What I’ve Learned Wednesday – A New Venture!

 

 

For many moons local crafters, artists and creatives have been bemoaning the lack of a “creatives scene” in Southampton, especially for designer makers. We have a small outlet via the Art House Cafe, but as their space is limited its not always possible to have your creations displayed there.

Various solutions have been suggested, including pop up shops, fairs and markets but due to a variety of circumstances, little progress has been made. However there is a demand for handmade in the city so a solution needed to be found. I work quite closely with the Millenium Third Age Centre and they have a fantastic, if under utilised space, in a beautiful Georgian townhouse. For a while we’d been muting ideas about a one off fair, to be held over 3 of the buildings 4 floors but had not made any concrete plans. I suggested speaking to another local designer maker, Jenni Clemmens who runs Craftizan and also has a passion for vintage to see if we could work together and develop something. A few coffees later we came up with a proposal / business plan for a regular fair to held every 6 weeks.

After some tweaking the plans were approved and we’re now in the process of “making it happen”. Its surprising the amount of work and attention to detail that’s required to make an event work well. The first step was to get all the admin processes set up and develop terms and conditions and booking forms. We’ve now achieved that and sent out the first batch to local crafters who are interested in coming along. We’ve also needed to sort out legalities such as risk assessments, insurances and refunds policies. A combination of much online research and expertise from Stephen at Millenium Third Age Centre has lead to a comprehensive document that is succint but covers all eventualities. It was a real learning curve producing the document as there were many aspects of running an event I’d not considered. One thing I’ve learned is that its important to have a team involved in developing all the background policies etc as we all have different areas of experience and expertise to offer and it means that you are less likely to miss something important.

The venue is set in Bevios Valley and is part of a vibrant multi-cultural inner city community. We want to encourage as many local people to be involved as possible too! So we’re also working with key representatives of the diverse ethnic groups who call the area home, to ensure the stalls have a multi-cultural theme. This has already attracted a sari maker, gents tailor and women’s co-operative who are planning to make and sell asian snacks. When planning events its important to have the community onboard and actively involved if you want to make it successful. Having been to fairs in the past where I’ve paid £30 for a table and only had 2 people through the door all day, once thing we know we have to get right is marketing – and if people know someone who’ll be there, then that helps with word of mouth – which is often the key to getting people along and developing a relationship with them.

Its now feeling like we’re on the count down to D-Day or Launch Day – when I’m feeling a bit wobbly about can I do this – its definitely more D -Day but when things are coming together and I can see my way forward, its definitely launch!! I think we all experience this when we’re trying a new skill or introducing a new make to our customers too! We’ve sent out invites to designer-makers. Posted the event on Facebook. Asked local arts and community news letters to also put out a call for makers. Jenni has designed a fantastic poster, which will be going out to the local community and the wider city in the next couple of weeks! We’re also gradually recruiting volunteers to help on the day – this wasn’t something I’d expected to happen, but its a real positive as some of those offering to help out this time are doing so to gain an understand of how fairs work, so that they can sell in future.

To sum up what I’ve learned so far:

1. Assemble a team around you who you can trust and who can bring the right skills with them

2. Write a business plan and develop a budget – cost in your time!

3. Talk to people about your ideas and get their feedback – this starts to drum up excitement too

4. Do your homework – make sure all your terms and conditions and policies are well researched

5. Reflect on fairs you’ve been to – what was good and what could have been better. Incorporate the ideas into your plans.

6.Consider having a selection policy – after all you don’t want a fair full of wooly jumpers etc! Be specific too – are you only wanting handmade or are you willing to consider network marketing for example.

7. Involve the local community, make sure the fair is something they want to attend

8. Consider asking the venue if their public liability insurance covers stall holders – its a great way to encourage first timers!

9. Accept help from willing volunteers – once you’re established this could be a development opportunity for a back to work programme, which might attract some funding!

10. Have an ongoing plan – let stall holders know its not a “flash in the pan” event – offer an introductory price

11. Develop a marketing plan – get your advertising out far and wide!

12. Have a single point of contact for all the admin – that way everyone knows what’s happening

13. Get everyone involved in the day – organising team and volunteers – together a week before. Try out layouts, allocated tasks and roles for the day – that way things should run smoothly.

14. Charge a small admission fee – this adds value to the event and encourages customers who are likely to buy.

If you are local to Southampton, love to make or have a passion for vintage and want to sell – then please get in touch:

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Handmade Monday 71 – Its a Girl!

Welcome to another Handmade Monday!  Feel free to join up with your craft blog, following these simple rules:

1. Mention and link to this week’s Handmade Monday (this blog post) in your blog post.

2. Blog about any aspect of handmade (it doesn’t have to be what you made this week, although I know that works for a lot of people)

3. Add your link below by clicking on the linky tool and following the simple steps.

4. Read (and leave a comment on) as many of the other blogs you feel you’re able to.

This week’s post is going to have a baby theme – mainly because the majority of my recent commission pieces have all been baby orientated. Its lovely making something for a little person, who will soon be arriving brand new to the world! Oddly enough all my recent makes have been for girls – I didn’t want to know what I was having and my daughter was a real surprise. I carried like you’re supposed to carry a boy; the midwife said the heartbeat was of the rate they’d see with boys and the wedding ring test that my friend did on me, again said boy! At 41 weeks I had a sizing scan – and was prepared for having a big baby – the sonographer told me when to look away, but Daddy decided to peek! And bless him, got the umbilical cord confused with little boy bits. When I finally had her 16 days late by C-section following a very protracted and difficult labour, I was somewhat high as a kite on pain relief etc and actually asked the surgeon to check if he’d cut the wrong bit as I was meant to have a boy! But I love my daughter so much and despite her difficulties, she’s a pleasure to have around. And although its sometimes very tough and very lonely trying to keep her on track, its worth it and she’s developed into a beautiful young lady with a very unique and often highly perceptive view of the world.

Here are my latest series of “girly makes” all available made to order:

1. Forget Me Not Blanket

 This beautiful blanket is hand crocheted in forget me not stitch. I found the pattern in a 70’s crochet book I found in a charity shop. I had a go at making a phone case first to see how the pattern looked as in 70’s colours it was none too attractive. I fell in love with it!

I was then asked by a friend to make a blanket in pink for a new great neice who would be arriving over the summer. I went through my stash and found 3 balls of yarn, one pink, one white and one random baby colours. I did a sample swatch and she loved it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Flower Matinee Jacket

This dainty little jacket was made to a vintage pattern supplied by the customer. Hand crocheted, mainly in treble stitch. I’d always wanted to learn how to insert “gaps” into crochet and this was real chance to learn. The edging is in picot stitch. I’ve already been asked to resize this matinee coat into a cardigan for a toddler!

 

 

 

 

3.  Traditional Shawl

  I was asked to knit a traditional circular shawl. The lace edging proved a real challenge with lots of ripping out until I discovered a tiny error on row 1 of the pattern! The rework was surprisingly simple once I’d dealt with the problem. I learned a new technique of making eyelet holes with yarn overs at the start of a row, before knitting the first stitch.

The customer asked me to dispense with the second layer of lace edging as it would need blocking each time the shawl was washed – a nightmare with a tiny baby! So I devised an irish crochet inspired edging – it took a couple of re works to get it right and each round took up to 4 hours!

When I delivered it, she was so pleased so I was really glad I took the extra time and kept at it until it was right!

And this week I have knitted 2 natural nappy covers in pute wool, am about to start a third in rainbow hues and also have a new born hat, mitts and shoes gift pack to whip up! Think the fingers will be flying!!!

Embarrassing Illnesses Event

You can probably gather from previous posts that I have a disability and have found craft extremly valuable in helping me live with the symptoms my condition creates. I work closely with a local community centre –  Third Age Centre, Southampton and they kindly invited me to have a stand celebrating the benefits crafts bring to wellbeing. I had an excellent day and met some lovely people and had some great feedback about the display I’d put together. I’m hopeful this may lead onto some work with different agencies and businesses who were really interested in the “stress busting” aspect of crafting!

1. Life feels like a vicious circle

The hardest part of living with any form of long term illness is learning to unpick what makes it worse or better. In the early days especially it often feels like you’re riding a crazy roller coaster where the track can suddenly shape shift and what appears to be an up, is suddenly a down or a plateau. Its not just the illness that worsens symptoms, its a whole gaumont of daily experiences we all have, that unknown to us affect our bodies and make our symptoms worse.

For example, if I’m worried about something I often find the muscle of tone in my left side and legs increases and I develop some really strange movement patterns – one friend described it as walking like you have cerebral palsy. I understand the process – anxiety causes tense muscles – my nervous system and brain interpret tense muscles as a defence mechanism and think “oh she’s in pain” – the body’s response to pain is to tense those muscles even more  -the movement centre in the brain then thinks “oh if she walks this way it’ll hurt less” and so on! And of course when I start walking funny my muscles tire more easily, I fall over more and get increasingly frustrated, which starts the whole cycle going again! And I perceive that I’m having a “bad day” or “flare up” depending on how long it lasts.

 

2. Breaking the Cycle!

Breaking the vicious cycleThe above sounds pretty relentless and out of control, but actually with time, practice and by tuning in to the body its possible to break the cycle. In the above situation, I use a range of measures to help – muscle relaxation helps my muscles to loosen up and anxiety to reduce through deep breathing.  Pacing myself with small periods of activity, broken up by regular breaks is another tool – and when I’m sitting resting I can get on with some knitting – lessening the feelings of frustration and guilt at not doing what I’d planned. The pain message over drive up to the brain is gradually reduced and although not perfect, my walking slowly improves. My muscles are less tired and so I can do more.

There are so many ways we can break the cycle from physical exercise – gentle and appropriate to your condition to doing something nice for someone – helps give us a sense of achievement, boosts confidence and lifts mood. Crafts are ideal in that they absorb the mind – providing a distraction. If you’re not convinced, concentrate on the pain next time you experience it for 30s, then do something that absorbs your mind – for however long you think 30s is. Compare the level of pain and the actual time for both experiences – you’ll probably find that 30s seems much longer when your pain level is high, compared with when you are distracting yourself.

Crafts help us relax too – combating anxiety and muscle tension. The sense of achievment boosts endorphins, lifting the mood, helping us feel useful again and lessening the emotional impact of the illness – productive people don’t need to feel guilty about what they can’t do after all! Craft can help us reach out too – we can get to know other crafters and perhaps help them learn a new skill, extend exisiting skills or by providing friendship and a listening ear – both ways. Its great to listen to others, but its also important to share our thoughts and feelings – bottled up feelings feed negative emotions, depression and anxiety – talking constructively to someone with a common bond is not moaning – and you may be surprised at the advice and support you find. Getting out of the house is important too if possible – yes its hard when you feel tired, ill, in pain, depressed. Getting out of bed in itself is a major hurdle – but just do it! I know how much better I feel for getting up, however long it takes and making it into the lounge – after all everyone sits around in the lounge! Getting out gives a sense of freedom and purpose too! I’m having a bad day today – woke up to a blow torch screaming around my back – but its ok – its happened because I went out with a friend yesterday after knitting group – we had a coffee, a potter round the yarn shops and I thought I could cope on sticks for one leg of the trip – yes I over did it – but I managed to walk  / shuffle on my own 2 legs from the car into a shop and buy some yarn for the first time in 4 weeks! And no one can take that achievement away from me!

 

 

Versatile Blogger Award

versatile blogger award

I’m really thrilled to announce that Drikka from Glaser Crafts and Tips has nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award! Although I’ve been blogging for a while over on blogger, I made the switch to wordpress earlier this year when I realised that I wanted to “reinvent” my blog into something that was much broader and tackled a range of subjects around crafts and teaching.

 

The rules of receiving the Versatile Blogger Award are as follows…

Nominees must: Tell seven things about themselves, pass the award on to 15 other blogs and thank the person who nominated them for the award. Also no one is obligated to take the award, so don’t feel you have to accept it.

Here are 7 things about me:

1. My ultimate claim to fame is sitting on a womble’s knee when I was 5!

2. My other crafting passion is cross stitch

3. I am finally mastering the dread part of bag making – the sewing machine

4. I drive with hand controls and love confusing passengers who are too polite to ask why I’m not putting my feet on the pedals

5. I would love to go to New Zealand and Iceland

6. I want to see the Northern Lights and walk under the Midnight Sun

7. I miss being able to swim in the sea

My nominations in no particular order are:

1. Knitnrun4sanity

2. Kazies Magical Designs

3. Nofkants Curios

4. Handmade Harbour

5. Soyofthe North

6. Uniquely Yours

7. Lynwood Crafts

8. How to Lead a Team

9. Supportive Business Mums

10. Living with Nephrotic Syndrome (….. and Sam)

11. Time 4 Me Workshops

12. Joanna Dewberry

13. Speak in Your Voice

14. The Party Plan Guru

15. Forty Percent Fringe, Sixty Percent Face

 

Its taken me a few days to sort this out, because a very close friend has passed away and I’ve been getting my head around the idea. As regular readers have probably gleanded I’m disabled by a spinal condition. Because it generates such bizarre sets of symptoms, the diagnostic stages are hell on earth. Through an internet pain group I met a lovely lady called Margaret – she has the same condition and her mixture of commonsense and zest for life really kept me going when I was in the dark days of being poked, prodded and even accused by one Dr of being mad! I did later get a full and frank apology when he’d been slapped into place by the pain team though! In the 6 years I’ve known her she’s developed other conditions and recently found out she had lymphoma. She decided not to have chemo – a decision which all her friends and family understood and respected, even if deep down we wanted to her to stay around a bit longer. She spent a fair amount of time on the road in a caravan with her husband as their local authority thought providing her with a bungalow where she was confined to a bedroom with panoramic views of a concrete wall was acceptable. And on Tuesday night the caravan is where she gently but suddenly passed away – a lot sooner than any of us, including her, had bargained for. I’ve had some really difficult times with my daughter and various other aspects of life and Margs no nonsense, down to earth, northern take on things has been a tower of strength – she even went as far as putting the little madam in her place over facebook a couple of times! She also had a killer sense of humour and was very much on my wavelength as one ex nurse to another. I also know there are many of us both in the UK and overseas who have all benefitted from having Margs in our lives and will miss her terribly. May she rest in peace x

Handmade Monday 70 – Purples and Blues

Launching The Bits and Bobs @ The Lounge, Made to Order Range

June is a month for trying new things in Bits and Bobs land it appears. Following on from the Children’s Workshops, I’ve decided to join in with Handmade Monday, a great idea for showcasing all things Handmade, and hosted by Handmade Harbour. To join in, write a blog post about anything handmade, link back to Handmade Harbour and add your link to the site. And of course sit back and enjoy reading all the other Handmade Monday posts, safe in teh knowledge that you’ll have some lovely new visitors to your blog too!

Theresa and Terry who run Mums and Business, have launched The Lounge this month. Its a fantastic place for work at home mums to escape to and work, network or even have a break in beautiful rural surroundings. They have offered myself and Karen from Kazies Magical Designs  (the person who told me all about Handmade Monday) a fantastic opportunity. Each month we’ll pick a colour theme and mount an exhibition of   our makes and art work that fit that scheme. We’re starting with Blue and Purple, the Mums and Business colour scheme.

When visitors to The Lounge, see our work and hopefully fall in love with it and decide they need to buy it then The idea they  can either buy direct or commission  us to create a bespoke piece in colours of their choice. Theresa and Terry take a small commission on any onsite sales. This wonderful opportunity  means our work gets out to a wider audience, provides us with  “shop front” and hopefully increases sales. The ladies who are members of The Lounge, can hold training events there and invite guest in for meetings too – meaning even more footfall!

Available This Month:

 “Corporate Tea Cosies”.

I will design you a Cosy and matching coasters in your company colours with your Company Name and Logo. The cosies can also be personalised and would make fantastic presents for grannies, aunties and mums!

Comfy Cushions

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This beautiful cushion is based on the dianthus flower. 9 flowers are crocheted together using free form techniques and backed with patchwork. Can be re worked to compliment your home decor. Makes a beautiful nursery accessory for a little girl.

Hair Accessories

Snoods and Scrunchies – ideal for  stylish school wear and budding ballerinas, made to order in your choice of colours

Brooch

A cute little cream and blue crochet brooch with a ruffled edge. Ideal for festival goers!

Summer Bag

A beautiful hand crocheted bag, fully lined in soft cotton. Vivid turquoise, accented with shaded ginger stripes. Eye catching, must have summer accessory. Can be re-worked to your preferred colour scheme.

Knitted Vase

A cute and original glass jar, covered with a funky and fun dotty cover. Made to order in colours to complement your home

Phone Cases

Hand knitted to my own fairisle design in pure new wool.

Hand crocheted, using cottons in forgetmeknot stitch and accented with forget me knots. Beautiful gift for a special lady.

Bountiful Bunting

I’ve had a fantastic week working with a small group of very keen beginner knitters. Some could knit a bit, some could knit but couldn’t cast on and others had never knitted at all. The group were an interesting mix of cultures and we even had a young man join us. They worked hard, had fun, used loads of imagination and have demanded more…. soon please!

They’ve all gone home with work that they have either entirely completed themselves or with a bit of help from their friends and are really proud of their achievements. They were a pleasure to teach too and not a group I’d considered working with either as a qualified adult ed tutor.

Yes, I’m going to blog about teaching children! I’ll be honest I had no idea even if I really could pull it off, I’ve taught the odd child one to one but that was it. However I’d had numerous requests from parents about teaching craft skills to children so I thought it was time to go for it. Its been an interesting learning curve and as a piece of professional development as a teacher, a really good way to get back to basics and think things through as to how to break down the skills you need to be an independent knitter.

I went through a careful process of planning the lessons and ensuring they were fun, engaging and encouraged imagination, the vital key to creativity.

1. Redesign of the Beginners Booklet

I sat down and thought about what I’d wanted to know about knitting when I was a child. Was it just how to do it or did I want to know other things too? I also wanted to encourage the children to think about where yarn comes from, the materials they would need and not to be afraid of patterns!  I also wanted the booklet to flow so that the skills they needed were presented in a logical sequence, so that they could follow through all the stages of knitting and finishing their bunting.

The final design includes a page all about “secret codes for knitting” – or how to understand a pattern. There is also an information page about yarn and the variety of plants, animals and “chemists” we have to thank for the range we have access to today. The pattern was very simple and contained instructions on how to knit a simple garter stitch flag, but I felt it was important as I didn’t want the children to feel worried about what they had to do or think, as many adults seem to, that patterns are scary complicated things meant to trip you up.  I then had a flow through of all the skills needed with clear images, from casting through garter stitch to casting off. I also included a section on making up that included how to sew the flags to ribbon and sew on decorative buttons.

2. Casting On and Off!

I’m not a knitter that subscribes to the theory of teaching beginners to knit before they can cast on. I’d decided that I also wanted to use this approach with the children. After all there is nothing so frustrating as having to wait for Mum, Granny or Aunty to have time to cast on for you! And as a child seconds can seem like hours if its something you really, really, really, realllllllllllly want NOW!! Many knitters also wait a while before teaching casting off – again why I thought? I tend to find that’s how stitches get dropped, the knitting gets put to one side, stitches slide off the needle, playing a mysterious and unseen game of “follow the leader”  and suddenly you’re having to rip out and re work 2 or 3 after school playtimes work!

I decided that the whole aim of the workshop was for the kids to go away and be able to work on their next project at home – whatever that might be!

3. Finishing Off and Making Up

Having a finished piece of work to show is important – and making sure it looks good is essential, even if there is the odd hole, oversized stitch or other mistake. I wanted to make sure they took something home to be proud of, that they could show to Grannies, Aunties etc and not be told ” you should have done it this way” – I can still remember some of the “feedback” I got as a child, especially when I decided to try something that didn’t go right! Although its proved useful as it makes me an extra careful checker of my work now! I also wanted it to last, there’s nothing worse than your lovely finished piece coming unravelled, especially when you’re a child.

So having considered the building blocks and thought up some games we could play as we went, Wednesday morning dawned bright and early and I got the bags packed. The previous evening had been devoted to making up learner packs, “just like the grown ups have” – one pair of needles, 3 small balls of yarn, the “How To” booklet all in a plastic wallet with the Bits and Bobs label on it. Alongside was a file of permission forms, a large bottle of squash, a pack of biscuits and the register. And when all was ready, the phone went for a last minute booking, and with one family having to pull out, the course again was full!

The three sessions have flown by – some of the Mums decided to stay and sat working on their own projects but also were willing to lend a hand to anyone who was struggling, which was fantastic as it meant I could give each child a little bit of individual attention as we went. We started off learning names and finding out who could do what. This was followed by a “Give Us a Clue” type quiz covering the essentials of knitting and discovering which animals and plants could be used to make yarn! Then it was down to work, tackling the slip knot! This was mastered surprisingly well and we were onto the much avoided casting on. With some patience and perseverance all the children managed to cast on at least some of their 15 stitches. It was surprisingly like an adult class in that some picked it up quickly and flew along, desperate to get onto the “proper knitting” and others took a while. I enjoy being flexible so I managed to rearrange some of the seating and had those who had knitted before working away quite quickly, whilst with a bit of help from my classroom asssitant and the Mums, all the others finally got going and proudly possessed 15 sts.  By the end of the session, even the youngest at 5 had managed to work a couple of rows, with one child getting her own work out as she didn’t want to get too far ahead! We did some basic maths too, working out garter stitch rows by doubling ridges and all the children were really quick!  The lesson soon finished and I was promptly handed a selection of knitted pieces the older girls had been working on outside of the lessons, to have a look at and correct the odd mistake on! They were all keen to do their homework and come back the next day. We also built in a couple of  “exercise sessions” wriggly fingers, hands and wrists, touching thumb to fingers and doing some big hand stretches. This produced alot of giggling from all involved!We finished the day with a round of applause for all the great work they’d done!

Thursday saw the group return ready to cast off their work from the previous day – and again a skill us knitters tend to keep to ourselves – casting on was the first task after a bit of revision quiz from the previous day and the group picked it up surprisingly easily. They were soon flying ahead with their second square, the older girls wanting help to count their rows on a very regular basis, having set up some form of competition with each other. The younger ones were proud of completing a row independently and really started to gain confidence and make their presence known. We also had an ideas session, thinking about what else could you knit from squares – the ideas were great, from blankets to hats, and one ambitious young lady of 6, announced she was going to make curtains! One girl had taken the bunting idea to the next stage and was going to make enough to decorate her bedroom in all her favourite colours, which then lead onto a discussion about the colours you would use to make your next project. The idea behind this was to encourage them to think “like designers”. Its far too easy I think to fall into the “pattern trap” and only knit what the book tells you – I want to inspire knitters to use their imaginations and try something different, see patterns as a “guide” as opposed to a strict list of instructions and where children are naturally imaginative, it just seemed natural to do so. I even showed them how to knit with 3 strands of yarn to achieve interesting colour effects Everyone was challenged to come back tomorrow with at least one square completed and I would help out with a couple more where needed – only fair when you’re 5 or 6 and have worked really hard I think! We kept to our exercise breaks, had a round of applause again and discovered just how many biscuits 7 small children and 2 mums can consume in one afternoon!

Friday was the last day and I was inundated with requests from the start to check things, count things and goodness knows what else! So I decided a bit of “order” was needed and got everyone to sit down and tell us what they’d got ready so I knew who needed a bit more help etc. The younger girls had “finished” with some help and so we started assembling their flags first, whilst the others finished off.  They were really quick to master weaving in and running stitch and got their flags neatly attached in no time! So we then moved on to sewing on buttons – which produced some interesting results and techniques but they looked great. Our youngest little lady got the biggest laugh of the day and should have had an award for cheek when she asked if I could sew on her last 2 buttons as she’d done 4 and “really couldn’t be bothered to do any more!” – she looked and sounded far too cute to refuse too! Gradually all the older girls “caught up” as did the one young man and started the process of assembling their work. They were talking about a “cooking competition” they’d had with friends over the holidays and this lead on to a discussion of favourite foods.  We ended up playing a game of “Whats my favourite” based on the colour scheme they suggested for a scarf – one general food or drink, one fruit and one vegetable. The range suggested was interesting and we even had a swede lover amongst all the peas and sweetcorn. By the end of the session, although they were sad we’d finished and were keen for more, they were all very proud of their work. One child actually said “I never knew I could do something like this. Thank you for showing me” – I was really touched by that.

Here they all are, as proud as punch!

        

At Your Own Pace!

Can a knitter or crocheter ever truly rest and put down their tools? This has been something I’ve been thinking about over the past 2 weeks for 2 key reasons, one personal and one related to a series of comments along the same theme – “tennis elbow”.

I can see my readership developing very puzzled expressions here – what does “tennis elbow” have to do with knitting or crochet? A question I too asked myself last Saturday when a lady at a community event informed me that her GP had told her to do less crochet as it was the likely cause of her tennis elbow – being the only new activity this sporty, but elderly lady had recently taken up. Thinking this was something of a “flash in the pan” as my granny would say, I put it to the back of my mind and carried on crocheting! However when I went along to teach my Eastleigh group on Monday night, one of my regular ladies said she’s not done much crochet due to developing tennis elbow….. curiouser and curioser……. then another lady arrived and said she’d also got a touch of it, but she thought it was work induced.

We then talked about just how much crochet they’d been doing and it turned out to be quite bit. Then I remembered I’d pretty much put down my cross stitch needle as it caused a muscle in my neck to spasm, which because of my lunatic nervous system then lead onto horrible pain in the middle of my shoulder blades and a body shape akin to a certain inhabitant of a Notre Dame bell tower….

And it suddenly clicked – all these inflammatory problems are a result of “repetitive strain injury” or RSI – and that then got me thinking about how I was first taught to live with the chronic pain and other difficulties I face daily due to my lunatic nervous system. What happens in the body when something is overused and inflamed is that the surrounding muscles tense to protect the area…… however this becomes a viscious circle with the tense muscles increasing the pain and reducing our willingness to keep the area moving because it hurts. In chronic pain these difficulties intensify and in severe cases, can be like living with one of those annoying burglar alarms that goes off every time a moth flies by causing the body to do all sorts of daft things – a recent change in atmospheric pressure has left me back in a wheelchair with severe muscle spasms, spasticty and a torso and legs that seem to have completely stopped communicating unless it involves landing me on my bum!

In acute injuries like tennis elbow, using prescribed medication, seeking medical advice and rest are all invaluable. However there will come a time when the offending area needs to get back to work and this is where things started to click….  rehabilitation after an acute injury is similar to retraining your pain system and persuading it that calm is good! Its a principle called pacing… whe you are meant to pace all the time, I have to be honest and say its not a fun way to live and that most people with chronic pain tend to pace on a much larger level that involves a certain element of risk taking in order to enjoy life. But when you first start rehabilitating the principles are the same – little and often is better than once and crash!

For example if I was one of the unfortunate tennis elbow sufferers, I would sit down on a day when I had not much else on and crochet until my elbow started to make itself known – I’d then stop and note the time that took. I might not crochet again that day, but if I did, I would not pick my hook up for at least 50% of the time it took me to start to feel a twinge. For example if I found I could crochet for 30mins I would have 15mins rest before starting again. And by rest, I mean not doing anything that would aggravate the pain further. However when I picked the hook up again I would only crochet for 15 mins with 7.5 mins rest. I would work with these times for around a week, unless my pain got worse when I would re-evaluate. However assuming all was well I would plan a slighlty longer session, say 20 mins with 10 mins rest for the following week. Assuming this was ok, I’d increase to 25 mins but keep to 10 mins rest – as we want to increase the activity time now and start to reduce the rest. If this worked, then by the next week I’d be up to 30 mins crochet at a time with 10 mins rest. As long as this didn’t increase my pain, then I’d start working on gradually decreasing my rest period, perhaps by 2.5 mins a week, until I could work with only 5 min breaks. From there it would be a case of seeing how things went, but realistically, it would always be important to maintain regular rest periods during crochet sessions and being sensible about how much time I crocheted per day to minimise the risk of aggravating the elbow again.

Its certainly prompted me to consider whether I should include something about this in beginners lessons, especially as beginners tend to hold their hands more stiffly and are taking up an activity new to them. I never thought of knitting or crochet as being particularly hazardous, minus the risk of someone running amok with a knitting needle, as many charity shops seem to think is likely to happen today! However its definitely made me aware that its definitely worth mentioning to students, especially the very keen!