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Mental Health Awareness Week -How Craft helps mental wellbeing

24 May

On this final day of Mental Health Awareness Week we wanted to have a look at stitching and how it has been more than just a hobby for well over a century.
People sew for all kinds of different reasons – creative, emotional, financial or necessity. So how did embroidery become such a force in redefining perceptions of masculinity, femininity and disability? And when it was realized over 100 years ago how great an impact such a craft could have on mental wellbeing, how is it that it is no longer taught outside of specialist schools and colleges, but is being taught in prisons?

After the traumas of WW1 the benefits of wounded servicemen learning embroidery became clear, but this happened against a backdrop of resistance from much of the establishment amidst concern about traditional men’s values and places in society. The support for the practice grew, in part encouraged by the Royal Family and in time by society as a whole. The skills learned matched the improvement in mental health after one of the most traumatic periods of our history and today in prisons, people serving long sentences for serious crimes are finding a form of therapy in stitching everything from cushions to bags – again for both the mental wellbeing and the financial opportunities.

Above: A quilt stitched by men from the Disabled Soldiers’ Embroidery Industry (www.ernestthesiger.org) and below, an altar frontal for the private Chapel at Buckingham Palace, commissioned by the Queen and worked by men of the Disabled Soldiers’ Embroidery Industry. These men went on to produce top class work which provided many with much-needed income as well as both physical and mental therapy after the war.

The Disabled Soldiers’ Embroidery Industry was supported from its foundation in 1918 by the (then newly established) Royal School of Needlework who continue to educate stitchers to the current day (www.royal-needlework.org.uk)

Appletons is proud to be associated with Fine Cell, who give prisoners an opportunity to boost self- esteem, learn self-calming techniques and even earn some money by the same methods employed one hundred years ago in post-war Britain. Have a look at some of the stunning creations below:

All images below courtesy of Fine Cell

Rainbow design by Bridie Hall

This is what Fine Cell have to say about stitching in lockdown:

During this period of lockdown, the therapeutic benefits of our work have never been more crucial. Prisoners are being locked in their cells for as many as 23 hours a day. Having meaningful activity to keep them occupied is a real lifeline for our stitchers.

For more information about how to support this work whilst creating the most beautiful kits, go to www.finecellwork.co.uk