyful, excited relationship to scraps that means they lose their weight and regain a sense of possibility.
For the few years I’ve been searching out scrap projects I love and analyzing what I love about them. I’ve been seeking out others who do scraps beautifully – think Gee’s Bend, Anna Maltz, Hadley and Drereneeknits. I’ve looked for inspiring scrap projects where the scraps enhance the project rather than detract from it. Projects where scraps shine!
And I’ve been personally trying different methods and patterns and ideas to create scrap projects I love, to see what I can learn. Sometimes they’ve worked. Sometimes they haven’t. I’ve learnt a lot. About what I love, and about the possibility inherent within scraps to instead be seen as materials. About what types of projects are best suited to scrappiness.
But I want to step it up. I want to see if I can really focus on this part of my making. I want to learn to create projects where the use of scraps looks intentional and interesting. To see if I can shift my relationship to may scraps and decrease their weight so I don’t get squished.
And so, I’ve decided I need to create a challenge.
I give you #theyearofthescrap.
#theyearofthescrap is my personal attempt to really shift my thinking about scraps in a more generous and permanent way. I want to be able to think of my scraps as being as valuable as the small number of sweaters worth of yarn and dress worth amounts of fabric I have in my cupboard. I want to change my relationship to, and my ideas about, scraps.
In 2019 I plan to;
document my scraps this month to assess where I am starting.
create a pinterest catalog where I collate scrap projects to inspire me.
make in a way that reduces the (drowning) weight of my scraps
creatively attempt to make in a way that uses my scraps where they enhance the project rather than detracts from it.
share my sucesses
change my relationship to scraps
Over the last few years through numerous experiments my making has taught me that often the addition of something unexpected is what makes a project sing. I’ve added a few scrap projects below that I’ve made over the years that I’ve loved.
But I’m also feeling excited about this project because of the communal shift we are all making towards using less, making more slowly and getting more conscious about the impacts of our making. This means that there are so many wonderful examples of making with scraps where the scraps themselves are the stars of the show. Where the scraps enhance, enable and make the project something truly special.
I’ve pinned some initial ideas for your perusal and will be updating these boards over the year..
This week has seen some incredibly important conversations within our making community about race, diversity, inclusion and representation. Like many of you, I’ve been reading and listening, and learning, and thinking all week.
For me though, this is not my introduction to these ideas. Just over six months ago, I was grateful to receive an email where I was called in about the lack of diversity and representation at Soul Craft, the festival I ran in June of 2018 in Melbourne.
I want to apologise to anyone who was impacted by the programming of the festival. To anyone who felt that they wouldn’t be welcome, or who felt unseen, unheard and unrepresented I’m very sorry. I got it very wrong.
I want to add that I’m also sorry to anyone who came to Soul Craft and who felt othered or unwelcome in the space I created.
Right before the festival, a woman emailed me to tell me that while she loved my writing, my ideas ,and my attempts to connect community, that she had decided that she couldn’t attend the festival. She said that when she looked through speakers, demonstrators and teachers, that she was really disappointed to discover that the program line up was almost all white women. As I read the email I fell into a shame hole because I knew she was right. This generous woman went on to say that as a leader, as an event creator, and as thoughtful as she believed me to be, that she knew I could do better in the future.
I emailed her back to thank her, and started reading that day, and have been listening, and reading, and examining by privilege, views and values since then. What I’ve learned has changed me forever, and while I have a lot more to learn, I’ve realized this week that although I took on what she said and what I’ve learned, I didn’t say it out loud, and I haven’t apologized publicly.
Receiving the email was a reckoning. I knew I needed to understand what I’d done better. I started following and reading intersectional writers and black feminists like @rachel.cargle, @catricemjackson and @laylasayad. And I’ve been reading books and blogs and feminist websites and opinion pieces in newspapers. Importantly, I also downloaded Layla’s Me and White Supremacy handbook when it was released, and have been working through it. There is something about doing rather than just reading that has been incredibly instructive.
I’ve found our attitudes, thought patterns, and blind spots are most visible in the comments on the Instagram posts of the women I’ve been following. Reading other people’s comments has helped me understand my own thoughts, biases and privilege better. As I’ve been reading I’ve been sitting in the discomfort of being wrong, realizing that I’m ignorant and finding myself lacking. The more I read the more I realise how much more work there is to do, how much more there is to unpack.
I’ve been away the last week and so while I’ve been trying to keep up with the discussion, and keep listening, I missed parts of it. But I’ve seen there are a couple of prevalent ideas that keep coming up that I want to attempt to address.
Intention doesn’t matter, impact does. Action is needed, not intention.
Over the last week there have been a lot of comments about intention, and it has become clear to me that we don’t seem to deeply understand that our intention doesn’t matter.
I am going to use myself, and my failure to act, as an example. I feel this is important as I’m worried that people reading this, will defend my intentions.
My intentions don’t matter because they don’t change the impact to the people who were hurt.
I was trying to create something truly special with Soul Craft – an event that was about making and ideas, and well-being, and community, and mental health. I was trying to be a good person, doing good things, putting good stuff into the world.
I had discussions early on with numerous people about diversity. I had intentions. BUT!! during the planning, through one small decision at a time, these intentions were deprioritised.
The result was a space that was not inclusive to all of our community. The result was a lineup that was not diverse. The impact was that people didn’t feel included or seen or represented as there was no visible representation of diversity. The impact was hurtful.
And so why would I believe that my intentions matter. They don’t. The hurt matters.
Action is different to intention. You see, when I started Soul Craft I created policy to make sure that we prioritised and focused on key areas that I believed were important. Creating these policies was an action, not an intention. Soul Craft had a Connection Policy, a Low Waste Policy and a Giving Back policy. * Getting consciously active about these areas meant that we achieved our aims as they were stated. I did not have a anti-racism policy about diversity and inclusion and representation. And so my intentions melted away without me actually doing anything concrete.
We must act rather than intend.
I have a responsibility to address the privilege I am a recipient of.
This week has shone a light on people like me, people with platforms, and how we use them. Without centering ourselves, we need to amplify the voices of BIPOC who are doing the work.
I have sat on this post as I didn’t want to be reactive. I needed to sit with it as I wasn’t sure if telling you this story was centering, or inserting myself into the narrative, or if it would be helpful. But after sitting with it and learning from the voices in the discussion this week, I believe it’s really important for me to clearly state how I have been complicit in the lack of diversity represented within our community.
I still don’t know if I’ve got it right but I know that trying is right. I do know that apologizing is right. But I also know that it is a privilege to choose whether or not to try to get it right. I know that waiting is the definition of white privilege. That I can wait to talk about it till I’m ready, till I believe I can do it better, because I am privileged. Because I can choose to engage, or not engage, around race because I am white.
If I am truly going to engage with the process of doing things better, I need to act, and this email is part of me trying to do better.
I will work hard to do better with Soul Craft, and to use the privilege I have to be active. As such, I will be having many conversations about diversity, representation, inclusion and anti-racism over the next year as I begin to plan the next event.
The biggest thing that came out of the conversation last week for me is how entrenched and pervasive and subtle and overt our racism is. And how much we need to begin this conversation as a community. This work can’t be done quickly – it takes sitting and listening and time and thought to unpack our internalized racism - it will be ongoing work and an ongoing conversation.
Thank you to all those who have done the incredibly thoughtful tricky work to pull us up and keep us accountable over the last week. Thank you especially to @thecolormustard, @su.krita, @astitchtowear and @ocean_bythesea and many others for spending so much of your time, thought and emotional energy calling us to account.
I also want to thank the kind woman who so generously emailed me to clearly spell out what I had done, while giving me the push to do better by telling me that she knew I could. I am grateful for the grace, generosity and kindness you showed me, in spite of my ignorance. Thanks for being willing to keep talking to me and for holding me accountable.
I encourage you to check out this post by teacher Rachel Cargle who lists a wonderful set of resources for you. Please also read through her saved stories as there is so much important stuff there.
I also encourage you not ask questions, but instead sit and read and think about what makes you uncomfortable. I suspect you will find, as I have, that your questions have all been answered without you having to ask. Get to understand incredibly important ideas like tone policing, white washing, white fragility, performative allyship and spiritual bypassing. And please pay the teachers you find for their work. Buy their books, donate to their work and well being.
I’m turning off the comments on this post as the teachers that I’ve been reading have stated that my role is simply to amplify the conversation, not to personally have it, as it is not my lived experience nor my place. If you want to email me about anything I’ve written then please feel free to email me directly at email@example.com. I would also welcome any and all comments and suggestions about Soul Craft. Please know that it’s school holiday time in Australia at the moment so I have limited computer time, but I will get back to you as quickly as I can.
I want to leave you with a quote that I read a few months ago that really affected me.
The fight is to be self-critical, be reflective, actively work on our empathy and knowledge , and for the love of the fucking universe – listen to those who get hurt while we benefit. Then do something about it. I believe this fight to be a moral imperative.
— Bisha K. Ali, in an interview in The Guilty Feminist book by Deborah Frances-White.
I will keep reading and listening and learning. I will act. And I will do better.
Most importantly, I am sorry.
*The link is to show you the thought that went into them because they were prioritised.
For the last few years, as I’ve got deeper and deeper into my thought hole about what sustainable making looks like for me, I’ve been wondering a lot about how to keep making, while acknowledging the fact that I have enough. Enough clothes, enough options for nearly all situations. So how do I make, for my well-being and my heart in a meaningful way, while knowing that making too much is just excess?
In one way I’m lucky in that I have three growing kids all of whom wear their clothes till they are actually rags. They love what I make them, and they wear them really hard, and I repair and repair until it is actually pointless to keep repairing as the fabric is so thin. Or they lose brand new knitted hoodies on public transport, and then beg for a replacement.…..so there is that.
And then I give myself some leeway to make things for replacement and a little for the sheer joy of it. A few things a year, and replacing things that have worn out, means that some of my making feels necessary and good.
Then there is the making I do for others – presents, gifts, and community projects.
All of which mean that I can make regularly.
But I’ve been wondering what else I can do. How else can I change my making to ensure it is in line with my thinking and my values?
Since October, I’ve made constantly. We have some other life stuff going on that means I haven’t been posting my makes as regularly so I haven’t shared the half of it - so here is a list so you can see just how manic it’s been.
- For the kids I’ve made six pairs of shorts, a birthday jumpsuit for a kid, two kid tops for Xmas, a kid tee shirt, a birthday dress for another kid.
- Plus I’ve fixed nine pairs of leggings, at least four shirts and three pairs of shorts, and a sleeping bag. And a bunch of other stuff – like a bag for our camping cutlery - that I can’t even remember.
- Plus knitting – a sweater for my SIL, one for my niece, socks for a friend, ….
- And….a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember.
Much of this making has been to a deadline and has involved late nights and giving up some sleep. And it’s not quite over. I still have three pairs of shorts to make for the biggest kid as he has just outgrown everything. And the mending is something that is constant in our house as my family are get down in the dirt lovers.
Their xmas tops with some of their new summer shorts.
But in the background of all the manic making I’ve been making my kid her quilt which has given me pause. It’s been a different kind of making to the rest. It’s been slow and it’s been hard. But it’s also been ongoing and meaningful and uplifting…. and took a looong time.
Which got me thinking. Now that the Xmas/Birthday rush is over and the mending is done and the quilt is gifted, maybe now is the time to go hard and go slow. Maybe having an ongoing project that is hard and slow is part of the answer to less? Part of the answer to making while having enough?
Most of the things I’ve made over the last few months have just been a matter of following a set of instructions or a known process that doesn’t feel like much of a stretch. But her quilt? Her quilt was a physical and emotional stretch. It involved blisters and an ongoingness that held within it a different kind of reward.
Long, slow, hard projects have their own set of skills, qualities and feelings that are unlike most craft I do. At their most basic, they take time, but they also take me out of my comfort zone by their level of difficulty. They are challenging, either in terms of the technical skills I’ll need to use, or the mental skills I’ll need to engage with in order to get it done. These types of projects require me to sit with the discomfort of boredom, to engage with persistence, to not allow my head to get to focused on the outcome, and instead to intentionally find joy in the process.
This kind of project supports me in my everyday because it reminds me of all the things I’m capable of when I try. It deeply connects me to my values as it is such a conscious choice to re-engage with the project again and again – and often I do so only because of my values. In the quilts case it was because I valued my relationship with my kid and I knew what it meant to her. But every time my hands reached for the project I was also reminded of my consciousness, my willingness to act, my capacity to do hard things.
Slow hard making is a way of practicing the skills and qualities I want to use in my wider life.
In my wider life I’m human. I often try and fail to do the right thing. Sometimes I make decisions not based on my values, but simply because I’m tired, or the kids are fighting. Engaging with a slow project actively reminds me of who I am, and what I am capable of when I try by allowing me to practice micro-skills of courage and persistence.
A photo of her quilt.
When I heard the poet David Whyte speak recently he said we are practicing in this moment who we will be in the next. He asked us to think about who we are practicing to be.
Our craft – but particularly our hard slow craft - gives us the opportunity to practice with a low risk and high reward. Projects that are hard and slow allow us to get better in our real lives at sitting with boredom and uncertainty. By sitting with uncertainty in our craft, our bodies learn and practice the feeling, and so when when it arises in real life, our heads and our hearts recognise it for what it is; a feeling that tells us something important but will pass.
And this is only what I’m aware of as I’m sure that some of the lessons we learn are things that are not even visible to us.
Living with the objects created - the artifacts - of using this part of my making practice makes me feel strong and capable, persistent and thoughtful. They remind me always that I have agency in my life to create change, even if that change is on the micro-level of me.
This practice – the practice of hard slow projects - is a gift to me from me. And I believe it is something I want to engage with more. To choose more projects that meet this criteria, to push myself a bit harder to sit with the lessons to be learn in hard and slow. To continue to do my day to day making, for myself, my kids and others, but in the background to have a main project, my main squeeze if you will, that is a bit of a stretch.
For some of you this won’t be a part of our craft practice that you will want to engage with regularly or even at all. Your craft might be more comfort focused – in that craft is where you go to seek comfort and solace in your everyday. And the idea of doing something hard and slow and process driven won’t sit well with you and where you are in your lives at this moment. Obviously this is totally valid. But one of the beautiful things about making is that the option is there when you need it or desire it.
Slow craft for me is some of the most meaningful of my making. It is the part of my craft that I engage with to remind me of who I am, and who I’m practicing to be. And it’s a part of my craft that I want to explore more.
This blog post came about because I’m thinking about what my next slow project is…. The Twigs anyone? Do you engage with hard and slow projects… and what do you get out of it?
PS. I’m on holiday with the family this week but can’t wait to read about your slow projects early next week.
Today I’ve heard two comments that have lit a raging fire in my belly. A fire that has inspired a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for an eon. A fire for all of us who have ever had the craft that we do diminished, either in person or online. And this my friends, is probably all of us, because one of the narratives that is strong and persistent within our culture is that craft is trivial.
Just this morning my darling son walked into my study to find me on my computer with knitting in my hands. I had just read a comment on the interweb that stated that discussions about craft were privileged, and essentially indulgent, in a world where so many people were struggling to survive, people who didn’t have the choice, time or money to make. I was mulling over the comment – when my darling son said “look at you sitting there knitting like some old granny”. Two flaming arrows in five minutes. Talk about light me up.
To my son I said – “my love, how many granny’s do you actually know who knit?” Him: “Well there’s grandma.” Me: “Yes, but nearly every woman you know knits, and none of them are grandmas, so why are you perpetuating a stereotype that is not true in your world. For that matter, where did you even get that stereotype from? You are surrounded by people who knit who are in their 30s and 40s. And for that matter, why would knitting like a grandma be a bad thing, you crazy kid? Why are you dissing the grandma’s?” Him (with a smile as big as his head): “Well your hair is grey”. Me: “Off you go, you ridiculous wind-up merchant”.
My first question is – how strong does a stereotype need to be that a child in my home – the home of a woman who crafts all the time and is surrounded by a vibrant craft community - that my child, is pedaling this narrative? A narrative that suggests craft is ridiculous, and trivial, as it is only done by old ladies, who obviously have no value to us as a society due to their age, and therefore their chosen activities should be things of scorn and derision due to it’s worthlessness.
My second question is how is it that when we talk about our craft practice – around how to make with more thought and intention - that we are reduced to a bunch of people who aren’t acknowledging their privilege? That we become people who don’t care about the real issues in the world as we are obviously thinking too much about this trivial hobby. This thinking is prevalent more widely too in discussions about slow fashion and food choices and environmental stewardship. If we care about any of those things we are simply not acknowledging our privilege. I don’t think this is true.
We can acknowledge our privilege, work towards change, and also spend time talking about, and doing, a thing that brings us pleasure and joy and purpose and meaning. And well-being.
A couple of years ago, when there was some online backlash against slow fashion, I wrote about how I believe that it’s only through using our privilege that we can change things for all of us. I wrote about how when we are simply surviving, we don’t have the time and energy to fight for better. And so, it is our responsibility to use our privilege to think about what would make things better, regardless of whether they immediately or directly impact people who are simply surviving. It matters because we are all connected. Thinking about craft, how we can use it to make our lives better, is important because craft can change our lives for the better, and it can change the lives of people who aren’t in positions of privilege, especially if we are thoughtful about it and conscious.
You see, I am trying to change my corner of the world through my craft. I am trying to name our shared experience so that we can share it with others who might benefit from it. And I’m trying to see if we can figure out how to think about making things in a way that sustains us more beautifully. To paraphrase Sam Harris, we can improve the experience of our lives by changing the quality of our thoughts and minds. I’m trying to promote the idea that making is an innate part of our humanness, and engaging with making elevates our lives.
Craft is not trivial.
Culturally we seem to have a special distain reserved for craft that it seems is not given to other activities. People who make art aren’t trivialized in the same way as crafters. They are celebrated for trying to change culture. People who spend to much time thinking about sport aren’t chastised or trivialized for it. Instead sport is celebrated for it’s health benefits. Or people who are obsessed with their dogs. Instead they are looking after their wellbeing through the connection that comes from pet ownership.
There are a few shitty narratives about craft that gets a run over and over again in the mainstream media. The two main ones that bug me are “it’s not your grandma’s knitting” and the second one that I hate equally “stitch and bitch”. The “bitch” part because that is how petty and awful women really are while they sit around and do their trivial stitching. Superficial, frivolous and mean.
There is this notion that to spend time on craft – especially now that it is not a necessity but a privilege undertaken by women with time and/or money on their hands – that to do so is indulgent. The value of what we do when we engage in craft has diminished even further now that it is optional. Obviously this thinking has history; a throwback to time when the men were seen to do the important work of hunting, gathering and fighting the wars, while the women just piddled around knitting socks. Maybe the trivialisation of craft is part of the lack of acknowledgement of the place the domestic plays in all of our lives.
I know in my own life that my partner could not have had the career he had, and had children we had, had it not been for the work I did to care for those aforementioned children. And yet his career is what is celebrated by others, whereas my contribution to his success is unseen and unacknowledged largely because it was in the realm of the domestic*. A woman I once met at a round table discussion stated that she couldn’t do what I had done (be the full time carer for three kids under 5), and that the reason she had gone back to work was so that her daughter didn’t think that she was lazy. That she wanted her daughter to see her as hardworking and productive and doing something meaningful in the world. I understand that this wasn’t a personal attack – that it was just the lens she saw the world through – and yet I think it speaks to the idea that to engage with anything domestic is to be choosing something that is less than. And craft is still often seen to be of the domestic sphere.
We need to change the cultural narratives we have around craft. I often hear people saying statements like "Oh, so, I know it sounds trivial but I've found real meaning and satisfaction in sewing". The narrative is so strong that even we makers, even those of us that make and understand what it does for us, feel the need to preface our statements about it with an apology, an acknowledgement that to speak of craft in a meaningful way sounds trivial. Even though we know it isn’t.
Craft is not trivial. It isn’t what we see in the mainstream media. It isn’t playing around with needles and yarn and little bags of thread. It isn’t ugly useless objects that clutter up houses. It isn’t time wasting, it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money, and it isn’t something that just privileged women do that have too much time on their hands.
So what is it?
Practically speaking, craft is engaging with the practice and process of making a thing with our hands. Emotionally speaking, taking time to craft is us being goddamn kick-arse grown-ups who know that in order to be the best we can be, we need to prioritise our wellbeing.
It is our responsibility as adult humans to chase down our wellbeing with all we have, because how we show up in the world matters. It matters to those that we share our lives with. It matters in our workplaces – workplaces where, I might add ,many of us are solely focused on the well-being of others. It matters to those people we interact with for a second at the supermarket, to the person we sit next to on a train, or to the person we are responsible for serving at the school canteen.
It matters because as part of a community, we have a responsibility not just for our own wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of the people we interact with, live with and love. We are in this together.
Little things matter – small interactions with others, eye contact, smiles, our tone of voice. All of these things, my ability to be present, and centered, and loving, and responsive to other people, are made infinitely better through me taking the time to make things with my hands.
To butcher and paraphrase an idea from the beautiful poet David Whyte – we must drink from a deep well, the deepest well we can possibly dig for ourselves, if we are to live our best lives.
Yes, the commenter I mentioned at the start of this post ,was right. We are privileged because we aren’t talking about the base level of survival – water, shelter, food – but we are talking about things that affect our next level up. We are talking about our ability to connect with others. We humans are social animals who need connection, but it’s impossible for us to connect, to support, to love and to give if we have nothing left inside. We can’t give when we have nothing to give. We need to go to the well.
Our privilege – and most people who read this blog are immensely privileged as they have the head space to read my wordy posts x – allows us to think about, and talk about, how to better our wellbeing. Making choices about how to think about and navigate our craft are part of that, because the more nurturing our craft practice, the better our wellbeing.
We need new language, better language, and a new narrative about what craft gives us; how it supports us, connects us and changes us.
This thinking about craft, talking about craft, and the act of making itself, is not trivial. It is life sustaining for so many of us. And by life sustaining, I’m not just talking about the big stuff. Yes – craft has sustained me and supported me through grief and shock and babies and cold, still, lonely winters. And so many of you lovely people have shared stories with me over the years, of craft sustaining you through cancer and divorce and loss of children and elderly parents and mental health stuff. But craft’s main purpose in my life, and I suspect in yours, is much more mundane and much more beautiful.
My craft is part of my domestic life, my everyday. It is something I look forward to even if it is something I get to spend two minutes on, or no minutes on. It is what I do in the gaps instead of scrolling through my phone, cleaning out my cupboards, or watching TV. Craft is a big part of what allows me to live my domestic life with grace, because it allows me to retain 3% of me no matter what is going on; the 3% that has it’s own dreams and ideas and desires. Craft is there when I want it, when I need it, when I desire it. It provides connection and ritual and beauty to my family life, to my children and to my partner. It allows me, without much money at all, to show them in an ongoing way, my love for them.
For us – those of us that come to this place seeking to think more deeply about how craft impacts us - craft is sustenance for our thinking minds and our beating hearts.
It is what allows us to show up in the world in the best way we can on any given day. It allows us to see ourselves more fully – to see who we are and what matters to us – by reminding us, through the objects we have made, of our capacity, our values, our priorities and our joy. I know that when I look around at the things I have made I am grateful. Grateful that I have made the time and spent the energy (even on days when I don’t have it) making a thing, because the act of making is what gives my life beauty and connection. And because we need beauty and connection in our everyday to be buoyant. For how can we continue to show up for those who need us, if not for moments of beauty and connection?
Craft is not trivial – it is life giving. For us, but also for all those we serve.
*Not by my fella btw. He is very loving and aware.
Stash Less is a ongoing series about working towards a more conscious stash.
Over the last few years I've given up choosing wine at dinner. I rock up to restaurant and almost before I have taken off my coat, I am asking for a glass of something delicious. The wait staff inevitably ask what kinds of wine do I like… and my answer is always “Anything you like. Something you love.”
Sometimes I don't even specify red or white. Sometimes the waiter is flummoxed but often they like it. They smile, walk off and return with something delightful.
The joy this non-decision has brought me is immense… in a wholehearted vague simple intangible life pleasure kind of way. I'm drinking delicious wine with the freedom that comes from passing responsibility to someone else.
There are only two ways it can go, and both of them are good.
If they have chosen the wine, and it is a nice place, then it will probably be delicious. They know more about wine than I do anyway. What do I know? I look up and down the menu choosing something random on the basis of ..... well that is just the point, on the basis of nothing….. with the idea that choosing is part of what makes having the expereince of wine good. What I’ve learned is that it’s not. My pleasure is actually increased by forgoing the choosing. No tooing. No frooing. There is no buyers regret and I get deliciousness without deliberation.
When it is not delicious I simply drink it, feeling grateful that I have wine, and that I didn't have to make a decision. And because it wasn't my decision I don't have to feel bad about it sucking. I simply think - oh well, that person isn't good at choosing wine. And often neither am I. But when I choose a bad wine I feel bad about it.
If they have chosen then I don't have any second-guessing about the choice I made, or regret that I made a bad decision. “This wine isn't the best” is the end of the thought.... now back to the conversation with the person I love sitting in front of me.
Years of practicing Stashing Less have meant that my behaviour has shifted, and not just around craft. Stash Less has resulted in me abdicating a lot of choice. This removal of choice isn’t quite the same as not choosing wine and giving that choice to the wait staff. Instead I guess a better analogy would be that I’ve narrowed the menu. Whereas once I had an endless menu where I was often overordering, or frozen with choice, now I have two things on offer.
A cupboard with limited, but beautiful resources. And a pile of scraps.
A ongoing, regularly updated making list that is based on need and the concepts I have written about in the post Enough Is As Good As A Feast. Making mainly on need and sometimes for joy.
By removing my choices, by consciously and intentionally giving up my endless options and infinite possibility, I no longer suffer from overwhelm or paralysis when it comes to my making. I have purpose. I have headspace. And I have intentionally limited choice.
I’ve taken more of a systems approach to support the changes I want to make. The biggest change to the system I’ve made is that I no longer shop as a pasttime. I don’t browse. I don’t wander in. I go to a shop with purpose and a list. I have removed myself from mailing lists so as to avoid the temptations that come with sales and new releases and special deals. I have stopped shopping.
And this has trickled out into the rest of my life. When I am at our big shopping centre buying undies for the kids, I no longer pop into my favourite shops for a “look”. A look that would nearly always result in a purchase. Instead I simply walk on by because I know I have enough. What freedom!!
To go into the store starts a conversation in my head that I don't need to waste my life on. Walking into the store opens up possibility, choice and decision making, that mean that I have to wrestle with my values, based on the fact that I have triggered my triggers - fomo, wanting to own the pretty, time poverty, and perfectionism. My stashing triggers are my shopping triggers. They are my emotional weak spots - thought patterns that do not serve me.
By not walking into the store - online or inperson - then I don’t get into some version of "oooohhh, that is so pretty. And cool. Wouldn't that go great with my XYZ. And it would totally update my wardrobe. And I would feel smashing. But really I already have enough. And I don't need it. But I want it and why shouldn't I have somethings that I want. I haven't bought anything in ages. I'm not excessive. My wardrobe isn't big compared to other peoples. You totally deserve it. What are you talking about….what does that even mean you crazy woman. But it’s so pretty......" Blah blah bloody blah.
This process can easily take an hour, plus endless hours over the next week or two as it pops in and out of my head…. and then there is the moment three months from now when I feel uncertainty about the choice I should have made. What a waste of time about something I didn’t want and didn’t need. If I don't enter the store, don't give myself the choice, I don't have the conversation or the choice-regret-hangover. Life is simpler. More clear. More clean and more joyful as a result.
Sarah Wilson in her book First, We Make The Beast Beautiful talks about how choice creates anxiety. And how by having boundaries or rules we can decrease the amount of angst we create in our own lives. Because we are creating it. We have a choice about how much choice we allow ourselves to engage with. To have a better life, we can consciously choose to engage with less choice and gain our freedom.
I wrote back in 2017 about what Stash Less looks like for me in the longer term and it is still true today, except that the Stash I work from is even smaller. It still has beauty in it, enabling me to be inspired and to make when the idea strikes. But my rules about purchasing for Stash Less, and my Making List mean that I get to turn off the part of my brain that is rolling around in the possibility of infinite making. I can simply make the thing I have in front of me, OR I can make something from my list. To make that thing from the list I get to chose something from the cupboard. If I decide to make something and I don’t have the materials I need to make it, I get conscious and shop for just the right materials. But this kind of shopping isn’t the angsty kind. It is purposeful and normally over very quickly because it’s very clear. Again more joy in clarity.
Stash Less has saved me from so much wasted time and angst. There is no decision to be made, and nothing to think about except what is right in front of me. Less dreaming, more making. Less choice, more freedom. Less wanting, less comparison, less choice, more satisfaction. Less as more.
Stash Less has become more than an effort to have a conscious stash. Instead it’s become about something much bigger. About how I want to spend my time and my thought. And that is where the beauty of this practice lies. I've seen my freedom clearly with my fabric purchasing, my yarn choices …..and in my wine choosing. Next year Stash Less may mean that I even move on to abdicating my meal choice?
I’d love to hear how the ideas of a conscious stash have changed your habits or behaviours over time?
* That link is to the last post I did about Stash Less and the Paradox of Freedom.
So a few years back I had four pregnancies in a five year time period, and gave birth to three babies. Given that I have a thing called hypermobility (which I didn’t know at the time) this was not the best prescription for a healthy back and pelvis. Instead it was a recipe for a woman who couldn’t walk very well….and lived with fear and ongoing pain. Combine that with the physicality of having 3 under 4.5 - carrying two at once, forcing them into car seats, carrying them for hours while they slept and we saw sights, dragging them out of someone's house when they really wanted to stay and play - and I was physically a bit snookered.
Most days it was just low level, low grade pain in my sacroilliac joint otherwise known as your SIJ or the back bit of your pelvis. On bad days it would mean I couldn't walk. I lived in fear of triggering it by putting a kid in their car seat, or even simply changing direction while I was walking from one part of the kitchen to the other.
I saw physio's of various descriptions who suggested pilates, strapped my pelvis together or talked pelvic floor exercises, none of which helped. There were years of chaos and issues. And then, I happened upon a physio who gave me the actual answer.
She said that the only reason I was still walking was because of the physicality of parenting - because I hadn’t stopped doing things. That that was the only reason my body hadn't seized up with fear and pain. Her answer - strength building exercise that was non repetitive (so no swimming or running) but that involved the whole body doing natural body movements. Functional movement, making sure that I had my core held on the whole time. She said to fix the pelvis we needed to strengthen the muscles of my core and achieve bodily balance but not by working them one at the time (so no pilates). Which is how I ended up at Crossfit.
To tell you the truth I was plenty scared - Crossfit looks plenty scary from the outside - but I was also sick to death of my issue. And sick to death of the fear and the pain.
I'm going to skip to the end for a minute which is to tell you that after three years of going to Crossfit consistently three times a week I have a different body. I still get really low level pain sometimes BUT I rarely flare my back, have a strong body that can carry both my 12yo and my 11yo at the same time without fear. Where I was once flaring it once a month, it is now about once a year.
As well as the physical changes though I've been incredibly impressed by what I have learnt about myself, my stories and what it takes to learn something new. And that's where the parallels to craft come into it.
You see, due to the retreats (and life!) I am able to watch a lot of people learn how to do something new, engage in a skill, learn a technique. I hear their stories, their fears, their worries, their joy - and I love it. I love hearing about their stuff. But I often don't feel what they feel about the learning process as I started learning how to make things when I was tiny. I believe I can make. Many of them don't have this belief when they start, at least not initially.
But getting fit? Well in getting fit I was a total beginner and I came at it with a head full of stories. Most of which came from a childhood where I was the kid that was always picked last….
I’ll give you just a couple. I didn't believe that I was sporty. Or athletic. I did believe that I was physically substandard somehow. That true fitness wasn't accessible to me - this is total bullshit by the way.
Crossfit has reminded me of watching many others learn to make - and I've taken what I seen from watching them, and tried to apply it to me and my new learning experience.
My most important takeaways from the three years.You simply have to show up.
This is the single most important part of learning anything. You have to show up. Many people use their stories and their fears and their insecurities stop them from showing up. And without showing up there is no way you can move through this part of the learning.
For Crossfit, I took some advice from Tim Ferris and set the smallest possible goal, A goal whose arse I could kick. All I had to do was drive to Crossfit three times a week and walk in the door. When I was there I didn't need to do anything other than do what they said. I didn't have to do extra. I didn't have to try. I didn't have to become the greatest crossfitter that ever lived within a month. I simply had to show up three times a week.
And I have. Week after week. I know I need to go - to feel good and not have a shitty back - and I make it happen. And as a result of showing up I am now fit. Easily the fittest I’ve been in my life.
Just this week I was teaching some 6/7/8yo how to sew and one of them said "I'm not good at stitching. Why are you so good at stitching Felicia". To which I did a bit more digging. "How much stitching have you done?" "About 10 minutes with my mum". "OK then. That would be why. I have done probably about 10,000minutes".
Who knows if the 10,000 is actually true but the point is that I would be a lousy Crossfitter if I had only done 10 minutes. Instead I have done 300 hours over the last two years which is 18,000 minutes. C'mooon!
Our stories are often bullshit
Often as I'm rambling on to Jenn about something or another she will stop me, look at me with those beautiful but penetrating eyes and say "Felicia that is just a story!"
Years ago when Jenn first said it to me I didn't actually know what she was going on about. I kept thinking that my thoughts were true - and while we now all know what rubbish that is, right? - at the time I didn't. It's taken time and practice for me to get better at trying to look at whether what I am thinking is remotely related to the truth.
In this case - my story that I wasn't athletic had to do with an unathletic childhood where I wasn't that great at group sports and nor was I encouraged to be. My throwing was rubbish and my running was described as a uncoordinated chicken. A physio has now pointed out to me that the running is directly related to the hypermobility. Limbs all over the place with nothing holding it all together.
Learning is humbling for all of us. To learn, all of us must allow ourselves to be open, and open means vulnerable.
Walking into the Crossfit gym for the first month was an exercise in bravery. All I could think about was "oh my god, everyone is going to be judging me and thinking I am really unfit and who do I think i am being here, i can't even do a squat, and i shake all the time. I don't deserve to grace these halls" or some such nonsense.
I have seen this at The Craft Sessions. I have heard of people not coming to The Craft Sessions because they think they aren't crafty enough? And I’ve heard of people not coming to The Craft Sessions because they believe that the standard people will be making at will be too high!
How do you get fit without engaging in fitness activities? How do you learn to craft without crafting?
And the other thing I’ve found is that the people at Crossfit have been nothing but supportive to anyone who walks through the door and tries. This applies to craft too. And life.
Small wins are important- suspend your self-judgement
This works slightly differently in Crossfit in that you have to have great technique in order not to get injured BUT initially when I went - for the first year or so really - I didn’t lift any weights so my technique was less of an issue. My body was in such a state that simply getting through a class was a miracle. And so I concentrated on the fact that I had showed up and done the workout. No matter how poorly or how slowly, I showed up and exercised. I was no longer sitting on the couch. I had showed up!
If we wait until we have perfect technique then we often aren’t doing enough practice to get better at what we want to learn and so we can’t improve our technique….and we become frustrated. There is balance to be found here. Good enough technique that we like the result, while not trying for perfect as that can get us stuck.
Skills build with Time and practice
Three years into my Crossfitting I’m still seeing improvements. Improvements that at the start weren’t even apparent to me that they were a thing I’d want to get better at. Often you don’t know what you don’t know.
For example at the start I couldn’t even really get a single glute to tighten. There was no activation and really I didn’t think I had glutes. Other people had them whereas I just had a bottom. It could jiggle but it couldn’t tighten. Six months in I could see I had them and they could do something. Not much but I could get them to twitch.
The next year I had to learn that I had obliques and only now I’m learning that I have lats. The hypermobility means that I take a long time to figure out how to access each bit of my body and without learning one of these steps I couldn’t even begin to imagine the next. Each new step or skill I’ve needed to learn has revealed itself over time.
This is true to this day of my craft. I make a new thing and there is possibility and learning in nearly every project. Sometimes that is simply that my fingers are a bit more agile in turning a hem or that I understand something about my knitting I didn’t previously. Our craft reveals itself to us over time.
Change is incremental…. so document your progress.
I think one of the most important things that comes from our making is that we are constantly learning and growing. Much of this change, this growth is incremental so I believe that it is really worthwhile documenting where we began and what we have achieved. Being able to see our growth, and our change is so important.
To tell you the truth when I started Crossfit I was in such a tricky headspace about my body and it’s capacity - I believed it was broken - that I didn’t take any photos. This makes me sad now as I can’t actaully see how far I’ve come. I can feel it but I can’t see it - that said I know the change is big! I know my posture has changed, my pain has changed and my muscle composition has changed.
The upside is that walking around in this strong body is celebration enough. I am reminded at many moments of many days of how far I’ve come. I celebrate every time I conciously feel a bit of low level pain as it reminds me just how bad it once was. Sounds counter intuituve but it’s true. But I do wish I had some photos.
I think this is important for our craft too. Taking the odd photo or keeping our beautiful wonky first attempts can be so encouraging. I adore looking back at Ravelry at some of my very first attempts at knitting and seeing just how far I’ve come. It reminds me of what I am capable of.
Understanding our own capacity - capacity to do, but also capacity to grow and change - is such an important part of flourishing as it helps us see our own agency in our lives. Visible capacity gives us hope. The beauty inherent in understanding our capacity is a life of richness and possibility.
My craft reminds me of my capacity always. Every time I see something I’ve made I can see my potential and my promise. Craft as an elevated life.
What lessons have you learned through your craft, your sport, your art, your music? I’d love to hear if any of these resonated and what you’d add to my list.
Me! Teaching hand quilting a few years back at a special Craft Sessions event.
Without further ado, I'm blogging to let you know that The Craft Sessions' events will be on hiatus for 2019. This means no annual Craft Sessions retreat, and no Soul Craft in 2019.
For some of you this will come as a big surprise, but others of you will have felt it coming.
The Craft Sessions started as a total passion project – I simply wanted to bring people together who crafted for joy, and foster a love of hand making! And it worked. So many wonderful women have got to know one another through the incredible events we have run over the last six years. And I have been so grateful to be able to be there, and bear witness to the magic that happens when you bring people together around their shared passion.
You see the thing is that The Craft Sessions and Soul Craft have never been about building a business for me. I believe that connection is the secret sauce of life, and that hand making elevates our lives by giving us buoyancy. Sharing those beliefs at the events I've run has been so joyful and inspiring - but events also take a load of work and intention. I would never want to put on an event where I was just going through the motions. I think you can feel when an event has been put together with intention and care and love.
Some of you know I’ve been working on writing a book on how making impacts our wellbeing and elevates our lives – it’s my next passion project! (Or you could say it’s simply a continuation of this one.) Through running the events and talking with so many of you, both in person and online, I’ve realized the things I’ve been writing about, the ideas we have been in conversation about, don’t yet have broad understanding and acceptance in the wider world.
And so I’m on a mission – to promote hand making as a process that can elevate our lives by improving our wellbeing. And that means I have to finish the book I have been trying to write for the last few years. I believe that a hand making practice could be incredibly supporting and elevating to so many people, if only they knew why and how they could use it. These ideas deserve a much broader audience. These ideas could be of service to so many people.
The ideas contained in the book are too important to do a shitty job. A half-assed book isn’t going to cut it. And once written, I need to launch it, promote it and talk about it. I need to spread these ideas as widely and as loudly as I can.
The problem has been that when I run events I have a really easy opt-out for how I can spend my energy. For example, I worked on Soul Craft for nearly six months full time alongside the lovely Claire. Everything else in my life took a back seat, including blogging…. and I got to avoid the harder heart-work of writing the book by “having” to work on the festival. Realising that the festival was an incredibly joyful avoidance tactic on my part was a little painful, especially because it was so magical to be there, witness it, be part of it. Soul Craft was a total joy and all I'd hoped it would be.
This is why I need to take a year – I need to take a year to focus on getting my next passion project off the ground. This work deserves my full attention.
I promise there will be more events - more Soul Craft and Craft Sessions goodness! Just not any major ones in 2019.
I'm sincerely sorry to those of you who were excited about coming next year. I hate disappointing you!