The Handbook Process

The main results of the Handmade Wellbeing project concern about best practices of facilitating arts and crafts workshops for older people in care settings. All the results are gathered in the Handmade Wellbeing Handbook, which was created and developed collaboratively during the project, in joint reflection sessions of the four training weeks. Here, you can see the Handbook development process.

Reflections from UK training week

It was good to have different activities during the training week. Practical workshops, lectures and visits to care settings all offered possibilities to understand and reflect our practices from different points of view. Seeing different craft techniques in different partner countries makes it possible to compare them to gain new perspectives and share best practices.

Willow weaving, which we also tried ourselves, was fun, but we also saw some challenges in adapting it to care settings. It requires strength, so it might be too hard for older people. In the workshop we observed, many of the participants could not weave independently, but needed a lot of help.

Handmade Wellbeing willow weaving workshop
Willow weaving in interactive circle. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

This provides a chance for nice one-on-one interaction, but it can also undermine the empowering effect. Care home residents are dependent on help in many other things, so it would be nice if the activities gave them the feeling of being capable. Also, the group in the workshop was very big, and to provide individual guidance requires a lot of staff. However, this technique could be easier with soft materials, such as textiles, which would allow the participants to be more independent. The challenge is that workshop participants have very different levels of skills and capabilities. Maybe having many different materials to choose from would be one solution.

Nevertheless, the physicality of willow weaving was also a good quality. It challenges to use the whole body, and can be even developed to a dance-like activity. It was noted that especially men like this activity, perhaps because of this physical aspect and the hard material. The material from outside and nature was also very appealing.

Willow weaving could be developed into more collaborative and interactive way of working, for example by doing it in turns in a circle, and perhaps not making individual pieces but contributing to a shared piece. This could develop a new kind of playfulness and new perspectives on making crafts. It is not common to attach playfulness to craft-making, at least not in all partner countries. For example in Finland and Estonia, making crafts traditionally means making useful items and using the techniques in a ‘proper’ way. In these countries, the satisfaction from making crafts is often very much related to finishing a practical item one can use. So is there satisfaction in making without finishing an item? However, we all agreed it is good to encourage more artistic and creative ways of working, to provide something new and unexpected.

Printing activity was seen more free and open for experimenting. It is possible to use many different materials and techniques, and also there are many options for outcomes. The printed paper also seemed beautiful from the beginning, and it was easy to imagine it would turn out very nice in the end. It was noted that artist’s task is to build the framework and presentation for the outcome to assure it looks nice in the end. If the participants trust the result will be good, it raises their motivation.

We also reflected on whether it is beneficial for the artist to know something in advance about the clients they are going to work with.

Handmade Wellbeing printing workshop bubble wrap
Using bubble wrap in printing. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

Many artists don’t want to. They work with a person and it plays no difference what that person’s diagnosis is. Knowing too much in advance can even be harmful. We all have some prejudices about certain conditions and diagnoses. The artist might be scared to take contact with some participants because of these presumptions. However, knowing something also allows better planning in advance.

It was also discussed, whether artists in partner countries usually work alone or in groups. Working with a colleague or a group of artists was seen beneficial, because it allows reflection and creative ideation and development of activities together. It always helps to have someone you can talk to and share your ideas. If it’s not financially possible to facilitate all the workshops together (it costs more for the care setting), at least aim to form artist networks for working together in some ways.

Reflections & developing the Educational Model/Handbook in Finland training week

In the reflection session on Wednesday we discussed our notions of the CD workshop that we observed on Tuesday. First, the training week participants were divided in pairs or small groups, and they discussed for half an hour, based on the paper they had received on Tuesday prior the workshop in care setting. After this, we gathered together to discuss with the whole group. The discussion was audio recorded for research data.

workshop reflectionsee the instructions
Handmade Wellbeing Helsinki
Woven CDs for the wall hanging. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

The suitability of the CD weaving technique for older people was difficult to evaluate because we had not tried it ourselves, only observed. The materials were handy and the idea was nice. However, the materials and equipment could be bigger which would make them easier to handle. For example, bigger plates like LPs could be used to this. These would be more familiar for older participants, as CDs were strange items for them. Listening to music could be incorporated to this activity, and even be the theme of the workshop. Also the needles could be bigger, and yarns thicker. One could use different materials, for example plastic and fabric strips instead of yarns. However, it depends on the person, what they prefer. A wide range of materials to allow personal choices and experimenting would be good.

The observers wondered, who had decided the outcome (the wall hanging) and if the participants knew, what the outcome would be. A feedback session in the beginning and at the end of each session would help the participants see, what they are working towards and what has been achieved so far. This could be done for example by looking at each piece and designing together the composition of the wall hanging. The participants of this workshop have memory issues, so it was true that they probably did not remember what they had made in the previous session, or what the outcome would be.

The room was very appropriate for this activity, even though it was noticed that sitting around a large table makes it difficult to take contact to the other side of the table. The amount of facilitators and staff compared to the number of participants was very good. There were three student teachers and one staff member with six participants, so it was possible to give one-on-one guidance and help. However, it was remarked that having this many facilitators would be impossible if the care setting would have to pay for the activity. Student teachers don’t get paid when they are conducting their teaching practice.

Our cultural backgrounds effected the way we interpreted interaction in this workshop. For some of us, there was enough interaction in the workshop and the atmosphere seemed nice, calm and natural. However, others thought there was too little interaction and people seemed isolated. Some paid attention to that there was very little interaction between the older participants. They were mostly quiet, concentrating on their work or communicating with the students who helped them. In some cultures, it is more acceptable to be quiet. Making crafts is often solitary activity, where speech is not necessary, sometimes it might even distract concentration. However, it is nice to be together and make something, even without talking.

Interaction could be encouraged by trying to create a more collaborative atmosphere and activity. For some observers, it seemed that this workshop was more about teaching and learning, where the student teachers demonstrated the ‘right ways’ of making, and the participants didn’t have much freedom to play or experiment. This could be developed into more artistic and playful approach, where the facilitators do not act as assistants, but co-creators.

As a conclusion, there can be different aims for a workshop: to concentrate on making crafts, or to communicate. Both are appropriate aims, depending on the group and the situation. However, there are different ways to achieve these.

Friday was reserved for working collaboratively on the Handmade Wellbeing Handbook, which gathers together the shared expertise and learning outcomes in this project. Working session was audio recorded for research data.

Educational model design sessionsee the instructions

We started with discussing together, what are the most important aspects that should be considered when working with older people. These aspects were gathered in an educational model mindmap. We came up with eight aspects:

  • The relationship between the facilitator and the older people
  • Getting to know the target group
  • The awareness of learning targets
  • Good practice and examples
  • The infrastructure and economic resources
  • Cultural context and background
  • Professional skills in arts and crafts
  • Society and how to influence the decision makers

After this, we continued working in small groups. Each group worked on the content of one of these aspects. Then we gathered together to share our views and to complement each aspect. See the results of these discussions in the mindmap and the document below.

Handmade Wellbeing educational model
First Draft of Educational Model
Educational Model after Helsinki training weeksee the document
Reflections & developing the Educational Model/Handbook in Austria training week

We continued working on the educational model mindmap and the content of ‘branches’, first in small groups and then sharing our thoughts in big group, complementing each other’s ideas. The discussion in big group was audio recorded for research data.

See the results of the discussion in the mindmap and the document.

educational model development sessionsee the instructions
handmade Wellbeing graz
Second Draft of Educational Model
educational model after graz training weeksee the document
Reflections & developing the Educational Model/Handbook in Estonia training week

After attending metal work and badge making workshops, we gathered together to reflect about them. The idea of the reflection sessions is to share our thoughts about the techniques and their suitability to working with older people, and also think about further ideas to adapt the techniques. Also interaction between the instructors and older participants as well as interaction between the participants is reflected, if possible.

This time, there were not so many older people working with us in the workshop, so the focus was on reflecting the techniques and arranging the workshop and the setting. First, we discussed in groups of four and after this all together in a big group.

The discussion in big group was audio recorded for research data.

Workshop reflection sessionRead the instructions
Handmade Wellbeing Viljandi
Reflection time! Photo: Sirpa Kokko
Thoughts about metalwork

Metalwork techniques require agility & strength, good eyesight, fine motor skills, power and grip. It is possibly dangerous work: you can cut or burn yourself, and hammering the metal is loud. It was not an easy task for those who are young and have no limitations in what they can do, and it was reflected that it’s probably more limited with older people.

On the other hand it was thought that we are often too careful and try to “bubble wrap” older people. This way we limit the possibilities for them and for us, by being scared about what might happen, even though seeing and doing something as challenging as metalwork might be a real thrill for older participants too.

Handmade Wellbeing Viljandi
Small details of metalwork, look closely! Photo: Sirpa Kokko

Metalwork was seen especially suitable for men, who might not be tempted by textile techniques which are usually offered as they are easier and lighter. Now we made jewelry in the workshop, but especially making useful items instead of decorative might be of interest for some participants and help them regaining the feeling of usefulness.

Similar workshop had been provided for older people, but it was aimed for those who are physically able. The facilitator of the workshop usually did the loud hammering part. Of course it is possible to further adapt this technique for people with different abilities: it might be an option to prepare pieces for simpler workshop with just decorating, or even use lighter materials.

It was also noted, that with this technique one must be very thorough with preparations and clear in explaining the working phases and techniques. There must be enough time to try out different tools and techniques. Possibly a lot of one-on-one instruction is needed. This workshop had been given for day centre customers in groups of four, maximum eight persons, so there is enough time for everyone. A big group of 25 persons like we had wouldn’t work, but now it was easier because everyone was used to making with their hands and feeling quite confident.

Handmade Wellbeing Viljandi
Hammering. Brass plates on the table. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

It was also concluded that for some participants metalwork might be very challenging, perhaps too much. For people with dementia there may be too many different phases and techniques. Also loud noises and strong smells are not well tolerated.

Reflections of metal workRead the document
Handmade Wellbeing Viljandi
Metalwork tools. Photo: Mari Salovaara
Thoughts about badge making

Making badges was an accessible, simple and fun one time workshop. It was much easier than metalwork and doesn’t require many special tools. Thus, it is an appropriate technique for almost anyone, for young and old and people with different levels of skills and abilities. Only the pressing machine requires some strength. The wide variety of different materials was inspirational, and we could think of more ways to make badges; for example printing fabric yourself, or embroidering the fabric. It is possible to adapt different techniques for different levels of difficulty. The possibility to make a reflector was nice, because some like to make useful things.

Handmade Wellbeing Viljandi
A fabric badge and a reflector badge. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

We were told that in earlier badge workshops the participants were happy to make badges for their grand children with positive messages to cheer up their day. A possibility for intergenerational workshops was discussed, why not have the grand children and grand parents making badges together?

The workshop space was beautiful, but it might have been good to arrange the tables in smaller groups to promote interaction and conversation between participants. Working by a huge long table didn’t encourage communication, and it was probably a bit challenging for instructors too to navigate between learners. They managed well and everyone got help when needed. On the other hand, everyone worked quite independently now. Some participants might need more help and encouragement.

When the technique is as simple as this, it is possible to give lots of time for experiment, creativity and working on the design. This needs to be supported however. Having no limits and constraints in what you can do will cause “a creativity block” for many of us. Some participants in this workshop expressed having no ideas at first. Design and creativity can be supported for example by giving some theme, like traditional Estonian patterns, or presenting ideas about how to use different materials and techniques. It was discussed that making badges could well be a sociable activity, where working in group provokes further ideas.

Handmade Wellbeing Viljandi Estonia
Inspiration from tradition. Photo: Sirpa Kokko
Reflections of badges Read the document

All in all, we experienced two very different kind of techniques. It is good to keep in mind that the variety of techniques and ways of adapting them to different target groups is endless! Sometimes it might be appropriate to take an easy activity, but one should also be brave and try challenging techniques with older people. They might enjoy it, like the rest of us!

Supporting interaction and communication is important, also when working on individual items. And sometimes it is good to make something together. Metalwork would be ideal to make a collaborative piece as well!

Handmade Wellbeing Viljandi
Intensive badge making. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

Thursday was reserved for reflection session and the development of educational model and the handbook. Once again, we started working in small groups and after this, gathered together to share our thoughts.

This time, the task was to think of concrete examples of the content of the branches. The educational model text that was written in Graz training week last October was shared to everyone via Google Docs, so all the small groups wrote their examples and thoughts directly to the same document.

The model was amended between Graz and Viljandi training weeks, because there was some overlapping in the mindmap ‘branches’. Also, some comments and questions had been added to the document.

The discussion in big group was audio recorded for research data.

See the content of the educational model document after Viljandi development session from the document and the mindmap.

Educational model development sessionsee the instructions
Handmade Wellbeing Viljandi
Third Draft of Educational Model
Educational model after Viljandi training week see the document
Handmade Wellbeing Handbook. Facilitating art and craft workshops for older people in care settings.

The final versions of the Handbook and the mindmap.

handmade wellbeing handbook download pdf
handmade wellbeing
Facilitating art and craft workshops for older people in care settings