The Benefits of Crafting Therapy

Crafting therapy as a way to improve one’s outlook on life has been used by occupational therapists for decades. Besides improving motor skills and keeping hands and fingers supple and flexible, the simple pride of creating a finished product can be a huge moral booster.

Crafting also encourages self-expression, which so many people, young and old, have been discouraged from doing.

As an adult I’ve learned to turn to sewing and crafting therapy when life gets to be too much. If I’m not feeling great, or something has made me sad or angry, my favorite therapy is to sit in my tiny studio and work on my next upcycled garment, doll or doodad.

Like these scrap-a-whumpy hair adornments. I call them Frazzled Flossoms and they always make me smile.

crafting therapy

But it wasn’t always that way.

Labels Are Not Solutions

My mother was an artist. She loved to design things: wallpaper, clothing, gardens. As a small child she would give me scraps of fabric from her sewing projects and tell me to make dresses for my dolls. In our home there were always supplies at the ready to ward off childhood boredom and tantrums.

As I entered my early teens my parents sent me to a “good” boarding school in order to give me the education they never had, and to shield me from the marital problems they were having. The school was intensely focused on academics, but when it came to the creative arts it was pitifully lacking.

The buildings were grey. The school uniforms were grey. the teachers’ hair was grey. Eventually, my mood matched my environment, and I became severely depressed.

Nobody noticed, or if they did, nobody thought to give me some art supplies and tell me to go create something. My happiness just seeped away from me until all that was left was a puddle of sadness. As a result, I spent two weeks in the hospital recovering from a near-fatal overdose of allergy medication.

And still nobody thought to ease the problem of my melancholy by suggesting a simple creative pursuit. They merely labeled me “depressed,” gave me some (more) medication and told me to cheer up. “She’ll grow out of it,” they lied.

It took me literally decades to realize on my own that if I’m not creating something that feeds my soul on a regular basis, that grey color starts to pervade my world and things go downhill rapidly.

I’ve often wondered if the funding cuts to arts programs in schools have contributed to the sadness in the souls of some kids. “Mental health” is a buzz term, but what does it really mean?

crafting therapy

Can Crafting Therapy Make You Happier? 

A few years ago, feeling burned out and exhausted from all work and no play, I had a major epiphany about the psychological benefits of creativity in all its forms.

I began to explore different types of crafts and creative pursuits and my life began to change. I felt happier and happier as I allowed myself to start each day doing something creative and fun.

To me, being in good shape mentally is about having a cheerful outlook and feeling generally pretty good about most things. Yes, I’m still aware of life and all its problems of various sizes, but I am in a place where I know that somehow I’ll be able to navigate those waters.

Key to keeping on the sunny side of life is having a Personal Attitude Management System (PAMS). It’s something I made up as a form of self-intervention and it’s worked for me for several years now. The minute things start to go sideways and I begin thinking there’s no solution, I consult my list of things I like to do. Often I retreat to my tiny sewing room and pick up where I left off with my last project.

upcycled tunic dress

For you it may be different. Talking a walk, grabbing coffee with a friend or petting an animal could all be valid ways to manage your own attitude to life.

Try this. On a day when you’re feeling pretty good, make a list of things you like to do, and use it to distract yourself from negative thinking. Anything that makes you feel better than you did a minute ago could be added to your PAMS list.

Make sure to include some creative pursuits that you enjoy doing.  Yes, of course making fluffy pancakes counts! There are all kinds of activities that can come under the heading of crafting therapy. Even fixing a car or cleaning out a horse stable would be therapeutic to some people.

After all, it’s your mood, so do whatever works for you. Even 5 minutes doing something that makes you smile can improve your whole day.

But What If Things Are Really, Really Bad?

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, something’s happened that’s made you feel miserable and none of your PAMS are working. Things just suck and you don’t see an immediate solution. (This happens to me when I watch the news. I have banned myself from that particular activity.)

We’ve all heard heartbreaking stories of people taking their own lives (as my mother eventually did) or worse, taking others’ lives along with them. Clearly, the point of intervention was missed a while back.

If everything in your life is looking like a dog’s breakfast and nothing is working, it’s important to Reach. Out. For. Help.

Reaching out for help needs to be on your PAMS list. It’s a must.It’s the one thing my mother didn’t know how to do. Back in 1973 there really weren’t many resources available where we lived. Talking about your marital problems wasn’t done. If you did, you were told in hissed tones to “pull yourself together” and get on with your lot in life.

Even today, when stigmas (for the most part) are being lifted, it can be hard to find someone who’ll listen to you empathetically without judging. And professional therapy can be pricey.

There is one service – TalkSpace – that I think does a good job of filling that role. TalkSpace can connect you with someone who is professional and who cares. You’ll get your own counselor and you can even text them on the fly – great for students or people who are always on the go. As the mother of three teens headed for college I find it comforting to know that services like this are available.

So whatever your passion, however you find your bliss, just remember to do it, and to do it often. Don’t deny yourself the right to a cheerful outlook on life. It’s yours to have and yours to share joyfully.

How about you? What’s your favorite crafting therapy? Let me know in the comments below.

Hugs (no really, I mean it. Hugs.)


P.S. Sometimes I get paid for advertising on my site. I want you to know that every word I write is my own personal opinion. And writing these articles for you to read is HIGH up on my PAMS list. 😉

P.P.S If sewing and crafting with upcycled materials is your muse, come join our Facebook group. We’ll do our best to keep you grinning.

P.P.S. Try my free upcycled tunic tutorial. It might make you smile.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been feeling unfulfilled the last few years…perhaps partially due to menopause and partially unhappy in my marriage. I began teaching myself sewing and found that my outlook on life became brighter! I’ve since become quite the handbag maker! I’m now trying to shift gears a bit and get into clothing for my granddaughter’s “Our Generation” doll. I read your review of books and ordered the Doll Day’s book along with Sophia’s Dressform. I also love shopping at thrift stores where I find used leather for my handbags. I’ll now start keeping my eye out for clothes that I can upcycle into doll clothes!

    1. Hi Nellie,

      I am so happy to have been able to provide some inspiration! Yes, I find crafting and sewing to be so therapeutic, especially if I am recycling scraps of fabric to make new things! Come and join us in our upcycled clothing and crafts Facebook group – we have about 4,000 members!

      Warmly, Mandy