Mental Health Mondays: Crafting for Self Care

This week we were so excited to connect with Zoe Leyland: macramé artist, mental health advocate, and creator of Knots and Thoughts! Zoe shared her creative process and personal experience of how making art can be a form of healing. Check out the video tutorial above and learn how to make your very own macramé feather!

Tell me about yourself, your art practice, and your studies.
I come from a family of artists. My grandmother, my mother, and my sister are all professionally trained artists. I grew up going to art museums, spending the day at the library, and making crafts. I always loved art classes and took many of them over the course of my life. I have tried most mediums and I want to try more.

I am now in my final year of my PhD at Western University in the field, Health Professional Education. My research interests include pain education, professional identity, reflection, and intersectionality. I co-developed a master’s-level program on Interprofessional Pain Management. My interest in pain research stems from my own experience of living with Endometriosis, which has been a painful condition I have been battling for years. I have always considered myself a thoughtful and reflective person. I live a very embodied life and identify as an empath, which makes me very sensitive.

How did you begin creating art as a form of healing?
I feel that art has always been therapeutic for me, but I really started dedicating more time to it when my mental health was the worst it has ever been, which was about 5 years ago. I was hosting colouring for wellness at a former job with colleagues and called it Mandala Monday as the majority of the colouring was detailed and challenging mandalas. I coloured for a couple years then when I started my PhD, I transitioned to painting, and now I focus primarily on macramé/fiber art while also sharing self-love quotes/inspiration.

What benefits do you experience when creating art as a form of self-care?
I get lost in creating something. I love challenging myself with difficult designs and patterns. It takes me to a new space where my mental health and pain do not overcome me, and I can escape from the stress of grad school. I am currently working through some deeply embedded trauma in therapy including deep brain reorienting (DBR) and art has really helped me through it. It helps me calm my brain after a session.


What are your rituals for getting creative? 
I really love dyeing macramé cord and experimenting with colour. When I do it, I have an entire ritual or routine, which includes putting on music that I can dance or sway to. The majority of making art takes place in the evenings as I try to treat my PhD like a day job, so I will create macramé with the tv on in the background snuggled on the couch with my poodle, Lincoln and my husband. I also like to work on special or custom pieces on Saturday mornings when the house is quiet, and everyone is still sleeping so I can focus on the tiny details without any distractions.

Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve created?
I created a custom piece for a former healthcare provider recently. It was a large macramé piece that was fixed to driftwood that had this incredible story behind it. She found the wood with a friend while on a walk on the beach honouring the passing of a loved one. She has travelled and lived in many places since finding it, but wherever she lived, the driftwood came with her. She just bought her first home and asked me to create a custom macrame piece incorporating the wood for her. We developed this really beautiful friendship during part of journey with Endometriosis, we taught each other a lot and it meant the world to me that she asked me to create something so special to her. I will never forget that.


What would you recommend to someone who may be looking to get more creative during the isolation of lockdown and colder months?
I would encourage others to try out a few mediums and find one or more that you really love that does not feel like a chore or a job. Watch videos online, read books, spend time in nature, or follow new artists for inspiration then make it your own version. I recognize that I am very privileged to create art in my spare time and have the financial means to do so but realize that not everyone can do that. I will never take that for granted. I am so honoured to create custom pieces for special people in my life and sell my creations online. I do not know who I would be without art. It really is a part of me.

You can follow Zoe’s work via Instagram: @knots.and.thoughts, and purchase her work via her Etsy Shop: