Tales from a disabled crafter

Tales From A Disabled Crafter – Mental Health Awareness Month – May 2017

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They say that you can’t teach “An old dog new tricks”, well this old girl is trying to give it a go.  Actually I’m fibbing to you a little bit, it was a skill that I was taught over 20 years ago, whilst getting my degree, and used it a wee bit when I qualified whilst doing some set design and prop making in the Theatre. But in 2001 when I stepped away from Stage Management (due to an injury), I also stepped away from this skill. Needless to say, Rusty was probably an understatement.


So currently I’m trying to balance all the duties required for running my small crafting business, and get myself back up to standard with this new skill. Not only that The Disabled Crafter has put extra pressure on myself, the reason for doing this, is that I have been asked if I would teach other people and I thought this skill would be a good one to teach.


It was quite a quandary when I was asked by a friend if I would do some teaching. Although my disabilities are physical, they are chronic conditions and with them I suffer good and bad days, mixed into that I suffer with mental health issues too, and I think with May being Mental Health Awareness Month, and this not being my first article, I felt I could share that with you. Perhaps give you a little insight into why taking on something like teaching could be an issue for somebody like me.


Taking on a new project, especially one that puts me at the opinion of other people, would put stress on most people, when you suffer anxiety and depression like myself, it can make you vulnerable, you can inward face all the possible negative outcomes at yourself, making them personal, to the point that they can become threatening in their attack against you.  So if like me, that is a great possibility, I have to find a way to work with it, if I’m going to do it at all, and for me I turn to my support network. I do have groups of friends, but my contact for them is mainly through social media due to the distance they are from me, so the person I turn to the most is my husband.


Teaching isn’t new for me, when I had to give up working dramatic theatre, I moved into selling medical devices. As part of the job I was required to do training, eventually over time I moved into roles where it was just training and before I was medically retired in 2013 I had moved to training in the NHS.  The training doesn’t frighten me, what does worry me is having a bad day with my health, and having a class waiting for me when not being able to teach, or to be in the middle of teaching and have one of my “turns”.  My friend is not unaware of my conditions, and she already had in her head that perhaps I’d be able to manage a one, short day training course, which is what she pitched to me.


Of course I didn’t come back straight away with an answer of a class I could run for her, I asked her to let me go away and think about it. This was because I wasn’t just thinking of the type of course that I could offer, I was actually considering whether I could do a course at all. So the debate went round and round my head, and this is a risk of somebody with anxiety, we can be when without the right outlet, dangerous to ourselves when we run thoughts round and round in our heads.  What can happen is we can start to add in more and more negatives, feeding the anxiety, and completely turning something that was possible into something that we wouldn’t touch for love or money. In extreme cases this sort of process can actually prevent me from going out the front door.  Luckily, in the case of this teaching course I had eventually processed enough plans, without it turning too negative, to go and discuss it with hubby. We debated it back and forth concluding and agreeing between us, that if we were to do a Sunday class and I rested before and after the day, where he could attend with me, and that I trained him up so that even if I was to have one of my “turns” he could take over the physical side, I could carry on just with the talking.


Right so we had agreed, I was going to teach, but what was I going to teach? That was the big question. Let me tell you what my friend, who I plan to teach for was looking for.  My friend was looking for something a little different, that fitted into teaching for four hours (with a lunch break), and I knew she was looking for something “classy” too, not something you could get everywhere. So there are a lot of crafts that I do, and sell that would have worked to teach for her, but to be able to teach them in that timeframe, not really possible. This meant I was looking for something new, I racked my brains, going over all the skills that I had, all the skills that I had learnt in the past, and then it came to me…. I could teach Gold Leafing, the art of Gilding.  Now hold your horses, I can hear you thinking there in the back, Gold Leafing is an ancient art, a historic craftsman skill, she can’t teach that in four hours (with a lunch break)! You are right, the ancient art of water Gold leafing I wouldn’t dream to teach in just four hours, but the initial Gold leafing I first learnt when training all those years ago was for prop making. Still Gold leafing following the set rules, but simplified in places so it was faster to work with.  Now I’m not saying a professional gold leaf artist is slow, believe me they are not! The fact that a professional gold leaf artist does this day in and day out, means that they can leaf something in the blink of an eye. But a prop maker, making props for a show, well they are only leafing as one job in the hundreds, so it makes sense for them to be working the gold leaf in a way that is speedy enough for them to meet the time demands theatre has, but still be good enough to pass muster.  So this was the way, I now plan to teach my class, Gold Leafing.


I already said, I’m Rusty, so it was time to get the revision in and the nice thing about revising in 2017 … the Internet and YouTube. I was flooded with knowledge, but actually this also leads to an issue, I’m lucky, this time I was brushing up my skills. In the past I’ve used these sources to learn new skills, and like anything on the Internet I have found there are often many ways shown to do the same thing, not too much of a problem you might think, unless you’re trying to find which is the right way.  In the world of crafting, it is often a case of trial and error before you find your way and come up with how you’re going to make something.  Yes, sometimes you might find might out that the way you have tried turned out to be the wrong way, but often or not, it’s actually that there are many ways to achieve the same goal and you just have to find which one works for you. So I’ve got my revision in, I worked out which way was possible, to deliver the training within the timeframe restriction.


The next stage was for me to then purchase not only the materials, but the tools to do the job. This actually, became a bit of an issue, I spent a long time researching and sourcing the materials and tools to buy. Now I’m a crafter, it’s only a small business, there isn’t much cash flow, so investing in new equipment and materials to practice with put a strain on the expenses. It was something I knew would happen, but it’s actually going take me a lot of classes to get that money back, so my fingers are crossed that the courses take off, as added stress really doesn’t help anxiety at all. So the next stage for me was to cost out the course for my friend. I knew what she had offered me as an hourly rate, I then worked out material costs, what the class would use, and then we added in all her expenses too. We also did a little research together, to see what kind of other similar courses were being priced at, we were pleased to find that courses in London were more expensive than we had pitched at (which you expect inside London), and the added bonus was everywhere we looked we couldn’t find this kind of course being offered in Yorkshire, on our doorstep, well we are taking it that it is a bonus, and not that anybody in Yorkshire doesn’t want to do any Gold leafing.

Tales from a disabled crafter

I would say that taking on something new is nerve-wracking, however I am not new to Gold Leafing, I am not new to designing training courses, and I am not new to teaching, so why should I have nerves… Well, I am new to doing it as The Disabled Crafter, and although I have help with my Mental Health it does bob along with me all the time. Currently I am practising the lessons, brushing up my Gold Leafing (literally), there is a thing called skewing’s which are the little bits of gold leaf left over and you brush them up afterwards put them in a pot to use them for other projects, however it’s quite amazing how much gets caught up in the Cat’s fur. My friend is setting up the advertising for the courses, so that should be live soon, and I’m finishing writing the user guide that will go with the starter kit that they get on the course that they can take home with them.


So hopefully I’ve taught this old dog an old trick, and in the next article I’ll be running a class for the South Yorkshire Interiors Academy, on a Sunday with a group of willing learners. Whom I hope at the end of the day will go home happy, not only covered in tiny bits of gold leaf, and a few gilded objects to keep, but also leaving with a new skill that they will continue to use and further master. And tied into it all, I would have had help and support with my mental health issues to manage to achieve this, and get back a little bit of the teaching I miss. What more can I ask for.


Thanks for Reading

Saz Spratt

Spratt’s Designs