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Archive for the ‘Mindful Making’ Category

Stash beyond life expectancy

Do you have a stash of craft supplies? All those materials that were too beautiful/ perfect/rare/good value not to purchase and which you’re definitely going to use one day just as soon as you have time.

Where do you keep your treasure hoard? Is it on display taking over a room or squirreled away in hidden corners around your home. Do you know how big your stash is ? Have you ever calculated how long it will take you to use all your supplies once those mythical days when you have plenty of time for making arrive?

A friend of mine who knits did that calculation and worked out she had a yarn stash beyond life expectancy. Based on average life expectancy, the amount of time she spent knitting, the speed of her knitting and the fact that she was in her early forties with a normal life expectancy she was unlikely to use up her yarn stash before her death, and yet as we laughed about this and browsed the yarn store she couldn’t resist just another skein, such a beautiful one off colourway, it would make a beautiful shawl one day, when she had the time.

My exploration of mindful making has led me to reflect on my own hoarding of craft supplies. I make a conscious choice to use the word hoarding because I think it sounds less cute and forgiving than stash. Our capitalist culture likes to ease our concerns about hoarding and unnecessary consumption by painting it in a positive light, a fun amusing behaviour, a deserved reward , the action of an erudite collector, a necessity and of course you can always do a bit of stash busting and maybe make some space / cash to buy more perfect/ beautiful/ good value/ rare supplies. But it’s not cute, not conducive to a satisfying, creative making life and it’s not necessary.

This year I had to pack up my craft room while we renovated our home. I carefully packed away boxes of yarn and fabric that I was going to use one day. As I did my packing I came across skeins of yarn and pieces of vintage fabric that I absolutely had to have at the time I bought them, I remembered having so many plans for what I would make but there they were sitting in storage still waiting to be made into something and that initial neurochemical buzz that I got when I bought them was long gone, it was just more stuff that needed packing and then unpacking. The same can happen with the tools we use for making. I have two manual spinning wheels and an electric one but most of the time I use just one of the manual wheels and don’t get me started on how many looms I have collected over the years.

Aside from the financial and environmental impact of a supply or tool hoarding habit I don’t think it’s compatible with mindful making. A hoard of supplies doesn’t keep you in the moment and as the hoard expands it becomes a nagging distraction from your creativity. In a very practical way it can also impact on the space you have for your making. It is often the case that once that short lived neurochemical buzz of acquisition fades the stuff becomes less of a desirable treasure and more of a storage problem.

If you’re reading this and experiencing an urge to shout “yes but …” at me stop for a moment and consider why.

Do you recognise some of your own behaviour and feel the need to justify it because being shown it makes you feel negatively about what you do ?

Could you step back from that urge to “yes but” and reflect.

Are you a maker or a hoarder of stuff ? Does having a hoard of supplies or tools make you a better maker, if so why ? What would your making life be like if you only had the supplies for the project you are working on now ? What would you do with the space that your hoard occupies ? How would it feel taking a mindful, minimalist approach to your use of supplies and tools? Do you think it would affect your creativity ? If you stop buying supplies and tools how much money would you save ?

It can be uncomfortable asking yourself those questions, I know because that’s what I asked myself. My answer was that I’m a maker not a collector / hoarder and as I questioned myself I started to feel more uncomfortable about my hoard. I spent time reading about minimalism and mindfulness and recognised the benefits of not attaching myself and my making to the acquisition of stuff.

It’s not easy to change habits but I’ve started taking a more minimalist and therefore mindful approach to my supplies and tools. I didn’t unpack all of my hoard, I donated some to charity, I have a set, small amount of space for supply storage and I’ve resolved to use up the supplies that I have kept. Sock yarn was my particular hoarding obsession. I’m never going to knit all my sock yarn into actual socks or shawls so I’m knitting a mitred square blanket ( see picture above) and once I’ve finished this blanket I’ll probably knit a few more blankets until I use up my remaining sock yarn hoard.

In the future I’ve resolved to only buy supplies for specific projects that I am ready to start. I am already feeling the benefits. There was a sense of dropping a heavy weight that had been dragging down my creativity and pleasure in making, I felt a renewed enthusiasm for making and with less need for storage I had more room for making.

I have managed to stick to not buying more supplies and tools. No more impulse buying. If I see something I’d like online I bookmark it and think about it. I’ve found that once that initial thrill fades and I take time to question my need, thinking about whether I’m going to make or use something right now, the impulse to buy and any negative feeling attached to missing out on acquiring my momentary heart’s desire passes, leaving me content with what I have in the moment and able to focus on creating and making rather than acquiring and managing my hoard.

So, if any of this rings a bell for you, no matter how uncomfortable it feels ask yourself the questions I asked myself. You might find it starts you on a journey to reinvigorated creativity, a contented focus on your making, more space and more cash in your pocket.                                             

Finding Flow in the Warp

Direct warping one of my rigid heddle looms

When I first started weaving I hated warping my looms, especially my old table loom. It took forever to thread the warp through all the wire heddles and I always seemed to make a mistake.

I saw warping as a tedious chore that was a barrier to fun. As a result I ended not weaving as much because there was always the warping to do first. Weaving mainly on rigid heddle looms where I could use the speedier direct warping method gave me a bit of motivation but ultimately I still saw warping as a boring chore.

I continued to not weave for several months because I couldn’t be bothered with the chore of warping but then the cognitive dissonance grew too uncomfortable to ignore. I was either a weaver or I wasn’t and if I was a weaver I needed to warp my looms.

So, I challenged myself to think about warping differently. Not as a chore but as the foundation of my weaving. I thought about all the design decisions I could make about my warp and how this would affect my weaving. I thought about the task of warping how I could make it more efficient and minimise errors.

The most important step I took was to set time aside just to focus on warping my loom. Instead of thinking “I’ll get this warping done then I can spend more time weaving”, always thinking ahead of the warping, I dedicated an afternoon just to warping my loom with no plan to do any weaving. I was focused on the here and now of the task, not what might be after it was completed.

I used this focus to break the task of warping down into smaller goals e.g. measuring my warp, threading my heddles, winding the warp with even tension, tying on. I knew what I wanted to achieve for each goal and I began to see the repetitiveness of the task as an opportunity to finesse my technique rather than a tedious hurdle.

My focus was so complete I lost track of time and spent an enjoyable few hours immersed in warping my loom. I found flow.  

The mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and the resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.”


The concept of flow is explored and explained in detail by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Having flow activities in our life makes us happier. A quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that resonated with me is:

“The problem arises when people are so fixated on what they want to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present. When that happens they forfeit their chance of contentment.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Flow isn’t found just by doing activities that you enjoy or find relaxing. Most people have the majority of flow experiences at work and it is rare, if not impossible, to find flow chilling out on the sofa watching Netflix. The reason for this can be found in the four conditions that must be met to find flow.

  1. The task needs to be something we have a chance of completing.
  2. We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.
  3. The task needs to have clear goals
  4. The task needs to provide immediate feedback.

When we experience a flow activity the reason why it leads to enjoyment and increases happiness is due to four experiences common to all flow activities.

  • Flow activities lead us to act with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.
  • Enjoyable experiences allow us to exercise a sense of control our actions.
  • When engaged in a flow activity concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.
  • The sense of the duration is time is altered; hours pass by in minutes and minutes can stretch to seem like hours.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research and book explore the concept of flow and how it leads to happiness and resilience to negative experiences in more detail and although some of the social commentary is a bit dated (the book was first published in 1990) it is worth a read if you are interested in the psychology of happiness and understanding flow experiences.

Here are some more quotes that I highlighted while reading Flow.

“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

We grow up believing that what counts most in our lives is that which will occur in the future”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

So, how does this relate to mindful making? My exploration of mindful making led me to investigating the psychology of flow because I wanted to understand why flow was important to human experience, how it could be part of my making and what made an activity a flow activity.

With my knowledge of flow I find I’m approaching my making with a new focus for even the most mundane tasks and preparation. Aside from the personal benefits for mental wellbeing I think this benefits my making. I have an internal motivation to achieve my making goals and build my skills. I also think that training myself to anchor my making in the here and now naturally improves the quality of my craft.           

Positive Making

My 100% handmade sweater

Can you remember the first time you made something?
The sense achievement, pride in what you had accomplished. Can you remember the compliments from family and friends or if you kept it to yourself the quiet satisfaction in finishing what you had started? How long ago was that? Can you remember all the other positive making moments since then? Or do you find yourself dwelling on the errors, the projects that you never finished, the skills that you haven’t quite mastered?
This week I’ve been working on my Positive Making Timeline. This is based on the Positive Lifeline exercise used in positive psychology. It’s a technique to help us overcome that negativity bias that our brains are so fond of. Positive psychology is the science of positive aspects of human life, such as happiness, wellbeing and flourishing. It can be summarised in the words of its founder, Martin Seligman, as the
‘scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive’.
It’s important to remember that positive psychology is not the same things as positive thinking. Positive psychology is an evidence-based science encompassing a variety of topics. Here’s a mind map from positivepsychology.org.uk that summarises the science.

To create a positive lifeline, take a sheet of paper, start at your birth on the left side of the paper and draw a line across the paper (or several sheets of paper depending on your age) ending with your current age now.

Between your birth and now many things have happened that have impacted you in a positive way. The aim is to think about these events or milestones and mark them on the life line.

Even the smallest of things like getting a gold star in school or someone giving you a compliment that you can remember, are important enough to be included.
Some other categories that can be put on the life line include:
• Important people in your life (put their name on the time line when you first met)
• Important happy events
• Times when you felt especially joyful in your life
• Special achievements
In adapting this exercise for a Positive Making Timeline I’ve simply narrowed the focus to my making, starting with the first thing I remember making: a simple stuffed toy in a school craft lesson, remembering the clay pots I made as a teenager, my first quilt, first handspun yarn, a particularly perfect pair of hand-knitted socks, the fair Isle hat I designed and knitted, my handwoven Shetland rainbow blanket, the handspun hand painted yarn that a fibre artist I admire complimented and my biggest achievement the 100% handmade sweater that I designed and made for my husband.

Why though? How does this help my making?
The positive lifeline exercise is designed to increase the quantity and intensity of the positive deposits in your personal memory bank, in the unconscious mind. It is helps foster a feeling of happiness and well-being which facilitates sustained Mindfulness practice, overcoming the inherent negativity bias that we all have.
My aim with my Positive Making Timeline is to foster that sense of happiness and wellbeing within my making, facilitating mindful making and as a plus boosting my making self-esteem and creativity.
I have written my Positive Making Timeline because I find writing helps me reflect and connect with the positive memories, I have had to push myself to focus on the positive and take ownership of it which is an interesting aspect to reflect on in itself. But if writing isn’t your thing there are alternatives, you could make a photo montage or record yourself reminiscing about your positive making milestones. However you choose to express yourself why not give it a go and bring more positivity into your making.

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