The Social Benefits of Making - Community, Creativity & Crafts
We’ve touched on the topic of community throughout our discussion of crafter wellness, but it deserves it’s own spotlight. The concept of crafting can be very isolated and individual, but it is clear through personal experiences and scientific studies that having a sense of community in conjunction with creative pursuits benefits our health in a variety of ways!
Many makers enjoy working on their craft with a group - or groups! - of fellow enthusiasts. This social component helps build and maintain interpersonal relationships, and tends to expand our social circles outside of our usual group of friends. One study on the health benefits of crafting indicates working in groups "impacted significantly on perceived happiness, improved social contact and communication with others."
Crafting has the effect of breaking the ice and getting conversations started, often encouraging more meaningful chats than grabbing a cup of coffee. This is, in part at least, because as Betsan Corkhill points out in this article, “the mental energy it takes to knit reduces knitters' tendency to self-monitor.” (The same could be said of crochet or other fiber arts too!) These open, less guarded conversations provide a significant boost to our social health and enhance our friendships.
Another fun and unique aspect of crafting is that it draws a very diverse crowd. It doesn’t matter your age, race, gender, ethnicity, economic background, occupation, athletic ability, etc. Creating acts as a unifying agent and offers common ground. There is a universal language to crafting that allows us to connect and share our passions, even if we don’t look the same or speak the same verbal language. These connections stimulate our brains and engage our emotions on new levels, keeping us fresh and strengthening our mental and emotional well-being.
Getting together also serves as an opportunity for education, support and morale boosting. Almost any “knit night” gathering is going to include a round of Show and Tell to display current WIPs (works in progress) and/or FOs (finished objects). Fellow makers understand the time, effort and skill that goes into making handmade items, and their praise and support of our work instills pride and heightens our sense of achievement. Likewise, if we are struggling with some component of our project, chances are good that someone in our group can help us work through it. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement to get through a particularly challenging section of a pattern!
It may sound as if these benefits would disappear during a time when gathering together isn’t always possible, but most have held true or even proven more important! The crafting community has done a remarkable job of adapting, and moving to more virtual interactions has actually removed some barriers that may have previously prevented people from interacting. Location is a fairly obvious limitation that virtual gatherings remove, but those facing health concerns, a lack of transportation or child care, or even a case of nerves may also find virtual meet-ups to be more accessible!
Being forced to stay apart has also spurred a flurry of creativity; finding ways to bring people together, to carry on events, and to keep the industry moving forward. Interactive craft-a-longs for instance, give us a sense of togetherness through a common goal. Virtual classes hone our skills and allow us to tap into the talents of makers far and near. Spreading love and sharing information about people and brands we support has become a common practice.
So, what exactly makes knitting and the other fiber arts so conducive for social interaction? This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but here are a few key factors:
Portability: Most of the fiber arts are extremely portable. The tools are pretty small and lightweight. Most yarns, even multiple skeins of them, don’t weigh that much, and projects tend to be small enough to tote in a project bag. Even if you’re crocheting an afghan for example, you’re often working on smaller squares or columns that are easier to transport.
Interruptibility: Yep, we made up a word. With a few notable exceptions like lace or intricate cable rows, most projects can be picked up and set down at almost any time. This allows the maker to start and stop with relative ease as needed, say to grab a snack, get a drink or help work out why someone else’s stitch count isn’t coming out right.
Shared Attention: While easier for some crafters than others, most of the fiber arts allow for shared attention, meaning it’s possible to carry on a conversation or watch television or listen to music, etc. while engaged in the craft. Similar to being interrupted, there are certainly exceptions, but it’s usually possible to multitask without being rude or ruining your work!
Art: We like to look at and discuss pretty things. Getting to see what others are working on is inspiring; their color choices, the fibers they’re using, the stitch patterns, their adaptations to patterns, yarns or designers they introduce you to, all of it!
Our collective social health has been hit hard over the past year, and sometimes life can feel like a tangled ball of yarn; the harder we pull, the tighter the knots. Having a group of crafters to connect with allows us to ease out the knots and rewind the ball. Broaden that community via cell phones, tablets and the internet, and our ability to form bonds even during a global pandemic is virtually limitless. Even at a time when isolation is the norm, we never have to feel alone!Sources
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