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Mental Health and the Power of Creating: Fiber Arts

Meditation has been proven to help focus, reduce anxiety and increase energy.  It takes many forms; not just sitting in lotus position, chanting OM.
My meditation has many forms- from coloring, and journaling, to knotting malas and doing Reiki.  May is “mental health month”, and as it’s on its final day, I thought I would share how creating with fiber can be meditative- increasing health and wellbeing.

My last 2 years have been full of intensity and challenges, including 3 surgeries and recoveries, dealing with diagnoses, anxiety and rebuilding. Every day, there was something to test my resolve.  I experienced the highest highs, and the deepest dark.  There were some days that moving from bed to the couch was my biggest accomplishment, and some days that shopping at Costco felt like climbing a mountain.
Each day included some sort of meditation, and most often that meditation included fiber.

My first surgery was an emergency, so I didn’t have time to prepare or gather “things to do” and honestly I was so sick those 16 days that I couldn’t focus on anything.  When I got home, I was still so debilitated from the sepsis and the surgery… I had a PICCline and woundVAC.  I was on so many drugs I couldn’t hold a pen to journal, or even sit up, let alone sit in lotus.  But all of a sudden there was a cancer diagnosis I had to wrap my brain around, and how close to dying I’d been from sepsis.  Then there was just the year of the unknown- why aren’t I healing. WHAT is wrong with me?! Then there was the Crohns diagnosis and the ostomy bag..  There was a lot of heavy emotion… and a lot of drugs that made it all hard to express and process.

img_4589My first meditative exercise is in the moment timed weaving.  I To do this, I intuitively choose colors to weave with, and I give myself 2 minutes timed to do so  This weaving is something that is what I’m feeling “Right now”.  I wind the yarns into small bobbins and either sit on my couch with my small sampleIT loom, or sit at my SAORI loom depending on where I was in my recovery-  I would set my timer (I use the App “Insight timer” ) for 15 minutes.  Once the time is up, I roll back what I’ve woven onto the front bar, so I am ready for the next session. I’m also trying not to be influenced by what was woven before. This is basically a journaling session at your loom.  You can shoose to be silent, or play music. Ex periment and see how the feelings change.  Sometimes I would do longer than 15 min sessions as my recovery progressed…  but as an “everyday meditation session’ 15 min is easy to fit in.  For this exercise, I usually prefer a narrower warp, but whatever the weaver prefers is best.When you unroll the finished warp, you’ll have blocks of 15 min progressions that are snapshots of feelings within moments.

You can also listen to guided meditations while you weave.These meditations can influence the weaving, but will create it’s own amazing connection to the cloth.

This is really great when you physically *can’t* journal or do more traditional meditations…   even if you are on 10mg oxicotin every 4 hours, stuck on the couch..  You can pass a shuttle on a small loom for 15 min.   These weavings become very personal, and it is up to you if you want to share/show them with anyone. I am actually not ready to show my journal weavings yet.  It’s not about technique or if I think they are “pretty”, it’s more about the time I need to get to the place of acceptance.  This first photo of the finished weaving is one I did in the hospital during my second surgery.

img_4084Another variation of this exercise is at the spinning wheel. I like to do it blindfolded, but if you just close your eyes, it works too. If you have taken a full day workshop with me, you might have tried this.  10 min of silent blindfold spinning. Just letting the fiber move through your fingers, and feeling the twist- how it changes with different fibers. Letting your muscle memory take over, your fingers doing what they know, which will give you a clue to where your default yarn is.

31899042_10213573101260383_6541139121979523072_oMy second and third surgeries were planned, so I had plenty of time to gather the things that would make my stay easier and more enjoyable. I knew that being in the hospital causes me anxiety, and having loads of time to fill, bringing my fiber would be the perfect way to keep me sane. Having what I consider to be the most normal- something that I can control, in the most not normal, out of control place acted like a safety blanket.

The second surgery I knew I was going to be there for at least 7 days, so I brought my Espinner with loads of fiber, along with my SampleIT Ashford Rigid Heddle loom, and a small hand held tapestry loom- with a handful of skeins of yarn, fiber and bobbins. My third surgery I knew I was only going to be there 3 days, so I only brought my Espinner and lap loom. Of course I brought way more than I needed both times, because of the “what if” I happen to need more.  26170162_10212612219558941_7487063056053550761_o I remember my mom saying, “We’ll just keep it all in the car until you need it” not understanding that even when I didn’t feel well enough to actually use the tools, just knowing they were gave me a sense of peace.   They did get used, however.  I spun and wove most of the days away.  I would have doctors and nurses pop their heads in the room to tell me they had seen patients doing MANY things at Duke, but spinning and weaving was definitely new!!  I was able to use my fiber to keep myself calm and sane when it was just chaos swirling around me.  I could close my eyes, feel the fiber move through my fingers and block the rest out.

Once out of the hospital, I used spinning and weaving to encourage my spirit- reminding me that the things I love to do, I still love; that even though I was on all sorts of drugs I could still create.  I continue to use spinning and weaving to work through my anger, frustration, struggle and disappointment as well as joy, perseverance, breakthroughs and wins.  More than just a journal, I can bring my emotion to my wheel or loom and the feelings I have would just flow through my fingers.  I’ve found that working with fiber first, made it easier to journal through my feelings. Almost like the fiber helps me figure things out so I can clearly write and understand.  Fiber has been a HUGE part of my processing.img_4378

Finally, when the time came to say goodbye to my surgeon- as hopefully this was the last time I would ever need to see him, I used spinning and weaving to express those deep emotions. How do you say “Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for giving me a second chance. Thank you for giving me a life without as much pain and frustration as I had before” Just the words seemed less than enough. So I used yarn I spun in the hospital- a lovely healthy tissue pink, along with some of the unspun fiber- and I wove him a GI tract (colon and small intestine). I was SO happy with it, and it so validated that I can still see something in my mind, and translate it to the loom.  That even though these 2 years have been full of crazy stuff that stretched my limits- that fiber is still my language. It’s what has kept me together though all of this, and I know it will keep me together as I move forward.   I have seen that awesome bumper sticker that says “I KNIT SO I DON’T KILL PEOPLE”, and I have a keen understanding now of how powerful that statement is.

I encourage you to try reaching for your fiber when you have some feelings to work through. Or try sitting at your loom or wheel for a timed meditation session. Sometimes I love to find guided meditations to shape my session, or just be silent and let the process happen.   How did it feel? I would love to hear any experiences you would like to share as you explore your own fiber meditation.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. As a nurse I have witnessed your journey. As a daughter of a 3 time cancer survivor I have been truly emotionally entwined. It changes lives, ideology, and every aspect of living…and dying. Thank you so much for sharing your salvation. Your strength and stamina are remarkable. Wishing you mant, many years of happy, healthy spinning…..Diane

    May 31, 2018
    • So many hugs for your kind words!! It is amazing how this experience has added such depth of color to my life. Has taught me to truly appreciate each day.. the good and the bad. Thank you for being a part of my journey! xoxo

      May 31, 2018
  2. Rheba M #

    Thank you for this entry and may many more good health blessings come your way. I love my fibers to distraction, but never thought to use them meditatively. I will try some of your suggestions, Esther. Your site taught me to solar dye. Now if you could teach me to wave my hand and my Cricket would be warped, I could use it for a 15 minute in the now meditation; still trying to get over the warping hump. I enjoy your work and your words, your talents and your sharing; they add to my life each time.

    May 31, 2018
    • Thank you for such the kind words! I’m so glad you’re here!! and it’s now the season for Solar Dyeing!! yay!!
      Let me know how the exercises work for you! I find them helpful and sometimes even profound. |
      Warping a cricket is SUPER simple!! I will work on a little video.. but check out the rigid heddle class on craftsy.. that is a great one. And I have a new creative weaving video on the streaming course platform.. and if you search “Rigid Heddle Warping” on youtube you’ll for sure find something!! warping a cricket should take you less than 30 min as a beginner.. and once you practice even less!! You’ll be weaving in no time!!

      May 31, 2018
  3. Natalie #

    Not quite sure when I first became aware of “Jazz-Turtle,” but so glad I did!
    It was before your medical “issues” — I’ve experienced a few myself in the ensuing years, though none so life-threatening as your first one. Suffice to say that your attitude and perseverance have been an inspiration. Thank you!!

    May 31, 2018
  4. Dear Esther,
    how wonderful to learn that you feel better and that besides your wonderful doctors fibers helped to stabilize you and gave/give joy, a great and important help in regenerating.
    About 2 years ago I started spinning and I’ve read about Jazz Turtle either on PLY or in Spin Off.
    I am very much Impressed by your courage and strength. May God bless you.
    As I am quite an old granny I send you big hugs. I wish all the Best to you to stay in good and stabile health, Christa

    October 17, 2018
  5. Rose #

    First I would like to thank you for sharing your journey💕 I found knitting to be my lifeline four years ago when I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease Myositis. My entire world was rocked and it was the scariest time of my life. My head was spinning with all the tests I had to do. Muscle biopsy(you are awake as a surgeon harvests muscle specimens from your thigh)…the only was to get a diagnosis…cat scans, mri’s, colonoscopy, 21 vials of blood drawn to name a few. It did not help that my Mom passed unexpectedly one month later. Words cannot express the level of dispair and worry I was experiencing. What got me through this was my knitting. I remember the ladies at my LYS were doing a KAL for a lace cardigan called Hitofude. I had never really knit lace before so I had to really concentrate. By focusing on the next stitch I could not worry about the future, which was scary especially when the doctors firmly say do not google Myositis) and I could not think about the amazing past I had(life was good). I was able to find a healing place with my friend at my LYS who helped me a great deal with my muscle weakness issues, most of them were nurses or worked in the medical field. Knitting helped me to relax and distress and to heal. I was pretty much housebound so knitting kept me sane!!! I loved seeing you spinning in the hospital. I imagine the nurses and doctors got a kick out of that. I always bring my knitting with me when I get my infusions(I spend a week each month at the infusion center) It helps to kill time since I am there for 5 hours each day. I even made all the nurses knitwear for Christmas each year. My favorite nurse Gayle just retired and I made her a beautiful lace shawl for her retirement present. The look of joy in her face just made my day. Art has a way of healing one’s soul. I am so encouraged by how you handled your journey. I look forward to following your journey. Your positive spirit is inspiring!!!

    October 28, 2018

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