In today’s society, many of us go through our whole lives without ever working with our hands; we live, we work, we eat, we buy, we repeat. Everything is made and delivered at a blistering rate, from fast food to fast fashion and, although this may keep the economy buoyant, it’s not necessarily good for our mental health, or for our planet.
But during the past year of lockdown, we have been forced to stay still. The hamster wheel has stopped, and for some of us – without young children to keep entertained – this has provided a unique moment of quiet contemplation. We have suddenly found ourselves with time to spare; time to tackle those half-finished projects and abandoned hobbies – and an increasing desire to be creative, and make things with our hands.
There has been a wealth of online craft workshops popping up on everything from crochet, collage, charcoal drawing and flower-arranging to spoon-carving. On TV, programmes such as Grayson’s Art Club have encouraged everyone to paint, draw or sculpt their view from a window with whatever materials they have at han
In the safety of our own homes, we have been able to try knitting for the first time, to have a go at oil pastels or attempt a pinch pot – without a teacher but also without the judgment of a teacher. The possibility of experimentation in the solitary environment of our own homes has spawned a new confidence in “having a go”, the prerequisite for learning. Mastery, after all, starts with dabbling. The freedom to create on our own has offered an effective therapy for uncertain times.
Like many of us during lockdown, my work was forced to go virtual. I am both an illustrator and textile repairer, specialising in delicate fabrics and traditional hand-sewing techniques. For the past few years, I have worked in collaboration with Toast, teaching customers how to care for and mend their garments, so that they might keep for longer. Normally, I would travel to their various stores around the country with a bag of cloth, needles and thread, to host workshops: four to five customers around a table practising their stitchwork over tea and conversation. It’s an intimate affair. So, when I began teaching online via Zoom, I was unsure if this new set-up would work, but I was happily surprised to find a surge of interest from all corners of the world – from Italy, Iceland, Portugal, Lithuania, India and the USA.
During the workshops everyone is given the chance to work on a stitch sampler, before tackling a repair. Taking inspiration from traditional techniques, such as Japanese sashiko and Indian kantha, tears are backed from the underside with a patch of cloth; then small rows of stabbing stitches form a rectangle of closely stacked rows of stitchwork, securing the tear and reinforcing the surrounding cloth, creating a pleasing mend that can be either visible or invisible, depending on the colour match.