The Power of Making: Getting Lost in the Creative Flow
At the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018, the Finnish team were found to be spending their free time practising the humble craft of knitting. Their motivation? To help them cope with the pressure of the competition.
A secret that the makers amongst us have known for a long time is the joy of making as a wellness and relaxation practice. Making requires enough of your attention to provide a distraction from the stresses of daily life yet is often repetitive enough to allow you to lose yourself in the rhythm of it.
It’s worth defining what we mean by the term ‘making’. We believe it can be anything from working with textiles to cooking to gardening and everything in between. In short, any practice that involves creating.
In recent years the concept of making as a wellbeing practice has become more widely researched. In 2013 a study was published in the Journal of Occupational Therapy conducted by Jill Riley, Betsan Corkhill and Clare Morris, titled, ‘The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood: Findings from an International Survey’. The study consisted of an online survey, taken by just over 3500 participants, which gathered data around demographics, the reasons for engaging in knitting, and the effects on participants' mood/ feelings.
The research found that people who knitted frequently (3 times a week or more) were more likely to feel calmer after knitting. People noted that the rhythmic nature of the craft is calming, some suggesting that it is “hypnotic” and “relaxing yet engaging”. The study also found that the majority of people (79%) definitely “did not” feel more stressed with some participants noting that knitting lifts their mood and is often, “therapeutic”. Participants also suggested that the process of knitting helps them to cope with a stressful event or issue with one respondent stating, “a sweater or shawl is made one stitch at a time, and eventually you get a finished product. In life – when things are hard, you take it a few minutes at a time, and eventually you make it through.”
Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi researched and named the concept of ‘Flow’ defining it as, “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” It’s the idea that regardless of external circumstance, you can achieve happiness by fixing your consciousness on something that requires enough of your attention that allows you to forget all else. In his TED talk, Czikszentmihalyi spoke about a composer who identified with this concept stating that “when [he is] really involved in the completely engaging process of creating something new, he doesn’t have enough attention to manicure how his body feels or his problems at home, he can’t feel even that he’s hungry or that his body is tired”.
If you’re a maker, we’d guess you know these things to be true. When you’re immersed in the ‘creative flow’, in the rhythm of it, you have the ability to step out of your head. To forget for a while the stresses of everyday life and pour yourself into the act of making. Not only are you able to engage in the wonder of creativity, but in it, you can find a place of rest and welcome distraction.
We’ve gathered a few reflections from fellow makers, friends, and followers of AMMA. When we asked them if making had helped them in a challenging season of life, they responded with these statements:
"It's kind of a meditative past time, it's a good way to break away from what's bothering you and focus on something else."
“You go into a bit of a zone.”
“I so strongly believe in the therapy of what we do.”
We’ve been having a lot of conversations here at AMMA about this idea of making as a wellness practice. From what we’ve seen in our workshop, what we’ve heard from friends and in reflection on this past year, we believe more than ever in the power of making and its importance in allowing you to detach from reality for a moment, still your soul and create.
At the AMMA workshop, this looks like getting lost in the puzzle of using plant dyes, fixing our attention on the precision required for sewing, being hypnotised by the rhythm of the loom or the meditative nature of embroidery. As we explore the connection between making and wellbeing more, we look forward to leaning into those things with even greater intention.
If you want to explore making more, check out our natural dye guide and delve into the wonder of dyeing with grown colour for yourself.
Some of the content in this article was inspired by the ‘Crafting For Your Mental Health’ episode on the We’ve Made It podcast, which you can listen to here. It’s well worth a listen!
Written by Cleo Rigby.
Photography by Megan Brown and Deborah Grace.