GUEST POST: Arts & Crafts in London – How Being Creative Makes you Happy

Note from Sasha: I was introduced to Hannah Bullivant’s blog Seeds and Stitches through a comment she left on this blog, and I was blown away by her beautiful photos, her creativity, sense of style and the gorgeous way she decorates her flat. When I was young (too young!) I was told by a teacher at Primary School  that I was crap at art and so I stopped drawing pictures and making houses out of cardboard boxes. But I think its sad the world splits us up into creatives and non-creatives. Whenever I do anything arty – painting a plantpot or making someone a birthday card – I really enjoy it. I want to introduce more creativity into my life so I asked Hannah for some thoughts on how to get creative in London and I love what she’s come up with. In the meantime, I’ve been invited to a the craft group Hannah mentions below (formerly called Stitch n Bitch), which sounds fabulous, and  I’ve signed up to a choir too. Ha!  

Hannah Bullivant is a South East Londoner, freelance writer and blogger, lover of ethical style. She spends her time navigating around the 9-5 by making stuff, collecting old junk, playing country living in the city and tracking down London’s best cocktail, afternoon tea, curry, brunch. She writes for Amelia’s magazine and for her blog Seeds And Stitches.

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Easy peasy farm animal cupcakes (blogged here)

There is something weirdly but undeniably satisfying about using your hands to do something. Whether it’s carving a table or just chopping your carrots in a fancy way, it feels good.

Fabric bread bag originally blogged here

Ken Robinson, in a hugely popular talk about creativity, advocates that we are all born with a natural creative instinct, but that this instinct is bludgeoned out of us by stifling educational and corporate structures. I really believe this; have you ever met a kid that doesn’t like making things? You may not be an ‘Artist’ but I bet that you partake in little acts of making with your hands every day, you just may not label them as such. Ever been tickled after a particularly satisfying dishwasher stack? Or reveled in the act of writing instead of typing? Derived an odd sense of achievement after folding your pillowcases perfectly? (or is that just me?!) Enjoyed signing something with a particularly elaborate swirl? And – ok – chopping your carrots in perfect parallelograms may not mean you are the next Turner prize winner but it does demonstrate that we at least have the capacity to be a bit crafty. Even if it’s on the sly. And I happen to think that if more people were able to spend just a little more time making stuff, we’d all be a bit happier. Because it is satisfying having control of a little project, from start to finish, something most of us can’t do in the rest of our lives. It is satisfying creating something that actually looks half decent. Even if it doesn’t look half decent. It is satisfying saving money and feeling smug about ‘doing it yourself’.

Cupcake/Muffin flags made from old envelopes. Tutorial originally written for Anelia’s Magazine here

I should clarify that I am not a craft expert. I sometimes write about craft. I occasionally partake in it myself. But an artisan I most certainly am not. I actually only know the basics of most things, but I’ve learned that its about how to cobble those basics together. For example, I only know how to sew straight lines with my sewing machine. But with those straight lines I’ve made dresses, quilts, curtains, cushion covers and table-cloths. I only know how to do one crochet stitch (the granny square- and that isn’t even the name of a stitch!) but I have used that to make a cushion cover and (nearly) make a blanket. And it is quite amazing what a bit of sanding and painting will do a cheap looking bit of furniture. I now cant think of anything nicer than being sat at my sewing machine whilst listening to the Radio 4 Women’s Hour podcast, or a TED talk. And err, no, I’m not in my 60’s. I’m in my twenties. But the point is that making these things makes me happy, and if I can make stuff, so can you.

The start of my Crochet blanket originally blogged here

David Gauntlett, author of making is connecting’ argues that when we make things we connect; with our materials, with others, and ultimately with the world around us. All this connecting, he argues, leads to greater citizen engagement and increased happiness because happiness is strongly associated with our connections with others, and engagement with our own projects. He concludes Happiness has to be worked towards, and it flows from action, not passivity.”

Some stuffed vegetables I made for my baby half brother, originally blogged here

In my experience, I would certainly agree that ‘making is connecting’. I am part of an online craft community which is full of lovely people who are more than willing to share their skills with others. We share inspiration on Pinterest, write free tutorials and encourage each other on our blogs. This craft community is also growing all the time; there are approximately 300,000 shops on the online handmade marketplace Etsy, thousands and thousands of craft blogs, and literally millions of accounts on the photography site Flickr. And lots of these people are beginners or self taught. And I’ve learned a few things from this community too. You don’t have to be an interior designer to be able to make your house look nice. You don’t have to be a knitwear aficionado to learn how to cast on. And you don’t have to be a fashion designer to learn how to understand a dress pattern. You just might need to be shown how to do it by someone.

Simple Spring garland, originally blogged here

I don’t, however, want to give an idealised rose-tinted view of ‘the power of creation’ (blah blah). It is mostly satisfying, but it can also be fraught with frustration. Sometimes my sewing machine just does not play ball for no apparent reason, often right at the end of a project, when I’ve stayed up till 3am to finish it. My husband has since dubbed the way I sometimes (ahem) react to this – swearing, throwing fabric across the room, and, slightly embarrassingly, occasionally crying – as sewing rage’. But the pleasure in seeing something coming together, and then looking at the finished object, even with all its faults, at 4am, with huge bags under my eyes, having emptied the entire contents of my fabric shelves across the room, is unrivalled. Learning how to take clothes in or let them out, depending on my current commitment to my exercise regime, has also been an incredibly useful money saving skill, as has the ability to make Birthday presents, Christmas cards, anniversary gifts etc. A pleasant side affect is that I have also discovered that I am able to relax in a way other than slouched in front of a box set with a glass of wine in my pyjamas. I reserve a special place in my heart for this very activity, I just do it a lot less.

Potato stamping article originally written for Amelia’s Magazine here

Where to learn

There are oodles of new crafty venues popping up all over the UK where you can learn how to make things like jewelry or knickers or a candle, typically in just one afternoon. Be warned though, I don’t think its possible to really learn to how make a dress, no matter how simple it is, in one day. But these venues are perfect for a girly afternoon of making in a quaint room often festooned in bunting and accompanied by afternoon tea (they make a killing from hen parties, I imagine).

But I am reserving my most passionate (and less girly) recommendation for local community colleges. I am currently doing a tailoring course at Lewisham College where I am finally learning how to understand all those fiddly instructions and faffy bits of paper that form a dress pattern. Glam it is not. No afternoon tea in mismatched china for me. But its cheap, I am supporting my local community, and I actually learn how to do something over a considerable amount of time (15 weeks for only £120!) Lots of community colleges are also facing closures and cuts so it’s a good time to show them your support. If you are unsure if you have one near you, check your councils website and look for ‘adult and community education’. I was flabbergasted to find courses in everything from balloon art to woodwork, upholstery, tailoring, yoga, gardening, cookery and floristry; there really is something for everyone, and all offered on your door step.

 Learning how to make the collar for my dress a Lewisham College

A few resources (please chime in in the comments if you know of a good course or website):

Craft venues in London

Craft groups in London, open to new members and beginners

Online resources

Direct Gov might be able to help you toward a local community college http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/AdultLearning/DG_96

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7 responses to “GUEST POST: Arts & Crafts in London – How Being Creative Makes you Happy

  1. Great post. I have recently rediscovered my craftiness and it is a huge source of joy in my otherwise mundane 9-5 world. Thanks also for all the great resources. It is on my list of things to do to join up with a craft group – perhaps one were I can learn to crochet…

  2. Fingersdavies

    You were great at art-full of life but your mother decorated the cardboard boxes. The teacher who said you were crap was a physco-I wish I had known at the time. I’dhave beaten her up!

  3. There are a lot of craft groups / knitting groups/ meeting in pubs search the internets or meet up for groups where you can get free craft tuition. Its much easier learning to knit or crochet in person. In Edinburgh http://www.grannygreens.co.uk meets every monday and is drop in.

  4. I ‘discovered’ that I love to make stuff and making stuff makes me happy while doing night shift. Many hours of needing to stay awake and occupy my hands and mind allowed me to realise that I love making stuff. It’s relaxing, it meditative and it’s productive. Great post.

  5. How very very true. I used to find time to make all sorts of things but got distracted by a stupidly hectic job. I’ve just started to do some dressmaking again and realised how happy it makes me to just do stuff with my hands…..I feel like I’m starting to get my mojo back. Work sucks! It just gets in the way of things. Now, to buy that lottery ticket….

  6. Pingback: Crafting = Happy « I ripple. I dance.

  7. Pingback: Happiness is… Using your hands « whoblogtheworld

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