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.
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.