Leathercraft and Wellbeing
Increased awareness surrounding mental health and a greater openness to discuss issues, has led to some very interesting research and ideas for improving our well-being.
We have long had reports from leatherworkers about the importance of their craft to managing their stress, or for giving relief during difficult times.
Research shows that repetitive tasks done by the hands uses different neural pathways that allow the brain to generate calming signals in the body.
Some of these signals will give us reassurance about the ability to control an otherwise chaotic environment. (Dr Jill Owen, a chartered psychologist with The British Psychological Society*)
These repetitive tasks need to be physical, involving the hands, and something that is slow but instinctive to do. Using a beautiful natural material like leather also helps.
Other research has shown that this type of engagement can allow the mind a freer rein to process difficult emotions and thoughts while offering a level of detachment. If any of you have attended group craft sessions, you may have noticed that there are times when people in the group feel a greater freedom to discuss painful issues. As well as the repetitive engagement, there is an indirectness to conversation that requires no eye contact or pressure to speak, which can be very liberating and supportive.
The significance of this became the basis for the Men’s Shed network, an idea that has become widespread through the UK to help with men’s mental health and reducing isolation through workshops and crafts. www.menssheds.org.uk
Leathercraft offers many aspects that can each be contributing factors for improving our well-being.
Repetitive Tasking – stitching, tooling, edging
Left/Right Brain Exercises – cutting out patterns, planning designs, laying out and problem solving.
Increased Self-Esteem – the satisfaction from making something from scratch can have a powerful effect and is an great antidote to mass produced consumerism.
Increased Serotonin – from making something and/or appreciating something others have made **
Community and Groups – being a leatherworker brings you into community with other makers and those who appreciate leather; forum or interest groups give identity, support and reduce isolation.
I was recently asked to take a session at a local Well-Being Group. The group were very mixed and attended for different reasons, though the common ground was looking for ways to have a better quality of life and mental wellness.
The project we used for the session was to draw repeated patterns with fine liner pens on to veg tan leather coasters and keyrings. This type of art is called ‘Zentangle’ and deliberately uses pattern to give a calming effect to help reduce stress. It is quite absorbing and does not require any particular artistic ability. If you think of the way the brain feels when you are ‘doodling’ you can begin to get the idea.
Start with the ‘string’
“The string separates your tile into sections, in which you draw your tangles. A string can be any shape. It may be a curvy line that touches the edge of the border now and then, or series of straight lines that go from one side of the border to the next.” https://zentangle.com/pages/get-started
Getting a mark down on the leather or paper is the key and not planning or thinking about it. From here everything else will take it’s flow. It can be wavy or straight but it is about starting. (Many writers and painters will use this technique to ‘break the tyranny of the blank canvas’ (https://btr.michaelkwan.com/2018/04/18/the-tyranny-of-the-blank-canvas/)
There are many examples of zentangle patterns online and it can be helpful to have some of the sheets in front of you to help you get started.
There are no rules, however I tend to think about mixing circles, waves, and straight lines, and lighter and darker sections. This is not only for interest but I have found that my hand and brain follow the pathways and lines in slightly different ways.
The beauty of doing this on leather, is two fold. You have a functional and useful piece at the end, and, you have something that will mellow and age with use, which in of itself has a therapeutic message. This provoked some very interesting conversation and the group decided that that they were developing a ‘patina’ too, through ageing and experiences gone through.
One of the more intriguing things about these slow, repetitive actions is that a calming effect can also be induced by simply watching someone do them in real time.
We have made a real-time fifteen minute video showing zentangle drawing on a leather keyring to illustrate this.
Further interesting reading: