Creativity Health Our Planet

Stitches with an affirmative touch

Just Atelier Trust chair, Fiona Clements, at one of the Stitch Kitchen sewing machines

A stitch in time may be good for the mind.

When people work creatively with their hands, it helps them focus and feel satisfied because they’re tangibly achieving something, says Stitch Kitchen Coordinator Fiona Jenkin.

When she was struggling with mental health in the past, she found embroidery and other types of sewing helpful. She suggests such creativity can form part of a self-care routine to maintain good mental health.

When you’re being creative it puts you in a very positive mindset.”

Fiona and the chair of the Just Atelier Trust, Fiona Clements, run Stitch Kitchen in Dunedin’s rejuvenated warehouse precinct.

The two sewing practitioners established this community workshop in 2014 to help people upcycle, reduce textile waste and be able to clothe themselves for a reasonable price.

Various ages and ethnicities assemble in a room with four to six sewing machines and a fabric-cutting table. An adjacent storeroom brims with donated materials, trims, buttons and patterns.

Five ways to well-being

Mrs Jenkin says the ‘five ways to well-being’ emphasised during Mental Health Awareness Week this past September are relevant to those who sew, including at Stitch Kitchen.

These five ways are to connect, keep learning, be active, take notice and give.

Stitch Kitchen’s location away from the main street provides a space without too much stimuli and the pair say it’s a good spot for all kinds of people, including those suffering from anxiety.

People can get out of their homes and gather together at the Vogel St venue to learn new techniques. Connection occurs because of a communality of interest in clothing and fabric, Mrs Jenkin says.

Rather than despairing about what they haven’t got, or what they do or don’t look like, sewists can choose from a colourful array of materials to fashion clothing or accessories which suit them or someone else.

“Here they’re coming in to deliberately work with what they’ve got, to make something new.”

Stitch Kitchen Coordinator, Fiona Jenkin, in their storeroom of fabrics ready to upcycle

Regular classes and workshops are offered with a focus on being ‘beginner-friendly’. There is a Swap Shop for finding or re-homing fabrics, and monthly Mend to Make Awesome sessions supply advice and access to equipment, in exchange for a donation.

“It’s really social, it’s a nice way of people realising that they’re not alone in wearing their clothes out.”

Ms Clements says great conversations occur between people of completely different backgrounds – more connections.

Sewing class participants range from people who tailor and customise their own patterns, to beginners of all ages. These may be high school students or grandmothers who used to sew 20 years ago and want to refresh their skills.

Immigrants, such as former refugees and those whose partners work at the university, bring their own craft traditions. Some may not have the confidence to find paid work and value the community Stitch Kitchen presents.

Mrs Jenkin observes that “language is less of a barrier when you’re hands-on”.

She says it’s lovely to see these new cultures joining in.

It’s really neat to see a little snapshot of how multi-cultural Dunedin is becoming.”

Ms Clements adds that the ‘take notice’ aspect of enhancing mental health is evident as people note colours and make choices about what they produce, even as they’re focused on sewing.

4KT Elephants Project

Another of those ‘ways to well-being’ promoted by the Mental Health Foundation is giving.

Stitch Kitchen’s current community undertaking is the 4KT Elephants Project.

Ms Clements says that nationally, 1.6 million tonnes of textiles are sent to landfill each year. Annually, 4000 tonnes are sent to landfill in Dunedin. So, the goal is to make 4000 toy elephants from materials that would otherwise go to landfill.

Already about 900 toy elephants have been made from textile scraps, used fabrics and other donated materials. People work in teams and those who don’t sew can cut out shapes or stuff elephants.

Some of the elephants made of repurposed fabric as part of the 4KT Elephants Project

The cute toys have been given to widows overseas and locally to friends, relatives and dementia sufferers. Many have been gifted to the Tedz Project for children who’ve been through a traumatic time.

Mrs Jenkin: “People are putting their time and skill into creating something which brings joy and encouragement to someone else.”

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For further information:

About Stitch Kitchen

About the Mental Health Foundation’s five ways to well-being


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