PROFIT OR PLAY
What do we lose when we monetize our creative pastimes?
by Leah Coppella
My grandma sewed. She also knitted and scrapbooked and embroidered. She made my baptism dress, my first communion dress, and if she were still around today, I like to think she would have made my future wedding dress. A brief stint of trying to sell homemade cloth napkins fell by the wayside when she realized that the fun was in the making, not the earning.
It seems those crafts of the past are less past-times and more side-hustles today. But does the pressure we put on them to be a source of revenue take away from the fun of creating?
It’s a word that is being used everywhere, from college lecturers, to Instagram ads promising to get you making money off your favourite hobby.
A study on knitting by Jill Riley, Betsan Corkhill, and Clare Morris found that there was a major connection between how often the participants knitted and how often they felt calm and happy. Knitters that indulged in their hobby more often also reported higher cognitive functioning, improved their social contact and their communication skills.
Bilateral, rhythmic, psychosocial, intervention. That's what Corkhill likes to call it.
Corkhill is currently in Bath, near Bristol, England. She runs Stitchlinks, a non-profit organization about the benefits of knitting, where her monthly newsletter reaches 92 countries.
But she hasn’t always done this. Corkhill was once a physiotherapist. After becoming frustrated with the rehabilitation system in the U.K., she decided to give up her career to become a production editor for a magazine publisher. It wasn’t long until the publisher of a craft portfolio asked her to work with them for a couple months to fill in for a deputy editor.
One of the tasks she was given was to do the letters pages, a job that nobody else liked. It was here that she found that about 98 percent of the letters, if not more, talked about the benefits of crafts. Particularly knitting.
“The first letter I picked up was from a 14-year-old girl, who was in and out of hospital all the time, and she said she didn't have to take pain medication. The second was from a lady who had tried to commit suicide and thankfully, failed. Her husband had taken her in a knitting project into hospital out of sheer desperation. She said, ‘Now I look forward to any project and I look forward to tomorrow.’”
A study in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that even a small amount of time spent crafting can “significantly reduce a person's state of anxiety." Corkhill also found this to be true due to her own studies with knitting.
“The most striking fact was that there was this large number of people saying almost exactly the same things, but they were all from different backgrounds, different cultures... they were saying ‘I find the process of knitting really calming, really relaxing.’”
That's when Corkill decided to start looking at the science behind what people were saying. The answer was rhythm. Poetry, singing, drumming. All of these things consist of rhythm, which is a flow that the brain really likes. "The brain likes rhythm because it's predictable. And the brain likes predictable things, likes routines, because it makes the brain feel safe," Corkhill says.
The rhythm that you fall into while knitting, can put you in a relaxed mental state, or what Corkhill calls "unifying.” Tai chi and yoga tap into the same energy. "What we want to achieve is mind [and] body working as one within the environment,” and according to Corkhill, creative hobbies like knitting can achieve this.
Another study suggests that time spent on things like DIY-decor allows the individual to temporarily forget about the daily stresses of life. Even activities like creative writing have been shown to increase wellness.
Corkhill says that for those who find it difficult to meditate, knitting can provide an alternative way to receive the same benefits. She says that knitting actually enables many more people such as the elderly, children and those with learning disabilities, to experience the benefits of a meditative-like state.
But does making a profit off of those projects detract from their wellness benefits?
Corkhill believes it does. “If you're doing the knitting to a deadline, it negates the therapeutic benefits.” It makes sense. If your financial future or your bills depend on your me-time hobby, your motivations change and tight deadlines can cause stress in your creativity where calm used to be.
“What we've found is that you need to do it in sync with your own innate internal rhythm and that can change from moment to moment, day to day. If something makes you do that activity faster than that rhythm... then yes, I would say it's not good.”
Callie Lasch helped found The Institute for Therapeutic Craft & Creativity. Based in New Jersey, the ITCC is an online educational resource that advocates for the value of creative making as a tool for therapeutic benefits. The institute is less than a year old and attempts to educate people on the science-based understanding of how exercising creativity can improve one’s state of well-being.
Lasch says the wellness benefits of creating can be taken away if you’re trying to make a profit because it “shifts the focus” from self-care to that of making money.
Lasch also recognizes that for some people, turning your hobby into your work can have a major positive side as well: “Hey if you have to work, why not do something that you enjoy and that makes you happy and that you can find some pleasure in?” It could also enable you to work more flexibly. For example, stay-at-home mothers or fathers may want to produce some income on the side and a creative side-hustle could be the answer to their woes.
While some say nothing kills creativity and passion more than the race to make bigger bucks, there is a certain type of person that can benefit from creating a side business out of their hobby. If you're time-poor and don't have the ability to take leisure time, creating a side hustle might be your secret recipe to wellness.
Lasch also did some work with an inner-city school, interviewing the young students about their creative handwork. The knitting and crochet program there allowed the children to recognize the changes that happen in their own minds and bodies when they were working with their hands. “I’ve had kids tell me ‘When I’m really angry with my sister, I just go in, I pick up my needles and my yarn,’” she says.
“When you’re moving, when you’re making, when you have that hand-brain connection flowing, synapses in the brain and channels open up that enable you to process information of all kind and make better decisions, make better choices,” she Lasch says.
At the end of the day, Corkhill says that if you're looking to reap the full therapeutic benefits of creative hobbies, keep the craft about the process, not the bucks.
Today, my mom has taken over what my grandma has left behind. She’s repurposed an extra bedroom into a sewing room, complete with my grandma’s sewing machines, fabric, buttons, stencils, glue guns, and her much coveted fabric scissors.
When my mom runs her fingers over the fabric that was once her mother’s to create with, I can see her mind brimming with inspiration and love. She’s not run down by a timeline or cut short because of the need to pay a bill. Instead, my mom retreats to that room as though it is her real-life happy place. It’s as if when she threads her needle, she feels the same creative spirit that existed within my grandma, back when she was 16 years old, figuring out how to finish a seam.
Although my mom has thought about making her hobby work for her, she’s happier knowing she can escape from the daily grind, take a seat in that room, and make art in memory of her mom. No hustle needed.