Making Fibre Art for Health & Well-Being

"Everyone is going through this confinement differently. Frustrations were yelled out when throwing paint while others poured it on in complete calm and silence."
"Hearing paint slap against the board was so satisfying!"

"How freeing was that!?"

These were just a few of the comments and observations at a community art project organized June 8, 2020, by Orleans artist Maryse Fillion. She had set up a 4x8 piece of wood in her front yard, added words such as "Hopeful", "Kind" "Heartfelt" and invited members of the public throw leftover household paint onto the board (by appointment and while social distancing). The event was considered very successful.

Pandemic fatigue was a big thing on that date in 2020, and hair salons were only re-opening the following day after our first lockdown. The timing was perfect, an opportunity for participants to release some frustrations as nerves were still running high.

A second session was held at the Nectar Centre in New Edinburgh in July, and another in August by OOTB member Pat Hardie in her own neighbourhood and in consultation with Maryse, with varying results, in part because many people were a bit more settled having had more time to spend outside and in small groups. Yet there were still benefits - for those who splashed paint and the enjoyment of those just watching.

Making art - including playing with tools that make artistic marks - has definite therapeutic benefits. Even the viewing of art at a gallery or show is considered restorative, as evidenced by the growing number of "prescriptions" given by the medical community to participate in the arts. Also helpful are visiting museums, going to plays and concerts, and of course making art. And I can say that I was very heartened a few years ago, teaching art regularly to a group of seniors, that one lady said to me regularly after class "I forgot all about my aches and pains this morning", while others would comment that they were able to leave their problems outside the door while creating.

According to Dr. Cathy Malchiodi, a leading psychologist, counselor, art therapist, and author:

"Art's true function is to inspire us, mirror our thoughts, and embody our emotions. When words are not enough, we turn to image and symbol to speak for us." "Artistic creativity offers a source of inner wisdom that can provide guidance, sooth emotional pain, and revitalize your being. More important, it is a wellspring that enlivens, rejuvenates, restores, and transforms and it exists within everyone for health and well-being."

Stress and anxiety affect each of us in different ways. When the pandemic started, I took to mending clothes as it was an area I felt I had some control over. A friend switched from making art quilts to making practical items like knitted socks and hats. A local weaver wrote "sitting down to weave keeps those numbed feelings and thoughts moving freely and gently in a safe space."

So what types of textile art making are beneficial? Just about any technique that you enjoy. With each, consider how you are feeling, for example if you need something more physical to help you expend some of that anxious energy, then wet felting may be the right prescription. If it's quiet or a meditative state that you need, try stitching by hand, knitting or crocheting or weaving. The repetitiveness of this kind of work eases those persistent negative thoughts. And fun techniques like eco printing stimulate a sense of wonder, often at a time when we need it most. 

What are other ways the making of textile art can help?  

  • keep us grounded
  • cope with grief
  • honour our families and ancestors
  • help reach a calmer state
  • bring out positive feelings
  • lower blood pressure
  • remind us to enjoy and laugh
  • distract us from stresses
  • provide a sense of purpose or accomplishment

It's okay if we find it hard to create during these challenging times and are in a lull. Taking an online class, reading about and researching textile art, artists, techniques all boost our coping skills, while at the same time generating ideas to work on in future. The key here is to look for clues for a direction you can eventually take. Or maybe you're finding that other creative outlets are more stimulating right now, such as learning to bake bread, gardening to grow vegetables, decluttering. 

We all have good and bad days. What's important is to be compassionate to yourself, give yourself unconditional support, reach out to friends and family. And maybe pull out that old can of household paint and throw it on an old sheet. It really can be freeing. Think of the stitching possibilities to transform that painted sheet into some interesting fibre art. 

Published in the April 2021 newsletter of the Out of the Box Fibre Artists (https://www.out-of-the-box.org/)

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