Workshops in Estonia

Viljandi Culture Academy
The facilitators & their training

Our workshop leaders included teachers and students of the department of Native Crafts, University of Tartu’s Viljandi Culture Academy. Kersti Rattus is lecturer and painter. Eilve Manglus is lecturer of Estonian native metalwork and jewellery designer. Indrek Ikkonen is goldsmith and is completing his studies in Estonian native metalwork. Elen Tammet is a student of native textiles. Our team members had diverse background: they all had completed short-term training sessions during the project, but their previous experiences of delivering workshops and/or working with older people differed largely. Together they formed enthusiastic and competent team with wonderful skills in different areas of arts and crafts.

Kersti is a long-time art teacher, and over her career she has been working with very different age groups. As a university lecturer, she is currently working mostly with younger students. However, she also holds art classes where several participants are of her own age or older people. As self-improvement is an essential part of every educator’s career, she has participated courses focusing on adult education.

Eilve had not delivered previously special workshops for older people. She was facilitator of metal work labs, which required from participants more strength, accuracy and independence. These workshops were only delivered in senior day activity centres.

Indrek worked in care settings with older people for the first time during this project. Until now, he had conducted many handicraft workshops, with occasional senior participants among others. Also for Elen, this was the first time to conduct workshops exclusively for older participants.

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Printing equipment in the workshop. Photo: Kersti Rattus
handmade wellbeing viljandi
Print equipment innovation: using vapour barrier paper instead of glass in monotype. Photo: Kersti Rattus

All our artists took part in international training weeks during the project, and we organized round-table discussions to share ideas and expectations in our team. All the decisions of what types of workshops we would run, were made during these group discussions. We also visited all the care settings to gain a clear understanding of the possibilities and physical environment – and to meet the people we were going to work together.

Care settings

Our workshops were carried out between September and December 2016 in two types of adult care institutions. We are very grateful for warm welcome and support that we met in 2 care homes located in rural areas – Viiratsi and Nõo; and 2 older adult day activity centres in Viljandi and Tartu.

Viljandi day activity centre has offered its services for 20 years. It is located in the town’s culture centre; and their budget is covered by local municipality. The centre offers a variety of activities designed to promote wellbeing through social and health-related services: singing; dancing (especially folk dances); ceramics; gymnastics; chess and draughts; yoga; handicraft; textile weaving. The centre arranges regular lectures on topics of interest for the community, mostly connected to health-care issues.

All the activities are available for free. Organizers provide the participants with workshop materials, and the participants can keep their products if they wish. Still, it is recommended to donate some ready-made items for selling, to fund new purchases. Handicraft group uses different techniques: they make candles, organza flowers, cards, weave baskets of paper, etc. Where possible, they try to utilize cheap and handy materials: egg cartoons, old newspapers and magazines, pieces of textile; thinking of creative ways how to transform these materials into something new – and unexpected. In different activities, about 160 people of the age between 50–90 are engaged, but the most active age group is from 60 to 80. There are less than 10 men who attend the activities regularly.

We advertised the project workshops among all the participants in different groups. With metal work workshop, we especially wanted to attract male participants. As expected, mostly the members of different handicraft groups joined in. Probably they felt that our programme was closest to their regular activities, and expected to meet their friends in the groups.

Tartu day activity centre works in a building that was originally built for a kindergarten. They have 4 rooms to use for all the different activity groups they offer for older adults. Their  programmes offer cooking lessons; there are two groups of handicrafters (techniques include jewellery making, stained glass, silk painting, painting, felting, knitting, crocheting etc.); chess and table-tennis; leather work; physical exercises. They also offer outdoor pursuits, such as Nordic Walking. Social gathering plays an important role for the participants: they come together to celebrate group members’ birthdays, and exchange self-made gifts.

During our workshops, we met mostly the people who attended handicraft groups. There are two groups that meet regularly on different days. Both groups work with variety of techniques. Specific materials are bought by the centre, but everyone can bring own materials for individual projects (especially for knitting and crocheting). The organisers have also found cheap materials from second-hand or charity shops. One handicraft session lasts for two hours or even more at a time. The youngest participant is 63 years old. The oldest, 98-year-old participant is still very skilled in fine techniques. Average age remains between 75 and 80 years.

Viiratsi care setting is located close to Viljandi town, but it is situated in the middle of beautiful countryside. The building was primarily built for orphanage and is not very comfortable for care setting due to its narrow corridors. The big garden and walking area with many apple-trees compensate it to some extent. The setting provides services to 68 clients, 1/3 of them stay in beds. About 20 clients are diagnosed with dementia, and supposedly the same amount is undiagnosed. Relatives pay for the services (or if someone should have no relatives, then local municipality covers the costs).

Care setting provides regular activities for the residents: there are newspaper readings, they do exercises, arrange chair dance sessions and lectures. Sporting day is a popular event, where both residents and staff participate. To offer more satisfying leisure time, children and youths from nearby town Viljandi occasionally visit to perform for older people. There are not much activities that contain handicraft or arts: some residents do things like that privately in their rooms; organised activities include colouring pictures.

Nõo care setting is located in a separated location in the countryside. At the time of our visits, there were 47 residents, in the age group from 56 to 96. 14 people stay in beds. The residents include people diagnosed with dementia, and memory disorders. Some residents are still keen to work outside: to do usual household works such as cleaning roads of snow or rake the leaves in autumn. Female residents enjoy doing things in groups: they decorate cards, produce paper-flowers for celebrations, model clay figures, paint on glass. Drawing and colouring is combined with storytelling, but are sometimes accompanied by more spontaneous conversations. Not many people do handicraft in their own rooms, but some do. Men are not as interested in extra activities as women.

Workshop themes

Choosing themes and techniques for workshops proved to be the first big challenge. We decided to consult with experts: we visited all the settings, talked to staff members and, where possible, asked for clients’ opinions. Some ideas that we introduced received a quick approval and all these encounters gave us many new ideas to absorb. We realized how many aspects one must keep in mind when starting work with new audiences: our partners wished to learn something new and different, yet feasible; they wanted to produce a practical or decorative items; they expected us to help them figure out what their younger relatives would like to receive as gifts… And they were very conscious of their weekly schedules, physical abilities and disabilities, and worried that their esthetical preference might differ from ours. Although the clients in different types of facilities were in very different physical conditions, there was something in common: we heard many times, that the most disturbing aspect of aging is boredom. It was obvious that people look forward to our workshops with great enthusiasm.

After mapping, what activities were already available for older people, and what they still wanted to learn, we agreed upon four different techniques and design for each workshop. We had to consider what would be achievable during 1- or 2-hour workshop, what materials and tools would be used, whether some workpieces should be prepared in advance. We understood that we could conduct less workshops than we were expected to, and in some cases, limit the number of participants. Our group contained of 4 artisans. We had to set a quota of participants (12–20, depending on the techniques), but nevertheless we worked in rather big groups. Maximum staff-to-participant ratio was of one to 10. In many cases, local staff members joined in and helped to balance the proportion. Our programs did not serve large proportion of participants with impairment.

Mainly women attended the workshops – this was also the case for metal work, which we considered to be more customary technique for men. This situation is not too surprising: it is a strong stereotype that crafty pursuits are more common for women, and it has strong impact on choices that people make for their spare time. Men tend to exclude themselves from doing arts and crafts together in a group. It is not easy to challenge the notion that men are not as crafty as women – and obviously, it needs more personal encouragement to achieve better-balanced proportion.

Our artists introduced four different techniques:

  • Textile printing was conducted by Kersti and assisted by Elen or Indrek.
  • Plaiting ribbons was guided by Elen, assisted by Kersti or Indrek.
  • Badges producing was guided by Elen, assisted by Kersti or Indrek.
  • Metal workshop was conducted by Indrek and Eilve.
Textile printing

Textile printing means using certain items or surfaces to decorate fabric. It was our main technique because of its adaptability to different situations and groups of participants. It is recommendable to use special fabric paints. It is the safest choice: you can be sure of the quality, fastness, and consistency, and it allows you to mix the tones. Fabric paints adhere to fabric well and resist washing. You can heat set fabric paint by using an iron: use a clean, dry pressing cloth over the front of the design and iron it for a couple of minutes. You may also consider ironing your project inside out or from the back side.  Fabric paints set the best with dry heat, keep the iron moving to avoid damages.

There are many options to apply paint to fabric. In our workshops, three different options were introduced:

  • using special stamps and woodblocks. This is the simplest method and achievable to less able participants. Apply colour to the block and presses it firmly on the cloth.
  • Leaf printing. Apply the colour with roller to the leaf and place it on the fabric. Take a piece of kitchen paper and lay it over the leaf. Roll firmly with clean roller. You can also use other materials with interesting texture, such as lace.
  • In this case, apply paint to glass – this way one can achieve most creative shapes and images. Then the painted surface will be pressed against the fabric. We decided to replace glass with vapour barrier paper, which proved to be lighter and thus safer alternative. It would have been too heavy to carry pieces of glass all the time, especially when the workshops took place in other towns. Later we discovered other good usage options for vapour barrier paper: you can cut it into any desirable shapes or pieces.
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Block printed textiles. Photo: Kersti Rattus
handmade wellbeing viljandi
Leaf prints. Photo: Kersti Rattus

Depending on the chosen method, you will need the following items: fabric paint; engraved wooden blocks or rubber stamp and stamp pad; leaves, paint roller and tray; glass or vapor barrier paper; cloth or some specially prepared piece of textile (e.g. household linen, table linen, piece of clothing etc.); iron and ironing board; something to cover working surface, and kitchen paper.

In the first workshop, the participants were provided doilies and table napkins that they could decorate. To succeeding workshops, many participants brought their own items: home textile, home sewn fabric bags, T-shirts, and other pieces of clothing. They experimented with different materials and textures, and re-decorated their old garments. Fabric printing allows participants to be creative: combine background colours, mix tones, work with different shapes and compositions. It is a matter of experimenting.

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Printing with vapour barrier paper. Photo: Kersti Rattus
Plaited ribbons

We plaited heart ribbons to make keyholders. The technique is suggested for more capable group.

You need 2 different coloured yarns, bench clamps, keyrings, scissors, needles. Take 2 colours of yarn. One colour forms the background, another colour forms heart shapes. Plaiting itself consists of two simple moves that need to be repeated until the heart ribbon is long enough. You can finish and individualize the piece with a tassel, using extra yarns, textile ribbons etc.

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Plaited ribbons. Photo: Elen Tammet

To make badges one needs papers, pencils, markers, glue, scissors, cutting-machine, badge machine, billets.

Choose a picture you want to display on a badge (you can draw it, cut it out from a photo or magazine etc). Also, any kind of fabric can be used. By using reflecting fabric it is possible to make reflectors. Use templates to make sure that you picture fits on the badge. When ready, cut your work out with scissors or with the special circle-cutting machine. To finish it, press your badge in a special machine.

The technique is suitable for everyone – everyone can draw or write something on the badge, that makes it very personal art.

Handmade Wellbeing Viljandi
Badges. Photo: Kersti Rattus
Metal work

The goal was to learn to make some basic, sheet metal (brass or copper) jewellery such as earrings, pendant or brooch. The workshop covered the following phases: planning; cutting out your design; texturing the piece and using punches and stamps to create beautiful, unique decorations; completing holes and/or adding fasteners; polishing and finishing the piece.

Metalwork requires goldsmith tools and special equipment. Metal workshops were only delivered in senior day centres with people in good health, as these techniques require strength.

Photo: Eilve Manglus
Metalwork. Photo: Eilve Manglus