Mental Health Disclosure and Professional Appearance

As I started out as a sole trader/blogger/maker I received a great deal of advice, some very useful, some extremely counter-productive. In the interests of making my position on this matter clear, allow me to share the following with you.

Last year I was offered a business advice session with a person from a Sheffield company who aim to assist new startups. At this point in time I had been looking at the idea of selling online and blogging for about 6 months. I had not made huge amounts of money, nor did I have a logo or any business cards. I had a very basic business plan which bore little resemblance to what the revenue or cost of my business would be. I had this blog, a few commissions and a huge enthusiasm for making stuff out of fabric and sharing my endeavours.

It is also relevant to say that I had been medicated for severe depression and was continuing to work through some problems, which were unrelated to the new business. During the meeting, I was offered advice to the tune of ‘don’t discuss your mental health on your blog or on social media. It’s bad for your image’. I was also asked the question ‘are people buying your stuff because it is good, or because they feel sorry for you?’

It is almost a year after the fact that I have decided to discuss these ill-chosen words. Although I saw that they came from a lack of understanding of me, my venture and my aims, they caused me a huge amount of uncertainty about what I was trying to do. I was sitting in a room with a person who had looked at my website for 10 minutes and proceeded to write off a significant part of my life.The implication seemed to be that an individual’s mental health narrative had no place in a business context. After mulling it over for a few months, I can now state that I disagree with this entirely. Here are some conclusions I have come to.

there should be no need to hide facts about your mental health

You should not be discriminated against for having a mental health problem, IT’S THE LAW. That doesn’t stop people from being dicks, but it does mean that if you need to disclose, you can bloody well do it. For some people it’s a huge deal every day and pretending it doesn’t exist is like saying you haven’t got an arm. We need to discuss our arms, people!

people say stupid things

A downside to discussing your mental health can be that people can respond in ways that are not helpful to you. Most of the time, it’s because they feel weird about it and don’t know how to respond. I say, be brave and persevere. It’s good practice (for me anyway) to work on filtering out some of the negativity that is barefacedly just defensive misunderstanding. Everyone benefits from open discussion.

working under a pretence can make things worse

In my experience, trying to soldier on in a job while suffering with a mental health problem can make things worse, particularly if people start to notice a change in your behaviour. It’s a double-edged sword unfortunately, but I have found that at least if you’re clear with your employer, they have the opportunity to accommodate your needs. If you remain silent, they will not be able to do that.

speaking with your own shaky voice is better than not speaking at all

It is possible that writing this makes me vulnerable. It may alienate people from my ‘brand’. But on the whole I would rather speak with conviction and authenticity on a subject I feel is important, than ignore that conviction in favour of an image or a few sales. I’m going to be making things anyway – it makes me and the people around me happy. At least this way I can do it in the knowledge that I am not obscuring who I am. Clearly this is down to individual choice, but there we are.

So here are my opinions on this. More balanced, less anecdotal information about disclosure is available on the Time to Change website. For further tales of disclosure, I offer this triumph, written by a friend of mine.

Comments, queries? Please leave below.

Socks!

For some reason, crochet accessories are really floating my little boat at the moment (this must be a shock to you).  Casting around for the next thing to get my hook into, a few images of crochet socks caught my eye. As a step up from mitts or hats, socks appealed as they are a little more complicated and require careful measuring to make them fit an actual foot.

I started to look for some patterns (preferably free and online) and found this Redheart one. The stitches look lovely on this, and by having a go I also learned to do linked double crochets, which make an excellent reinforced sole. The heel on this pattern got the better of me, causing me to give up before the first sock was complete. The sock was not particularly stretchy either which made it difficult to pull on or off.

After a few more hours of sifting through/rejecting patterns on Ravelry, I bit the bullet and paid REAL MONEY for “Crochet Socks” by Janet Rehfeldt and Mary Jane Wood. This volume contains a number of patterns and a very useful introduction detailing the sock making process. I feel like working through this helped me to understand the fitting and construction of a sock more fully, although I couldn’t have known that for sure until I’d had a go myself.

The patterns in the book are hit and miss, there are a couple which seem very wearable whereas one or two seem a tad far out – individual toe socks I’m looking at you… but for the introduction and basic pattern alone, I am glad to have this book to refer to. I also enjoy having it in a digital format, which gives me an excuse to break up the binge-watching of pretty much anything on Netflix.

And so, using the most basic pattern in the book, I began with some bargain basement, self-striping sock yarn purchased from the “you didn’t know you needed it until now” aisle at Lidl. The perfect practice yarn, so it wouldn’t matter if the result was terribly unwearable.

Where the red heart pattern was a toe up design, this one was started from the cuff – I feel like on the whole it doesn’t matter which end you start from. The leg is easier as it is just an even tube, so maybe that gives one a sense of achievement before the heel is tackled (arguably the trickiest portion).

The majority of the socks are worked using an extended single crochet stitch, which adds a bit of stretch. The heel portion is thicker due to the use of a long split single crochet, which I couldn’t find a tutorial for. It’s basically a split single crochet, worked in the row below. I had problems keeping this consistent.

So these are the finished items, I can confirm that I have now worn and washed them and they still look great – they have kept their shape and are stretchy enough to put on and take off easily. I will be interested to see how they compare to my knitted socks and I can’t wait to make some different styles!

Have you made crochet socks? Do you wear them?

My Life in Hats

Since the age of approximately 14, I have had a passionate love affair with beanie hats. Its pretty cold in the north of england so I needed them in the winter – but I became so addicted that eventually I wore one during the summer too. Usually the same one. For months. Shudder.

Years later, I still love wearing them. they are so comfortable, they flatten/disguise my unruly hair, wearing a hat just makes me feel…safe. Stripes are good, acrylic washes well. My mum once ironed a nice pink one I had which stretched out to the size of a washing up dish. I’ve had a couple of fluffy wooly ones (one notably stolen from a friend with impeccable taste) an alpaca one (‘borrowed’ from Finn, now lost) and a bright red, goofy, cable knit one which was my most recent attachment. All fine, all readily available to purchase on the high street. Until now.

flat hat

Armed with a chunky yarn, the hue of which resembles the inside of an old sleeping bag and a confidence bolstered by the completion of many-a mitt, I used the same basic method to make a hat for myself. A silly, chunky, slouchy hat which would make me feel happy whenever I put it on. And it does!

I did a simple ribbed headband composed of front and back post double crochet stitches. A double crochet foundation row gives the band extra stretch (I love this technique – it’s the shit). Then I just used single crochet stitches followed by a chain 2. Easy peasy!

The decision then facing me was how to close the thing up. Previously I had seen the method where you fold the hat and stitch through the central point, giving a gathered, pointy finish. I sort of wanted mine to look less like an elf hat, and more like ears (+10 cute). So, I ended up cobbling it together like an envelope by reverse folding the edges on the inside and stitching through all the layers in a straight line. It REALLY isn’t perfect, but I find it charmingly flawed, like a puppy with one ear or a penguin.

Ok, so there is no way I could sell something like this, but this kind of one-off self adornment is why I started making stuff in the first place. You may not be surprised to learn that it has barely left my head since I wove in the last yarn end. It brings great joy!

Do you have an accessory you love more than most other things? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Mitts Revisited

Well, as predicted, I have churned out a few pairs of these cute fingerless gloves as gifts and even sold one pair (!) so by now am familiar enough with the design that they just seem to appear in my hands. This is the first pattern I have made repeatedly and it feels good to know it well enough to read my work as I go, without doing a big chunk, realising I have made a mistake and having to undo several rows – which is among the most crucial of crochet/knitting tragedies.

After my prototype mentioned here, I acquired a few skeins of Cascade Heritage 4 ply, a very soft feeling nylon wool blend. This goes a little fuzzy as you work with it but it’s also somehow buttery and I immediately feel in love with the colours I chose (think school uniform chic).

cascade heritage in Night, Burgundy and Charcoal

cascade heritage in Night, Burgundy and Charcoal

While recovering from pre-christmas fatigue/illness, I finished off this striped pair which is still up for grabs. I do like the way they have turned out – almost a hounds tooth effect. Shall I knock up a navy/grey colour way? It might be rude not to.

Mitts Revisited1

1 Year On

It occurred to me on the way home last night that I have now been writing this blog for a year. Just when I had begun to feel like there was nothing motivating me to keep it going, this handy landmark reared its head and made me feel all acheivey. A whole year of blogging! Naturally my perspective on things has changed throughout, the business side of things taking somewhat of a backseat in the last few months and my main focus being on making pounds go in the bank in slightly more conventional ways. But this has really taken the pressure off my making and allowed me to relax and enjoy processes without fear of making everything I touch a finished, marketable product. On balance, I still have so much to learn (and fortunately, a fair bit of life to do that in). At present I am seeing the value in taking things slowly and trying to enjoy this small enterprise I have created, rather than turning it into a chore which has to be completed. There are goals, but the journey toward them is just as important.

My focus has moved from fabrics and embroidery to crochet of late, which I find a more portable craft which fits in so much more easily with my lifestyle and aspirations as a maker. But nothing is wasted and I value all of the skills and techniques I have acquired through projects this year. There is still a nice little stash of fat quarters, batting and threads waiting to be explored and the prospect still fills me with joy.

Thinking about the coming year, I’d really like to use this blog to write on subjects not exclusively craft based. I’d love to expand into writing on fiction, mental health, skin care, museums… and many, many more. So, as always, I’d be delighted to hear any feedback on any of these experiments as and when they arise. There will always be craft projects strewn into the mix!

New year always fills me with visions of being super organised, getting out 10 notebooks and making charts of how I shall organise the crap out of everything. Probably not the most realistic approach, but I’m still optimistic that some of it will stick throughout the year. It would be great to plan content in advance and try to stick to an achievable schedule. Wish me luck…

Most importantly, a huge thank you to everyone who has read, commented and followed in the last year. I love being part of a blogging, crafting community and it really does inspire me and spur me on to greater achievements. Here’s to another interesting, creative, collaborative year!

Mean Gene Oakerlund, embroidered portrait

Mean Gene Oakerlund, embroidered portrait

DSC_0057

Lady Rainicorn hand embroidery

buttons on log

Hand embroidered buttons

A trio of friendly pin cushions

A trio of friendly pin cushions

Last Import - 02

View master reel case

black/brown/red colour way complete

Foundation pieced cosmetics bag