Trauma Teddies for the Middle East

Trauma Teddies in Action

Image from Teddies for Tragedies

As we are all too aware from the news, the situation in the Middle East is pretty dire – I don’t want to get into the politics of the situation, that’s not the aim of this post – so please refrain from leaving politically motivated comments!

As with any conflict there are children involved, and some of them have seen things, heard things and experienced things that we as adults wouldn’t even want to think about. Many have lost their homes, their toys and perhaps even their entire family. And its hard to imagine what would bring them comfort…. but there is something – a small knitted or crocheted bear to love can make all the difference.

And that is where you, dear readers can help…. we all have that dreaded thing called a yarn stash… it lurks in cupboards, bags and boxes, and often we end up with odds and ends we can’t think how to use up…… so grab your hook, a pair of needles and some DK yarn, download one of the free patterns below and get clicking!

And once you have made your bear, (if you are local to Southampton, I may be able to collect it), then please post it to the address below, where the lovely people concerned will make sure the bear is well loved by a small person who needs him or her:

The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hampshire, GU32 9DL phone no. 01730 267673.

I’m planning to hold a couple of social crafty sessions for friends so we can have a natter and make our bears – why not host a Teddy Making Party of your own or ask people at a group you attend or at your local church if they would like to join you?


teddypattern crochet– Please note this is a pattern I have converted from the knitting pattern – I would appreciate it if you could let me know if I have made any mistakes so I can improve it!

teddypattern knitting  – this pattern is supplied by

Hopefully Creative 4 – Positive Mental Wellbeing Through Craft

If you have read my post you will be aware that I work with people who experience mental health issues. We use craft therapeutically in the group and encourage people to continue to work on their projects at home. The group is very much lead by what the service users feel they would like to do, so sometimes the group work freely on their own projects, other times we split the session into a 1 hour workshop, followed by an hour of “free time”, working on individual projects.

Its World Mental Health Day on Friday and this seems to be an ideal time to share some of my experiences of working with people who experience difficulties in this area. Its worth bearing in mind that around 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health problems in our lives. That statistic picks up the people who are recognised and diagnosed, but there are many more of us who struggle with the stress of day to day life and know there are times when life seems to have the upperhand. So this post isn’t for people who are ill and their carers, it isn’t for mental health professionals, its for everyone….

How does the Group Work?

We congregate around a round table at the end of the room with our knitting and crochet. Some sessions are run as a 2 hour workshop which includes a lunch break, others are 2 hours working on individual projects and sometimes we run a 1 hour focused workshop, followed by an hour working on individual project. Its very much lead by the needs of the group, who arrives for the session and what was negotiated in the previous session. The group is very fluid with some longer term members, others who dip in and out and some who come for the odd session. Although I have a session plan this is very flexible

We also have people who attend the drop in who will come and sit with us but choose not to craft. This is ok as sometimes they are getting the courage to join in or they may need to talk and prefer to share their problems with a group of people who are apparently absorbed in other things…its less threatening than a one to one with a trained listener I think. This encourages the group to listen and share their experiences and make suggestions based on how they have handled similar situations.

How Does Crafting Help?

From the foundation of Broadmoor and perhaps before, crafting has been documented as a strategy for helping people who are suffering from mental illness. In the days before medication it was felt to help people keep calm, focused and to give a sense of purpose and achievement. A recent Channel 5 documentary really opened my eyes to this surprisingly humane approach that developed in response to the previously draconian and abusive conditions of previous mental health establishments in the 15th – early 19th C.

However crafting seemed to go out of favour over time, with the desire to move away from the “basket weaving Occupational Therapy sessions” that seemed to get a bad name back in the late 70s, early 80s. But in recent years, partly due to the work of Betsan Corkhill at Stitch Links who has set up and developed an online forum plus multiple research projects which demonstrate why crafting works as a therapy. For some, like Laura Rutter of Vintage Princess it has played such a significant role in recover that it becomes a livelihood.

The following diagram has been developed from a combination of verbal reporting and the observations of myself and other staff / volunteers

Benefits of Crafting

Concentration – when you are depressed, anxious or hearing voices it is hard to focus on anything. However members of the craft group ave all  commented that they get lost in the “rhythm” of the work as it is repetitive and find that they can stay on task for longer, with time extending as their skills improve

Relaxation – Knitting and crochet are repetitive activities that have a soothing effect, they also work as a distraction. Group members report being able to relax more at home when crafting

Distraction – Having an alternative activity takes the focus off how you feel, the majority of group members say they experience fewer negative thoughts when crafting, one lady also reported that the voices she hears are far less troublesome when knitting.

Sense of Purpose – it is often difficult to feel motivated when ill, so having something to focus on that has an end result is helpful as it helps the person set small achievable goals to work towards. This varies from person to person so I always have a wide range of patterns with me, some specially designed for the group to give members a focus. Its great to see the changes that happen slowly over the months as people gradually achieve more

Increased Confidence – loss of confidence is a huge problem for many of the clients, partly due to the effects of their illness on them and partly due to the social isolation and losses they have faced through becoming ill. Working on a project with a purpose and achieving an end result provides a much needed boost and members start to look better, interact more and choose projects that challenge them. As the tutor I have a responsibility when choosing projects for group tutorials or working with individuals to select a project  that encourages and build self esteem.

Problem Solving – as people become more confident, I work with them on identifying and correcting mistakes in their work. This helps develop problem solving skills as we explore options and approaches and the person takes on more responsibility for this over time. The group also helps in another way, as members often share their problems and others then share experiences and solutions. I think one of the reasons this works so well is that people feel less exposed about talking when they are busy working on something at the same time.

Social Skills / Communication Skills – when people become ill their confidence in social settings and their ability to communicate effectively with others can be affected. Within the group we have some simple ground rules about turn taking when asking for help, respecting the needs of others, not interfering with another persons work and so on. This helps re-establish social skills and people have reported feeling more confident in other settings as a result. We also do alot of listening as people open up and we are often joined by others from the drop -in who sit with us and chat. Doing a hobby in a social setting is a great way to meet people and make connections too and the long term hope is that some people will feel able to join local knit and natter groups or participate in formal lessons.

What Do I Get From Running This Group?

I enjoy crafting and I enjoy working with people, especially those who like myself, face challenges in daily life. I’m writing this post from bed as I’m in the middle of a pain flare which has sent my muscles off on strike for better pay and conditions. I’m finding it frustrating but I know that there is an end point where I will start to improve and I have more time for crafting because there ain’t much I can do at the moment. I was very fortunate to have been a nurse and then worked in the field of Self Management for 5 years before my illness deteriorated to the point where paid work became virtually impossible. Craft gave me hope, as did the skills I’d picked up over the years. skills I know that can help others who face daily battles with any long term condition.

This group gives me the opportunity to indulge my passions for crafting, teaching and working with others. I can use my experiences and skills when we talk things over to give alternative perspectives and also develop ways to pass on those skills like goal setting and problem solving in a softer way through craft. I’ve faced a lot of the problems through physical illness that people experience with mental health issues, such as isolation, loss of confidence, loss of friendships and its a horrible place to be. I’ve survived post-natal depression and had odd bouts of depression since that have needed medication. I’ve been so totally stressed by life that I had to find new ways to live in order to survive. And I am grateful for a conversation with a friend about 8 years ago that lead me to eventually finding a better way, developing a relationship with God ( no I don’t evangelise through work as that isn’t appropriate in this setting) and that taught me to understand myself better, to see myself differently and my journey to the place I am today where I realise that I still have something to give, even if my legs periodically tend to think otherwise. It would be selfish would it not, to keep all that to myself?

Handmade Monday 188 – What Happens in a Class?

Welcome to this week’s Handmade Monday – pop over to Handmade Harbour and treat yourself to an hour or so browising the work of some very talented crafters and artists.


I’ve realised that although I spend alot of my time teaching I rarely blog about what happens in a class! So I’m aiming to change that in the coming weeks.

Today I’ll give a brief overview of the various classes that are running and the sort of things we do

Open to All

Beginners Crochet – Starts 13.10. 14 @ Hedge End, 7:30pm – 9:30pm

wpid-20140303_195614.jpgIn beginners classes there is usually a mixture of people, from those who have never picked up a hook in their lives to those who have learned a bit off the net or who crocheted years ago but have forgotten how to get going again.

For the purposes of this post I’ll focus on the 1st week: We start by finding the best way to hold the hook and yarn for you – I start by teaching the best way, both right and left handed and then work with individuals who are struggling to find a technique that is best for them. It might be holding the hook differently or threading your hand another way with the yarn. We then move on and practice chain stitch. When everyone is confident they are able to manage that, we start on the 1st lesson proper – making a granny square. I choose the granny square because the foundation chain doesn’t need to be perfect as its hidden inside the centre and its  a popular thing to make. Once you have mastered it you can go on to create anything from handbags to cushions to blankets. To achieve this we then learn slip stitch, joining a chain to make a ring and treble crochet, plus how to put them all together to make a square. After the 1sr couple of round I introduce pattern reading, so that the group start to get a handle on the abbreviations and how crochet patterns are written. I colour code the pattern and break each round down into manageable sections. Once we’ve covered this, I tend to find that those who have some crochet knowledge can work the following round with minimal support, giving me more time to work one to one or in a smaller group with those who need a bit more help. The ladies who are working more independently are not left to struggle however as I am on hand for them too. If the lesson is going well we also look at colour changes. The group is encouraged to practice at home, either starting another square from scratch or adding more rounds to their existing square. Practice between lessons is essential. We revise the granny square in week 2 and then move on to look at a variety of ways of joining them together.  Each week you receive a comprehensive learning pack that covers everything we have learned during the lesson. This builds into a beginners / improvers manual, including exclusive patterns that you can fall back on in the future.


Knit and Learn – Tuesdays, Bitterne Park, 7:30pm – 9:30pm

wpid-20131202_135408.jpgThis is a mixed ability group of beginners, improvers and more experienced knitters. There is usually a 1 hour workshop, followed by a further hour working on individual projects with support when needed. Handouts are supplied for any new techniques and beginners have access to the the full 6 week beginners manual. We are currently working on Christmas Decs as a group, with people learning colour work, shaping, experimenting with fun yarns and making up techniques, Individual projects include lace work baby blankets, hats, mitts, cardigans and fairisle squares for a blanket. We have recently covered blocking and mattress stitch as the large blanket is put together.


wpid-20131018_133210.jpgCrochet Thursdays – Various Dates, Eling Tide Mill Cafe, 7- 9pm

This group runs along the same lines as the Knit and Learn group, with a combination of beginners and improvers working on a range of projects. Sometimes the group chooses to have a 2 hour workshop, others we do an hour focusing on a specific technique and occasionally they all work individually and I float around the group to help. Beginners are welcome and you will get quite alot of individual attention. We usually meet once a month and the group is small and friendly. Currently we are making Christmas decorations and gifts. In the last session we created an amazing crochet rose!

Why not come along and joins us if you can! If you prefer to have individual lessons these are available too!

If you’d like to book a class, pop over to the events page and click the relevant link!


Specialist Groups

Headway Group

wpid-20140908_114913.jpgThis group is specifically for people who are living with an acquired brain injury. We have been running for 2 years and are now at a point where everyone is working individually on chosen projects in between sewing panels for a wall hanging quilt. Currently we have people learning to use sewing machines to make a variety of bags, loom knitting toys, crocheting fairies and sewing felt Christmas decs. The bag on the right is a box toiletries bag made by one of the men in the group. He has no use of his right side but is amazing on the sewing machine….this was very much a project where I was learning as I was teaching…. that’s one of the reasons I love this group so much, there’s always an interesting challenge and alot of fun!

Creative Options

wpid-20140729_110705.jpgThese are 2 specific groups for people experiencing enduring mental health issues. We work on a combination of small group projects such as a knitted / crocheted afternoon tea, egg cosies, Christmas Decs, flowers. The aim of the sessions are to build concentration, explore crafting as a way of managing symptom and to learn / extend skills. This group has a 50 /50 male female balance. Some members crochet and others prefer to knit. Not everyone wants to work on the group projects so the learning plan is flexible. Again learning packs and patterns are available to the group members. Many choose to work on their projects at home as a way of elevating mood, distracting themselves from troublesome symptoms and giving themselves a sense of achievement.


Workplace Groups

wpid-20140707_182146.jpgThese run over an hour and are based on the premise of supporting individuals with their chosen projects. I also supply handouts and offer a mini 15 min workshop covering a specific technique. Currently I have beginners crocheters learning to make granny squares or work from their 1st pattern, beginners knitters learning to make hats and flowers and more experienced knitters learning new techniques like the lace cast on and knitting on circulars using the magic loop.



I am of course busy working on commissions and getting some canvases made for an exhibition in December, as well as knitting for my gorgeous grandson…. I recently adapted a hoodie pattern and turned him into a very hungry caterpillar: