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Crafting something from basic materials is a rewarding activity for anyone. When you have made something “from scratch”, you develop a sense of intrinsic accomplishment and pride. In addition to the pure joys of making, there is the final physical object that you can use and display. Crafting and art-making is good for you, and can be used in a therapeutic manner.

A child makes a piece of felt.

When people make new things, they need to focus. When people learn new crafting skills they coordinate their minds, hands, and memory to work in synch. People with short attention spans, various levels of learning abilities, or who find it difficult to connect with the world can develop their focus and connections. I have seen this seemingly magic process in classrooms, where I have taught workshops in felt-making and sewing. Little children with major problems really do love learning, and hunger for the sense of accomplishment achieved when they learn a new skill and have something exciting to share with their parents after class. This sort of craft-therapy is useful to increase children’s engagement with the idea of learning. Focus is a skill that can be exercised like a muscle. The more a child uses the “focus muscle”, the better they are able to use this “muscle” in “sports” other than crafting… it really becomes one of their skill-sets.

A child shows off his weaving.

Crafting in a therapeutic manner also increases a person’s ability to connect with others, to adapt into the role of being a student (or a teacher, for that matter). Problem-solving as one navigates learning the new (yet often traditional) techniques of crafting creates team-building, forms human connections, and encourages storytelling. An example: A group of teenagers get together to learn how to knit. There are problems at first, some of the kids don’t want to be “Grannies”. One of the kids becomes a bit of a leader, saying “Well, I loved my Granny. She was cool.” The kids settle down, reminisce, share some stories, and help one another with their knitting. They have formed connections with their past and with one another, and are acting both as students and teachers as they learn their new (old) craft.

Very young children learn how to sew by hand.

Development of fine motor skills and hand/eye/mind coordination is another benefit to crafting and art-making. Obviously, if one takes a pencil or paintbrush in one’s hand and applies it to paper, there is a cause and effect. The artist is making something. The artist sees what happens when they move their hand a certain way. They try it again, a little bit differently this time, and see the changes. They register this change, and with practice the movements and effects become skills of which they are more in control.

Through art and craft therapy, people learn new skills, feel pride, and reconnect with traditions and a sense of history. They develop hand/eye/mind coordination and learn to focus. Crafters can work in teams or groups to teach others their skills. Crafting is social, fun, and a beneficial activity. As a person who has led several arts and crafts workshops with all sorts of people, I must say that the idea of a career as an Art Therapist is an exciting one!

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

The book Random, Absurd Poetry is an externally bound book. You can see excerpts from this book on this website.

We’re getting into the crunch-time for gifts, be they DIY or store-bought. We all love DIY gifts… but who wants to shop for supplies right now? It’s mayhem out there! One thing you can make out of simple materials that you might have on hand, is a book.

A book’s construction has three basic elements: the covers, the pages inside, and some sort of binding-method. I won’t go into the intricacies of book-binding here, but I will suggest some simple ideas for book-making.

A long strip of paper glued together, and a couple of covers form a simple book.

When I took a book-making course back in college, the very first book we made was a zig-zag accordion format book. Basically, we took pieces of paper and glued them together to form a long strip, then folded that strip into a zig-zag. We then cut some hard board to a little larger than the folded pages, and glued the accordion of paper inside the two covers. Simple.

You could leave the book blank, or fill it with art, poetry, a story... etc.

Another idea for simple book-making is to just staple. Make your cover, make some pages for inside, and add a couple of staples to “bind” them all together. A lot of poets and underground zine publishers use this method to make their books.

A little more fancy idea, but very beautiful, is to create an external binding. I have three examples of this: in one, my friend used an elastic and a stick to bind his book. In the two others I used materials to “sew” the covers and pages together.

This poetry Chapbook is small, just a few pages held together with two staples.

Now, as for the covers, I do recommend a board that is not soft and mushy like corrugated cardboard. However, if that’s all you have, then perhaps gluing a couple of pieces together would be sturdy enough to use. You can cover the covers of your book with decorative paper or fabric, just wrap it like a present. On the insides of the covers glue another piece of paper on top to cover the ugly-bits nicely. Really take a good look at some of your older, bound books. You’ll see a real artistry to it. One of these days, maybe in February, I’ll go over some more intricate book-binding options.

My friend's book on the left, my book on the right. Just punch holes through the covers and insides of the book, and you can bind.

The insides of the book? That’s up to you! You could share a favorite family story, a children’s story, draw a cartoon, paste some photographs… share some favorite poems, or leave it blank. Everyone needs notebooks!

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

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