Having featured Stitching Out Stigma on the blog, I thought a post about a textiles and mental health project here in Leeds would follow on nicely. Stitch-Up have been doing loads of exciting projects round the city, including Strength in Knitting (brilliant name!) at Leeds Mind. More here from Stitch-Up founder, Jen Sharp.
I’m Jen, yarn artist and founder and director of Stitch-Up. I was happy to be asked by Gill to write a contribution to the Shoddy Project Blog on the theme of craft, textiles, recycling and mental health as its such a great project and they are all things that are very important to me and the basis in which Stitch-Up began.
I founded Stitch-Up just over a year ago and it is really a culmination of all my previous personal and work experiences, observations and interests. I have been an artist, crafter, maker with a particular interest in knitting for most of my life. I was very lucky to be encouraged to be creative when I was younger and I was first introduced to knitting by my mum when I was about six or seven and remember happily sitting for hours making a zillion pom poms. However I now realise that art and craft is innate in me, I apply it to everything I do and as I got older I realised more and more how valuable and important it is to me. The fact that I ‘make’ is actually a very significant part of my life, who I am and how I deal with life’s ups and downs!
I have had every job under the sun and made and sold my own crafts but in the main have worked creatively with people of all ages in various educational, community and health settings including the Criminal Justice System, Police, NHS and before moving to Leeds in Youth and Community Development. For many years I developed creative projects in disadvantaged communities along the North Wales Coast and this is when I started to mix my hobbies with work more significantly and see first hand the positive effect craft could have on people’s lives, resulting in some very interesting yarn bombs!
In time I followed my heart to Leeds and felt that what I had been creating was something that was really making a big difference and I was ready to start up an enterprise of my own, thus Stitch-Up was born. Stitch-Up is a Social Enterprise, more specifically a community interest company dedicated to teaching and promoting the basics and benefits of knitting and yarn crafts in a modern world.
We run all sorts of bespoke workshops, courses, events and community installations in schools and community venues with people of all ages and abilities with the aim of increasing creativity and fun, improving well being, bringing people together and supporting people to develop really valuable practical and personal life skills.
A year on we have worked with almost a thousand people of all ages across the length and breadth of Leeds communities and have an amazing team of volunteers who are all local makers. We have worked with lots of primary schools and youth clubs, The Real Junk Food Project, Leeds College of Art, Leeds City Council, Leeds Libraries and Duke Studios among many others. We have also just finished a large scale installation at Leeds Central Library where we taught lots of new yarn crafters and involved over 300 people in the making by crocheting, knitting and pom pomming!
We have recently just finished teaching a course in partnership with Leeds Mind called ‘Strength in Knitting’ for people experiencing mental health difficulties. The course combined peer support with the basics and benefits of learning how to knit a woolly hat whilst focusing on how it can help people to live independently and improve and manage their mental health which went really well.
We see that simply taking some time out of our busy lives and being given an opportunity to create something in a supportive environment gives people a ‘can do’ attitude and improves confidence in trying and overcoming challenges which in turn can raise aspirations and improve well being. Knitting, crochet and even pom poms can be quite a challenge initially, but we encourage people to embrace their mistakes which is why it so great for children too. People learn that dropping a stitch or twisting their work is just part of the process and they will gradually learn how to fix it for themselves which builds resilience. In the meantime the wonky and holey pieces are works of art and perfect for a yarn bomb!
Our workshops are informal and engaging and we want to attract a wide range of people of all ages and abilities. Its about celebrating and helping people develop their skills while ultimately enjoying themselves, being mindful and feeling good! Having an amazing in-house graphic designer also helps us to reach out to people which is crucial to our work.
We take an innovative and sustainable approach to the way we are run and operate with a conscious. Almost 100% of the beautiful yarns we use are waste, recycled and donated from local business which we sort, re-ball and give a new lease of life and we utilise local business and services as much as possible. We are currently developing a line of ethical handmade products and kits using recycled yarns. As a Community Interest Company, any surplus profit that we generate is reinvested back into the communities we serve.
We start 2016 with a new set of craft workshops at Duke Studios, a regular craft book club at Leeds Central Library and a workshop with Playful Leeds and Moor Allerton Older People’s Forum next week as well as lots of other exciting plans ahead so come and say hello!
Find Stitch Up on Facebook: www.facebook.com/Stitchupleeds
Twitter: @stitch_up Instagram: @stitch_up