14 January 2013

A Portrait of the Artist: Kathryn Vercillo

Today in A Portrait of the Artist, I would like you to meet Kathryn Vercyllo of the popular crochet blog Crochet Concupiscence.

It is no wonder that she makes an appearance in the Get Out of Your Comfort Zone month. Her book, Crochet Saved My Life, shows how crochet has helped people heal through a diverse array of conditions including depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, chronic pain conditions and more. Focused on, but not limited to, the craft of crochet this book really demonstrates how handmade heals.

Before getting to know Kathryn better by reading her extremely articulate interview, make sure you download her book right now! It is free on Amazon until the end of the day (January 14th, 2013).

Kathryn Vercillo

What is your background and how did you embark on the crochet journey?
I was born in Arizona and moved to San Francisco about seven years ago because it is a place where I feel immensely creative. I have always been an artistic person who works mostly in writing but also dabbles in various craft-based arts.

In 2009 I succumbed to a lifelong battle with depression and really experienced a difficult time. It was during this period that I began to crochet. It wasn’t something that I knew would help me in the deep ways that it did; it was just one of the few things that helped to soothe me, calm me down and bring some element of joy back into my life so I did it. That was the start of my crochet journey, a journey I’ve been actively traveling ever since!

In 2011 I launched my crochet blog, Crochet Concupiscence. That was when I started to delve deeply into researching all aspects of crochet and really came to be a part of the amazing online crochet community. My book, Crochet Saved My Life, came out in 2012 and has taken me to even new levels of appreciating this craft.

I often remind my readers how important creating with your hands is for your overall psychological health. How long did it take you to feel the positive influence of crocheting on you?

It honestly happened almost immediately. One of my biggest problems when dealing with depression was that I had this very active inner monologue going, this anxiety-ridden voice in my head that was constantly going on and on about how bad life was, how much I didn’t want to keep enduring it, how terrible I was at living it… Learning to crochet required a mental focus that shushed that voice for at least a little while. The craft was easy enough to pick up that it didn’t tax me mentally but instead helped me. What has been interesting is that crochet has continued to have a positive influence on me in different ways over time, so even though there was an immediate effect, there have also been ongoing benefits each and every time I pick up the hook.

To some people crochet might look like a granny's recreation, or in other words, a reason not to move around too much. What are the physical benefits of crochet?
Yes, it can appear to be a very sedentary craft. However, it does offer some physical benefits and it also offers mental health benefits that can encourage the crafter to engage in other physical activities.

First, there are the physical benefits involved with moving the hands to manipulate the yarn and hook. This helps develop the fine motor skills and can offer therapeutic physical improvement in cases such as someone recovering from a stroke. Secondly, even this moderate physical activity is better than no activity so it is an option for people who truly can’t move much due to chronic fatigue, physical disability, chronic illness, etc. Finally, there are the physical benefits that go on inside the body when you engage in the repetitive task of crochet. These include release of serotonin, a natural painkiller that can help in coping with many conditions, and also the reduction of stress, which can in turn reduce risk factors for heart disease and other conditions.

Then there is the physical health benefit of having a clearer mind thanks to the mental health benefits of crochet. In other words, when you are dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues it can feel too overwhelming to engage in proper self-care including exercise. When you improve your state of mind through meditative and relaxing activities like crochet then you create a better mental space for yourself where you can once again have both energy and focus for more activity.

Is there anything about crochet you dislike, however small it might be?
Oh there are plenty of parts of crochet that I don’t personally enjoy. What I love about the craft is that we can each do it in our own way that works for us and can appreciate that others do it differently. For example, I absolutely love how projects look when the crafter has used many different colors to create the item but I personally don’t enjoy the process of changing colors and weaving in ends so I don’t take on those projects myself even though I like seeing what others do with them.

How much time a day do you spend crocheting and what do you do with the finished items?
I crochet a little bit every day. On days when I really need a mental health break I can sit and crochet for hours at a time, just letting my brain get calm, but usually it’s less than an hour per day. I sometimes crochet for others, including charity, but mostly I make items for myself and my home. I often keep something for awhile, then frog it and make something new with that recycled yarn. I like the process of crafting more than the end product in many cases. It’s the process that is healing for me.

I think by now everyone is impatient to learn the answer to the question: How did crochet save your life?
Crochet saved my life by saving my mind from itself in the worst periods of depression. At my worst I was desperate and suicidal and my mind was constantly eating at itself. For me, crochet was a place where I could go to just get my brain to mindfully focus on the craft at hand and to calm down the negative ruminating thoughts in my brain. Now, crochet alone did not save my life; but it was a key part of the puzzle (combined with therapy, medication and a solid support system) and very important part.

I have seen crochet save the lives of others in this way but also in different ways. I’ve seen people whose major struggle was with self-esteem and they found that productively creating something out of yarn and hook helped improve their self-esteem and reduce life-threatening depression. I’ve seen people with devastating anxiety who used crochet to remain calm and become functional in the world again. So although for me crochet was a lifesaver in calming my negative thoughts, it can save lives in multiple ways.

Tell us about your book, Crochet Saved My Life. When was the idea born, why did you think it was important to write it and how long did it take to finish it?
I knew that the next book I wanted to write had to be something deeply personal to me so when I was finally out of my fog of depression and ready to write again it was natural to turn towards my own experience for inspiration. I was also blogging on Crochet Concupiscence at the time and seeing that other women had similar experiences based on the comments they would leave on my posts so I knew this was a subject that was important to a lot of people. In researching the health benefits of crafting I found that it wasn’t something that a lot had been written on and that made me feel like it was really important to write it.

It took me about a year to write it from start to finish. That includes the interview and research process. Although in some ways I feel like it’s not done; I’d really love to come out with a new edition in five or ten years that includes any updated information that becomes available about the benefits of handcrafting as well as updates from the women who shared their personal stories.

In your book you share yours and other women's stories about healing through crochet. How easy is it to share private and possibly sensitive information in a book for all the world to see?
I really believe that each individual person has their own unique story to share and that sharing it is valuable for both that person and those who read the story. I further believe that it is my role as a writer to honestly share my own individual story as well as to make it possible for others to share their stories. So in a sense it was easy for me to share because the value of it is something that I genuinely believe in.

On the other hand, it is tough to share your whole truth with people and I definitely had my struggles about what to share and how to share it in the right way. You know that this book will be read by your family, your friends, strangers … and somehow you have to put that out of your mind and still tell your truth.

What was a little tougher for me was finding the best way to honor the stories that the other women shared with me. I felt a great sense of responsibility to these women who had told me intimate details of their health and lives and wanted to really share in a compassionate, intelligent way. I used personal interviews to get information from them. I left questions very open so that they could share only as much or little as they wanted (and offered the chance to be anonymous). In writing their stories, I tried to use their own words a lot of the time so as not to lose the essence of their truths.

I hope it all came through honestly.

How has the writing process (both on your blog and the book) transformed you?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember and it really is the key way in which I relate to the world around me. What has transformed me in the case of this blog and book is the way that I’ve been able to use my writing to truly connect with others. The readers who comment on my blog, the people who participate in my Crochet Saved My Life Ravelry group, the folks who comment with me on Facebook and of course the women I interviewed for the book all form this amazing community around me. This community inspires me in my writing, my crafting and my life … and without writing I would not have found them.

If you could make any project without limits to cost, materials or skill, what would it be?
Crocheted haute couture gowns for the runway!

Make sure you follow Kathryn:
Blog: http://www.crochetconcupiscence.com/
Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/CrochetConcupiscence
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CrochetBlogger
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/kathrynvercillo/
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/114949421438407893391/posts
Ravelry Group: http://www.ravelry.com/groups/crochet-saved-my-life

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