Having personally experienced the benefits of working with textiles, this project entitled “Mend” – Stitching lives together is based on the concept that creativity facilitates mental health and well-being. Mindful stitching or slow stitch allows time for reflection, focussed awareness and the access of flow states. Using needle and thread to create small pieces of stitched work is a direct way to link hands to heart, allowing an embodied process that speaks to deeper, sometimes unconscious thought patterns. In so doing, research indicates that the process of creating textile art can aid in meaning making, leading to psychological benefits such as improved self-esteem and experiences of autonomy (Reynolds, 2004). Furthermore, stitching has been linked to reduced levels of anxiety, sense of isolation and an increased ability to cope with adversity. Working with needle and thread is thus a tangible way in which to mend self; a daily practice that is both spiritual and functional.
In my practice as a speech and language therapist to children with severe communication difficulties resulting from genetic disorders, I have become increasingly aware of the challenges mothers face in parenting a special needs child. Apart from the increased financial and practical stressors, mothers deal with an ongoing set of emotional experiences that include anxiety, depression and deep grief born of ambiguous loss (Seymour et al, 2013). A sense of isolation and hopelessness frequently accompanies their parenting experiences. To create a more holistic experience in the therapeutic setting, the “Mend” – Stitching lives together project aims to address the needs of mothers through a uniquely focussed support group.
Working in small groups embraces the collective need in a search for meaning. Using traditional forms of needlework contributes towards connectivity by celebrating ancient practices reconnecting women with each another. Their shared experiences, not only of their children’s bio-medical background, but also in the process of creative textile art, aims to enhance their sense of well-being. While this is the primary aim of the project, the extended value will be explored. Individually stitched pieces can be combined to create a larger functional artwork, such as a wall-hanging or quilt that has commercial value. This in turn can be raffled or sold to generate revenue for future projects or sponsor therapy for an underprivileged child. Thus, this project has the potential to grow into a larger one that can be shaped by the participants, with the ultimate goal of threading and interweaving strands of hope, compassion and understanding into their own lives, those of their families and wider community.
The principle of utilising previously worn fabrics to be upcycled into functional art pieces additionally emphasizes a focus on environmental concerns and creates an awareness that goes beyond the personal into the transpersonal and conscious deliberation of our impact on one another and the Earth.
The “Mend” – Stitching lives together course will run for 12 weeks, with three hour sessions weekly. Beginning with a focussed intent, we will draw on visual meditations and automatic writing to access threads of consciousness to be further explored in the stitching activities. While the focus of the work is very much based on the theme of process art, completed pieces will be woven together as stories through which common experiences, thoughts and insights can be shared. If the participants are willing, the project will be displayed so that these ideas and concepts can be shared and interwoven into other communities. By creating awareness of the impact of disability on families through art, the project has the potential to further strands of hope, compassion and understanding, a concept referred to as “outrospective empathy” (Krznaric, 2012). The initial focus of personal mental and physical well-being can therefore become a patchwork of further material for social inclusion and community projects.
Krznaric, R. (2012). The power of outrospection. RSA Animates. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG461wVfSu8
Reynolds, F. (2011). Textile art promoting well-being in long term illness: Some general and specific influences. Journal of Occupational Science, 11(2), 58-67. https://doi.org/10.1080/14427591.2004.9686532
Seymour, M., Wood, C., Giallo, R. & Jellett, R. (2013). Fatigue, stress and coping in mothers of children with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism Developmental Disorder. 43, 1547-1554. https://doi.org/10.1007/s 10903-012-1701-y