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Weaving colour and joy into tapestry (textile craft course)

A DfE Community Learning | Mental Health Research site 2015-17Image of a smiling learner working on her tapestry

The 'Tapestry Weaving ' course took place at Al Hassan Academy in West Ealing from 11th November till 16th December 2016, with 5 research volunteers and an experienced and enthusiastic tutor, Aruna Reddy, on board. The programme was part of Phase 2 CLMH Ealing research project 'Hope and Wellbeing'. The Ealing project was randomly allocated to Group B of the national research, which means that we offer general adult and community courses to adults aged 19+ who are expereincing mild to moderate mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and stress.

As the exact skill level of the volunteers was not known in advance, Aruna had prepared tapestry frames warped up in readiness for the first session weaving along with some brightly coloured weft yarns for weaving.

The volunteers had no experience of tapestry weaving and were very keen to learn but they grasped the technique of plain weave very quickly and engaged comfortably with the craft. They enjoyed learning a new skill, which made them focus on the activities they were doing in class, but they also engaged with and helped each other and created new friendships.

The feedback research volunteers gave on the experience was very positive. It encouraged them to focus on the  task at hand, as one learner said, ‘when she came to class, she forgot all her problems.'

This is the email feedback from the volunteer O.B. (verbatim), also shown working on her tapestry in the photograph above:

"It had been an honour taking part in the Tapestry course. I had great time learning on the course. Prior to starting the course I spend my Fridays waiting by the phone in case my child school call. I was always anxious that something bad is about to happen. When I go out on my own, I will feel clammy and anxious to get back home. Although the course was short it had helped me to focus on myself. It gave me something to do without the need to worry about my son all the time. I feel more confidence going out on my own now. With the skills obtained during the course, I am now able to create tapestry on my own without the fear of getting it wrong. I am grateful for getting this opportunity and I hope courses like this become available to others in the future. It's not only relaxing but it gives you skills for life, too. Thank you to everyone involved."

 Another learner said, these six weeks have been a positive experience as she feels more confident and prepared for class and less anxious.

Aruna spotted that:

"one learner had a natural affinity for tapestry weaving with excellent manual dexterity in handling the warp and weft. She brought in her son’s tapestry frame, which she warped up and returned the following week  with a finished tapestry. An amazing piece of work for a beginner!"

As tapestry is a mindful activity, it requires total concentration (which I have expereinced myself when I tried to talk to the learners and weave at the same time!). The learners found this very beneficial for either forgetting their problems or relaxing so well that the problems became insignificant or solutions easy to find. Besides, from what I could observe on each and every of my visits, the learners were becoming more confident not only in their weaving skills but also ability to achieve. Two of the learners have already enquired about self-employment and how the Ealing Council could support them with their business ideas. The follow-up (top-up) dates for Tapestry for January and February have been set up as 27th January and 10th February 2017, open both to the learners on this course and those who did different courses.

Lessons learned

The course has evidenced that the volunteers' mood was improved as a by-product of learning. As often is the case with community learning, peer support, group work and collaborative working were significant factors in the process of helping the volunteers improve their mood and the achieved outcomes were both individual and social, as illustrated in one of the quotes above. They also reported that being encouraged to self-assess their progress was something they enjoyed doing, as it made them notice the changes in their wellbeing and also the progress at learning a new skill.

Aruna has read the Group B descriptors, with a particular focus on 5.8, 5.9 and 5.10, which has helped her facilitate the learning process and use active learning techniques, as appropriate to adults with mild to moderate mental health problems.

Although the teaching venue was light, comfortable and generally conducive to teaching and learning and there weren't any volunteers who thought this was a problem, the accessibility to the classroom is far from ideal, there's no lift and over 20 steps to it. Therefore, we are looking for some new, accessible venues for all the 'Hope and Wellbeing' courses.

It was a fairly small group, which made me think about the viability of the course initially; however, we didn't want to lose the interested reserach volunteers whilst waiting to recruit some more. In the end, it worked well as they encouraged and supported each other and were also supported well by the tutor, who was able to give each person lots of attention.


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