An Apple…. or is it a Yoda for the Teacher?

As the majority of my friends think I’m slightly eccentric with all the knitting and crochet I do, sometimes they set me interesting commissions that challenge me a little. The latest, a set of 3 teacher /  lollipop lady gifts definitely comes into that category!

My friend has 3 children, 2 of whom are school aged. Her daughter –  the eldest – had a sci fi mad teacher for her stay in year 3 and wanted to have a special present for him. So she was sent on a mission to subtly interrogate him to find out which movies and characters he like….. the answer was Yoda from Star Trek.

So I duly went on a hunt for images of Yoda, including some stunning amigurumi and hats on Pinterest for inspiration and came up with a few ideas for facial features and his cloak and staff. I then set to with hook and yarn from my stash and got creating. I had the most fun making his feet and ears! I wanted his face to have some features so used a combination of crochet circles and free hand embroidery to build his face and voila:

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The teacher said he was “stupendous” and was over the moon, so one happy customer so far!

Child 2, a little boy wanted a thank you message for his Year 1 teacher, so after a bit of collaboration with Mum, I came up with a canvas. I knitted the blackboard and edged with with crochet to make a “wooden” frame. Next step was to embroider the words Thank You in a childlike script -which works well with freehand embroidery. I felt the finished item needed something else so crocheted a little apple to add to the corner of the board:

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Then the toddler decided he wanted a present for the lollipop lady as she’s his friend! So could I make a World’s Best Lollipop Lady Badge says Mum…. so again I did a mini hunt on pinterest to make sure I got the colours etc right and this is my design, all in crochet, with freehand embroidery. I was a bit disappointed I couldn’t find an orange heart button but the pink works ok:

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And finally the whole end of  the school year collection:

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Country Baskets Accessorise Yourself Challenge

As you read this post you may realise that… be prepared for a surprise …there’s no knitting or crochet…!!!!

So why the departure from the norm? Every so often I receive an amazing box of goodies in the post from the crafts retailer Country Baskets as part of a crafting competition open to crafters around the UK. I got involved after sharing my blog on bloggabase.

Along with the goodies comes a challenge:

“we are tasking you with creating a must-have Spring/Summer 2014 wedding accessory. Whether it’s a fascinator, brooh, clutch bag or hat, the choice is totally yours. A blog post that detail’s how you made your unique creation will then be judged alongside those of 20 or so other leading writers/bloggers to put you in with the chance of winning £250 of Country Basket gift vouchers to be used either online or in our stores”

A further proviso was that the finished creation used at least 5 items from the box:

Whats in the box

 

After a few sketches and brainstorming sessions I decided to make a hair accessory / fascinator. … a real 1st for me!

This design however would also work well as a decoration for the end of a church pew, a wrist corsage or a bridesmaids bouquet….

Step One was to lay out my original design on the floor

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Next I pinned it all together onto my polystyrene head model and left it for an hour or so before looking at it again

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On reflection I felt  it was a shame to hide the diamanté band I’d placed around the organza bow I had hand stitched.

To create the bow:  Cut a piece of organza off the roll, folded in half and created a back seam, adjust so the seam is at the centre back. Fold the rectangle of organza in half and run a finger along to make a crease. Next step –  work running stitch all the way down the crease using a double thread. Pull the ends of the thread tight at the bottom and knot to create a bow shape.

Using wire cutters cut a strip of diamentes of the correct length plus a bit over to wrap around the centre of the bow. Secure them by popping the ends of the mounting bar through the gap near one of the horizontal supports that run along the back of the strip.

Next I rearranged the components on the floor until I arrived at a layout I was happy with:

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But I thought that hid the diamente band too much …..So I unpinned and tried a new layout

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I trimmed the flower stems to size with wire cutters and decided to wrap them in a grey/green ribbon, left over from the Christmas Country Baskets Competition,  to hide them. I secured the ribbon with a few stitches in invisible thread to prevent it slipping or unravelling

I then cut 2 lengths of wire from the hanging decoration of pearls and glass hearts and formed them into large loops. I pinned these under the flowers but above the bow so that the glass would catch the light. I also popped the butterflies into the design without wiring to see how they looked and repinned the ensemble to the model head again.

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After a few tweaks I was happy so hand stitched all the components together with invisible thread and mounted them on a comb.

Then I wired in some pink butterflies so they were flitting around the flowers – to do this I placed the butterfly where I wanted it and then wrapped the wire stem they were mounted on around the stem of the flower. To achieve the various positions of the butterflies I then adjusted the angles of the wire to make it look as if they were flitting around the flowers.

The final step was to try the finished piece onto my human model. I chose 2 looks, one inserted into a french pleat at the back of her head and the other on the side as a fascinator.

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Hopefully Creative 3 – Managing Pain Through Craft

My last post was about crafting helping me find a sense of purpose, and I’d mentioned being referred to the pain clinic and also using some of the things I’d learned from people in my previous job with the Expert Patients Programme to help me get better. So I thought that this week instead of skimming the surface of my story I’d talk about about how crafting helped me manage my pain and get better.

So to start, I have a spinal problem that causes chronic pain, fatigue and from time to time episodes of bizarre muscle spasms, which can be anything from mildly irritating to downright debilitating and embarrassing, but also handy for terrifying baby lifeguards at the pool if the water is a little on the cold side! Chronic pain is very different from the pain you get with headaches, toothache etc and often is hard to describe. Sometimes it can be a continuous dull, draining ache, at others it can feel as if 2000 volts of electricity are shooting into your spine and down your arms and legs, or perhaps like someone is sticking needles in your thighs with every step you take. Other times its like having pulled muscles in bizarre places or at its worst like there’s someone living in your spine who has large boots on and is attempting to use all their strength to put the boots through the bones, whilst another member of the body inhabiting team is taking all the muscles in your back and twisting them as tightly as possible, like string around a pencil. Another bizarre symptom is hypersensitivity – the worst area I have is my neck, shoulders, back of head and upper back and arms – if  someone touches me gently I can go into such a severe spasm I fall off the chair I’m sitting on, and getting into the pool is a nightmare if the water is cold as that also sends me into spasm as soon as any of those parts touch the water – fortunately the spasm subsides as my body adjusts to the temperature but it does mean I need to choose my pools carefully and definitely can’t swim without someone with me. I also get weird sensations like ice being tipped down my outer legs or if I touch my lower leg on a table leg for example it feels like someone is holding a candle flame near my skin.

The most frustrating thing is that because your nerves are generating all these insane pain signals, your brain tends to respond by making you sit on your backside and because this is unpredictable, falls are pretty much inevitable. It also means that when walking different muscle groups can pull up into spasm without warning and I can end up in some very interesting shapes – so to go very far I need a zimmer frame  or wheelchair. The spasm also makes the muscle tired and then my legs gradually seize and stop working, first my feet drop and the rest of the legs rapidly go and I literally cannot stand. All this is really tiring to live with and the medications I need to take are pretty heavy duty and can also cause feelings of tiredness. So another issue is fatigue, which means I have to plan my time carefully where possible and build in rest periods.

Pain circleSo where does crafting fit into all this? Well one thing I learned was that many symptoms interlink and feed off each other, making personal experience of illness worse. For example pain can cause fatigue, fatigue makes you feel down and useless, that in turn can lead to depression, depression makes your perception of pain and other symptoms worse, this leads to anxiety, which leads to muscle tension which leads to even more pain…… so basically living with any form of long term illness means you can get trapped in a vicious circle of symptoms. But it is possible to break the cycle and do things that help you lessen the impact of the condition on your daily life and gradually build up what you are able to do before the symptoms impact on you again.

 

 

 

Crafting and Pain Management an Example

Diary

The above “diary” is a condensed version of one of the notebooks I was keeping at the time to record my symptoms and what triggered them. Oddly its a very motivating read as I can see just how far I’ve come and I can also look at it during flare ups and realise I’m not back at the bottom of the ladder yet!

When I looked at my notebooks I realised that I was incorporating 3 key strategies to help me break the vicious cycle described above – distraction, pacing and goal setting…. all of those can be used to help you build some craft time into rest periods whether you are recovering from an acute illness or operation or living with a long term condition. I’ll explain how each technique works and then show you how crafting fits in:

Distraction

This technique works by taking your mind off the situation you are in,and removes the focus from the illness and how it affects you.It effectively breaks the arrows that link pain, fatigue and depression by cutting right through the middle. This is because your mind is absorbed and you are focusing on something outside of yourself  – so the symptoms recede to the back of your mind and become less important. Therefore you have taken back control and are able to do something about your situation.

Crafting is brilliant for this because it requires both physical skill and imagination, which keeps the brain very well occupied! When you create something, you first start with an idea, a picture in your mind which you can focus on – result, less pain as your brain is tuning into something different. As you take the idea and start making it into something concrete your hands are busy – you’re using a wide variety of motor skills, again keeping that brain occupied, so again the symptoms are staying put at the back of your mind! Time tends to pass more quickly too as you are not clock watching and waiting for the next dose of medication….

From the groups I am involved with, my clients often talk about how crafting is helping them deal with symptoms from pain through poor concentration to depression and other major mental illnesses. They all say apart from the opportunity to get together and chat to other, that it really takes their mind off things. I hope that I can gain permission to write up a couple of individual case studies as this series develops so that you can “hear” similar stories from others.

Stitchlinks

If you want to understand the science behind distraction and therapeutic crafting,  Betsan Corkhill is a physiotherapist who has set up an organisation called Stitchlinks, to support people with long term illness who  use craft in this way. She has been involved in many research projects and even runs conferences. Even if you don’t want to sign up for anything the site is well worth a visit and I promise you’ll learn alot!

Pacing

In one of my notebook entries, I said ” my shoulders seem to be more painful, perhaps I need to have some rest breaks” This is the one “danger” of distraction, that you get so into what you are doing that you overdo things and forget to rest and that is where pacing comes in!

Pacing is important because trying to continue living your life as you did before, means you quickly come unstuck! When you start pacing yourself it can seem restrictive and frustrating but over time it allows you to gradually and sensibly increase what you are able to achieve, without putting your body into flare ups. However if you can pace yourself then you start to notice small improvements in what you can do.

Pacing isn’t easy though and sometimes its fine to say “I’m doing what I want today” and just go and enjoy yourself, whilst having planned a rest day a day or so later. Pacing works by never pushing your body to the point where your symptoms worsen, which can be difficult when your symptoms fluctuate or you have a flare up / relapse as you do need to start virtually from scratch again.

How Do I Pace Myself?

Using my example I developed shoulder pain after around 40mins stitching. So I knew that was my limit at the time.

To reduce the likelihood of pain I halved the time I stitched to 20 mins and took 10 min stitch breaks initially. Over time I was then able to up the time I stitched by 5mins a week i.e. 20mins per session week 1, 25 mins per session  week 2 etc, but I kept the 10min rest period. Once I could stitch comfortably for 40 mins at a time with no pain I was happy. However if I had wanted to continue to up my stitching time, I could have continued to add on 5 min increments, but in this case it wasn’t necessary.

However when I swim I continue to add lengths and reduce the rest period between lengths – so currently I can do 6 x 2 lengths but my aim is to swim 3 x 4 lengths and then once I have fewer rest breaks increase the distance by 1 length at a time.

 

Goal setting

This is the key to using the tools I’ve described above. The idea is to take a long term goal and break it down into weekly or even daily steps that you know are achievable. Goals must be something you know are within reach over time, otherwise you are setting yourself up to fail and you end up feeling more depressed and hopeless. I know I’ve done that many a time and its really not worth going there!  I usually aim to do an activity 2-4 times in the week. Why? Because I would need to plan for bad days, perhaps the great British weather and family stuff  – so I make my goals achievable by being realistic about my condition and the demands on my time. Goals also need to be measurable – have a set target in terms of time, distance or the amount of work you plan to do.

A personal example, which isn’t crafty is my swimming programme

Long term goal 1: Swim 6 x 50m lengths of the pool within 3 months

Where I was at: I was able to get into the pool, do my physio programme and swim 20m before I was exhausted

Goal 1: To swim 2x weekly and increase the distance from 20 to 25m over 2 weeks

Goal 2: To swim 2x weekly and increase the distance from 25 to 50m over 2 weeks – swim 2x half lengths

Goal 3: To swim 2 x weekly and increase the distance from 50 to 150m over 4 weeks – swim 3 lengths

Goal 4: To swim 2x weekly and increase the distance from 150m to 300m over 4 weeks – swim 6 length

Did I achieve it – yes and in under the 3 months I allowed as I paced myself carefully and added on an extra half length each time I swam.

I’m currently swimming just below this target as I’m recovering from a flare up and viral infection so when I swam last week I made sure I was aware of my body and my fatigue levels and reduced the distance accordingly. I have also changed pools to one which is both warmer and cheaper, so am now in a 25m pool, so need to swim 12 length to reach my target. Next time I go I will assess how I am after 8 lengths and if not too tired will add a 9th.

I hope this post has helped, my aim was to to demonstrate to my readers that crafting can help you change your focus when you are going through as rough spell, whatever that might be and to explain how the tools I use work, so that you can apply them to your day to day life. You don’t need a long term illness to use them either, as we all tend to have extremely busy lives these days and often don’t take the time out we need to rest or do things we enjoy.