Mental Health and Making

Our Sustainable Apparel & Textiles Specialist Charlotte Turner shares her personal journey with mental health and how she found that making and crafting have helped.

This isn’t something that I tend to talk about, not from any feeling of shame or embarrassment, but simply because I don’t have the words to articulate it in person, but since my childhood I have struggled through mental health issues from depression to acute anxiety, and most recently grief and its associated mental health impacts following the sudden and completely unexpected death of my father just days before my 30th birthday. It was so sudden there was no goodbye, and it left me feeling bereft, heartbroken, lost, empty, angry, confused, and a million emotions in between. At the time I felt like a broken shell of a person that would never be fixed, and it is something I still find myself struggling to work through sometimes.

This profound loss has changed me and my outlook on life permanently, but I want to take a moment to acknowledge the positives that can be taken from the situation. I am constantly reminded of how precious life is, how important our individuality is, and also how incredible it is that we have the ability and creativity to express and help ourselves through making, creating and communicating, whatever guise that may take.

Through navigating my way through my grief, I have found my salvation in making, which has been instrumental in rediscovering joy in life, and in doing what others kept telling me to do, though I had no idea what they meant at the time – learning to ‘be kind to myself’. Now that I understand what that means, for me at least, it is something that I strongly believe everybody should be doing. We are only human, we all have our own struggles – nobody can or should be expected to be a superhero and pulled together all the time (and on that note I think it’s incredibly important that we don’t assume anybody’s life is perfect, no matter how pulled together they may seem). Even in the context of work, I am conscious that we are humans not robots (obviously), and as such being kind to ourselves and each other is so incredibly important. This includes taking time to properly switch off from work, to learn for fun, to pursue new hobbies and experiences – and to not beat ourselves up when we don’t meet the unobtainable ‘perfection’. Now I realise that not everybody will know how to sew, or consider themselves to be ‘crafty’, but that is absolutely not a roadblock to using creativity to positively impact your mental health, and there is nothing to stop us learning and experimenting. There are so many ways we can be creative, from writing, to gardening (including window boxes or indoor plants if you don’t have a garden), cooking and other everyday activities, to going to do an afternoon workshop on anything from calligraphy to spoon carving, candle making, terrarium making, crochet, block printing, and just about anything else you can think of. My passion for two decades has been textiles and sewing – I still find it absolutely magical that we can take a plant or even trash and turn it into a fabric, which can then become this 3D object that we mould to our own bodies and lives. I find it absolutely enchanting, so I have to also acknowledge how lucky I am that my job revolves around fashion and textiles. I studied fashion and learned a range of making skills which I used for work for some years, but then lay dormant for several years when they had begun to feel like work only, not fun – until I discovered how valuable they were to helping me through my grief.

So for me today, making consists of sewing, crochet, knitting, natural dyeing, weaving, contemporary embroidery and even shoe making – and soon I’ll be trying out printing, and would love to take up ceramics again. That isn’t to say I’m an expert at all of them (or any), or even particularly proficient at some – but they are challenges I have taken up and they have helped me to experiment with abandon and to move away from my perfectionist tendencies. There is something incredibly therapeutic about focusing on making something with your hands, and I would even go as far as to call it life-affirming. 

It’s also an interesting way to mix up our standard approach to life. I’m not a fan of cooking, but have discovered natural dyeing on the hob is a wonderful way to actually use my kitchen(!). And I had abandoned my attempts at knitting years ago, but today have an entire cardigan I knitted myself, and can actually wear. I never would have imagined I could achieve that. 

Something else that has been unexpected has been the effect it’s had on my self-confidence and pride. I really don’t like having my photo taken – I feel slightly uncomfortable having all eyes on me (unless I’m teaching), and am sometimes haunted, as much as I remind myself not to be, by ridiculous throwaway comments such as ‘you need stronger bone structure to be photogenic’ or ‘you have a weak hair line’ (a bizarre thing I was told in front of a group of beauty students when I used to get my hair cut for free at the hairdressing academy when I was studying myself – this is frankly the sort of comment which should have absolutely no bearing on anybody’s life and yet is irritatingly something I’ve never forgotten.)

But this year I decided to participate in #MeMadeMay which is a challenge to wear clothes that you have made yourself, and to learn about what makes you feel good and how you can have a more mindful wardrobe. Whilst I never would have imagined doing this I’m now sharing daily photos of myself because I feel proud to wear something that I made – awkward or not. And whilst I know that not everybody will want to make their own clothes, I do strongly feel that anybody’s life and confidence can be positively impacted by having fun through making and learning, and being creative in whatever way makes the individual happy.


Want to start on a DIY project? Read Charlotte’s guide on how to make natural fabric dye out of leftover avocado pits.