Although I’ve been a maker since childhood, I wholeheartedly embraced The Maker’s Year, an idea proposed by Kate of the A Playful Day podcast to cultivate a slower, more sustainable life through daily acts of making. No matter how instinctive making was to me, The Maker’s Year gave me an opportunity to slow down and reflect on what making in its various forms means to me and how it connects me with myself, my tribe, the past, the future, society, the material world… As life has a habit of taking over, little did I realise at the start of last year that making would come to mean a lot more.
It took me a while to realise that something was wrong. It started with pain in my joints and back and feeling tired all the time. It was not the first time I had felt such aches so initially I put it down to post-dissertation malaise. I’ve juggled enough brutal workloads and crippling deadlines to know that my body falls into a slump once they’ve passed. But the weeks and months dragged on, the pain got worse and the fatigue became more debilitating. Activities I previously took for granted (grocery shopping, cooking, showering,…) would leave me exhausted and aggravated the pains in my hands, feet and back. Running errands in town would wipe me out for days. Even writing, my key métier and first love, was a struggle due to brain fog and sore wrists.
Getting a doctor to listen let alone reaching a diagnosis took months and in the meantime I had to drop activities I had previously enjoyed as I couldn’t hold the tools and materials or struggled to travel to the venue. My world shrunk and my productivity dwindled.
During the months of pain, fatigue and extreme frustration at my limitations, making was key to me retaining my sanity. It allowed me to accentuate what I could do rather than what I couldn’t. It helped me recognise little pockets of productive energy; find ways to maximise these; explore the world in microcosm through making; understand first-hand some of the sustainability dilemmas and behaviour change conundrums I had been studying in an academic context.
Pottery was no longer an option as my hands weren’t strong enough to control the clay and the damp material exacerbated the pain. I was deeply disappointed as I love this age-old craft. Rather than dwell on the loss, I tried my hand at spinning instead and realised that on good days I had enough strength and control in my hands and feet to manipulate the fibre and peddle the wheel. Also, I discovered I was using analogous skills and deriving comparable pleasures from the process of spinning as I did from pottery.
Following my rationing experiment I needed to restock my wardrobe but pain and fatigue meant getting to shops and pulling clothes on and off would leave me reeling for days. If I had more ‘typical’ dimensions – more about that another time! – I could have ordered clothes online, but as life became a constant act of balancing “energy in for result out”, I decided that making my own would be the easiest course of action so I dusted off my sewing skills. Breaking dressmaking down into small tasks (pattern copying, fabric cutting, stitching different parts of a garment, hand finishing…) helped the learning process but it also allowed me to set tiny feasible objectives and achieve them. This may sound trivial but a sense of achievement is important when battling the psychological strain of a chronic condition.
Keeping my brain active and engaged has also been a challenge but essential for managing the frustration. Acquiring practical new skills, which I can develop in the peace and quiet of my own home, has been invaluable! Learning the basics of bookbinding and natural dyeing has allowed me to to produce practical things tailored to my life and tastes, learn about old techniques and explore a range of materials. Both these skills also lend themselves particularly well to little pockets of activity. Not only do both consist of distinct steps (making covers, folding signatures, steeping dye material, mordanting…), taking it steady actually often improves the finished product, whether through properly pressing covers or allowing wool to cool slowly.
After many slow and painful months, I received a diagnosis (fibromyalgia) and advice about how to manage the symptoms. Knowing what I am dealing with has definitely allowed me to turn the corner. Gone are the days when my only act of making was boiling up some fresh soup or baking a loaf.
The Maker’s Year (together with the sense of community Kate fostered around it) was a godsend for me in 2016, and not just because it offered an opportunity for me to celebrate little acts of making in very trying times. As the fibromyalgia made it harder to write (the creative act that normally come so intuitively to me), #themakersyear gave me a focus for micro-blogging. In the darker days when 600-900 words were beyond me, I could keep my writing muscles and brain firing with 150-word posts on Instagram.
This year, I am hoping for less pain, more energy and another deeply experienced Maker’s Year. The act of making will continue to be a way to understand and explore the world, an outlet for my creative impulses and a practical way of satisfying daily needs but it will also be a tool in managing a chronic condition and a barometer of improvements.
Whatever your motivation for or manner of making is, I wish you a very happy Maker’s Year in 2017!