Finding Creative Joy:
Nine Tips for Doing Textile Arts Despite Disabilities
This post can also help anyone—including able-bodied individuals—tap into their creativity. Check out tips 3, 6, 7, 8, & 9.
Backstory: I use a wheelchair. My caretakers do chores I cannot physically manage, e.g., grocery shopping and dishwashing. A physician told me most people in my situation never get back out of bed. It took a year and a half of aggressive physical therapy exercise to be able to sit. Now I can sit all day. My point: I’m badly disabled and fabric arts make me deliriously joyous … despite my disabilities.
What works for me might work for you:
1) Experiment with adaptive methods, if a craft appeals to you but seems beyond your physical capacity. Be creative about it. Use your fine mind, intuition, and gut instinct. A creative personality just *makes stuff up.*
Example: I wanted to wet felt to make myself hats. Felting requires hand, arm, hip, and leg usage I do not have. Then a friend sent me a package with wool roving for packing material. I took that wool as synchronicity—guidance from the universe to try wet felting.
I wondered whether I could felt using my feet. Lo and behold, it worked.
2) Keep experimenting. If a method doesn’t work, move onto the next experiment. If that doesn’t work, move onto the next. Creative people keep trying things until they find something that works.
My feet and legs aren’t strong enough to roll wool much (rolling is a step in wet felting). I experimentally tossed the wool in the clothes dryer, then went online and discovered a cool dryer can replace the rolling step, LOL.
3) Go with the flow. This and some of the following tips can help anyone—including able-bodied individuals—tap into their creativity. When I’m pursuing a creative direction that physical limits halt, I don’t let myself toss the project.
Going with the flow is part of creative process. Some of my best pieces occur when disabilities or something else block me from pursuing a vision. Follow the thread of forward movement that is possible, keep trying things, and be inventive. You’re creative, you can come up with something.
E.g., a few weeks ago, I started spinning fibers into yarn and, as of this post, I only spin on a pencil or stick. I absolutely love the process. Tried spinning with a drop spindle, but it was painful. Spinning on a stick goes slowly; as of writing this, I make little lengths of yarn, ranging in weight from .8 to .2 of an oz. I wasn’t sure what to do with such small bits of yarn, then realized I’d figure out projects.
Think about the magical potency of spinning only on a stick and spinning just a bit of yarn: before the first spindle was invented, a single strand of a single foot of spun fibers must have been precious and wondrous. If I never spend a lot of time spinning and end up focusing on miniature weavings and other tiny projects, the spinning I do might be more by being less, because I’ll cherish and use every magical inch, as will my Gods.
4) Think size. Is tiny, small, medium, large, or huge best for you? I retain fine motor skills in my hands, by and large, but my arm use is limited. Small projects that fit in my lap—instead of demanding large arm movements—work for me. Someone good with larger movements but lacking fine motor skills might pursue big pieces that don’t require much detail work.
Here is a tiny wall hanging I wove with yarns I’d spun. A quarter is in the photo for scale:
5) Take breaks. I try to not do too much on a project in one day. I take a lot of breaks, for a few minutes or even a few months. I take breaks not only to avoid injury but also, quite honestly, because sometimes I overdo it and exacerbate my illness so need healing. I also need breaks to build up my spirit when I get discouraged by disabilities. But sometimes the best way to get past the blahs is to push forward on a project.
6) Honor “random” ideas that pop into your head. Not all of them will be useful, but don’t automatically discount them without considering them first. For example, in the insomniac’s wee hours of a morning, a random thought occurred: “Stick?” I went on line and, sure enough, there was a video on spinning fibers into yarn on a pencil. I had a blast and began a new fiber arts adventure.
7) Make fun, peace, and self-fulfillment your priority. I have a high standard for what I do professionally. I have a high standard for my moral behavior. But unless I’m selling my art, it doesn’t matter how good it is; the important thing is that making art keeps me centered and happy, and might add beauty to the world.
I work hard to make something wonderful, but sometimes the best way to do that is to pursue fun, peace, and self-fulfillment above all else. This ties in with the next two tips.
8) Do not thwarted by perfectionism. One thing that makes textile arts possible for me is accepting major flaws in my pieces. For example, some hats I felted for myself could easily rip, but I know where and handle the hats accordingly. See above photos of me in hats I made myself. If I make something for a friend, I explain its imperfections and how to deal with them. I do not deny myself fun hats or the joy of art just because I can’t produce according to irrelevant standards.
Above are some of my first spinnings. Over half of them are barely drafted, some are over-spun and otherwise problematic, and … I … didn’t … care. Spinning makes me happy. I won’t sell anything made with my yarn, so durability etc., is irrelevant. I plan yarn projects for which my spinnings are appropriate. That includes my not caring if yarn in an item breaks, because I’ll have made it for my own use and will enjoy the item for however long it lasts.
9) Ignore Righteous Artisans. Whether you’re disabled or not, there will always be people who insist on “correct” methods and results for whatever art form is under discussion. Phooey! Many great artists produce wonderful work by ignoring those naysayers. Shifting methodology or results to accommodate my disabilities gives me the chance to express my creative spark.
Summary: If I brainstorm creatively and persistently, and keep a few simple things in mind, I find ways to express myself. Let me know if any of my ideas suit you, and tell me what methods you’ve figured out yourself. Together, we can do wonderful things.