By Hillary Di Menna
Since the beginning of the pandemic my Facebook feed has become more vibrant: sewing patterns, recipes, and gardening tips binding communities together.
Saying COVID has provided us all with free-time is a loaded statement. My free-time came in the form of sick leave; my daughter’s free-time began the first day of a never-ending March Break. I had always fantasized about having the time to write a book and, for the first time ever, I actually had the chance to do so. But my body disagreed. The uncertainty COVID brought created a fog so thick I couldn’t see my keyboard. As my daughter sewed stuffed animals and painted furniture I sat there, unable to move. Then I realized, I was trying to write a book in a ‘this will help my career’ way as opposed to a ‘I truly want to create’ way.
Once the pressure of capitalist productivity lifted, I began creating and making projects that actually brought me joy.
As community groups fill food baskets to distribute and sew masks for neighbours as well as hospitals, it becomes evident that community care and feminized labour is needed more than ever in times of crisis. It is also evident that we are creating and reclaiming crafting, not only as a means of survival, but as a means of personal pleasure – a rebellious act in a world where the arts are only recognized when they produce monetary value and where feminized labour is deemed frivolous.
Creating is self-care. Creating can be a healing ritual during an unprecedented time. Night Moves Atelier owner Amanda Sampson explains the empowering side of creation: “I’m at the wheel of all this, this is my rodeo.” Ottawa-based Sampson has seen a rise in DIY crafting in the last few years, crediting resources such as YouTube and Etsy craft kits. “I think where the need to create comes from, is mental health,” noting that creation can be both motivating and distracting. “When I create, it gives me the landscape to think about things more clearly. Creating becomes a positive association.”
Oshawa-based artist Dani Crosby agrees that art is a coping mechanism: “The minute my routine suddenly shifted my brain freaked out, ‘build structure!’” Crosby started making free colouring pages. At first, they were of places that she wished she could go but couldn't due to COVID restrictions. She reached out to the community for requests, and what she thought would be a few suggestions became several dozens. This engagement fulfilled a need to stay connected with her community – a social routine fulfilled by storytelling and collaboration through art.
A friend shared an opportunity with my daughter so that she could become part of a community art project, Art Apart: Connecting Generations, where children and seniors exchange art journals. As Rashmeet Kaur of Art Apart explains, “I’m finding that this kind of expression is getting to be even more important given current events (with the COVID pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement), so I think both of these projects (Art Apart and Connecting Generations) might become an avenue for those folks that might not be able to express their feelings in other ways to have that opportunity to connect with someone else through artwork and feel and share some of their experiences during this isolation.”
Passing care on has been a COVID survival technique for Toronto East End community member Monica Kelly: “I wanted to do something active; something I knew was helping my neighbourhood stay healthy.” When Michael Garron Hospital released a call-out for masks Kelly was on it. She was used to creating out of necessity, having sewn her son’s clothes when he was younger. Kelly had also started making ear savers and donating them via Facebook. She had never sewn masks before, nor did she own a sewing machine, but the community supported her. She received enough donations to buy a machine and used mask-making kits assembled by another woman in her community. She and her son sewed around 1,200 masks in their living room for the hospital.
Now that the hospital is no longer in need of mask donations, Kelly continues to sew masks for those in need, including for the Yonge Street Mission. In order to limit contact, she leaves masks outside of her home for pick up and works with other women who help mail them out.
“This really has brought back working as a community,” says Kelly. Noting that COVID has highlighted social and economic inequities, Kelly hopes to see this community care continue, “I do hope that all people continue to form habits around helping others.” For me, and so many other people, the pandemic has become much more bearable as we craft, and co-create, together.
Hillary Di Menna lives in Toronto with her wild haired daughter and three black cats. She writes about mothering, rebel nuns, witches, and all the social justice in between. She also enjoys drawing cute things. Check out her portfolio at hillarydimenna.com
Image by Jasmin Schreiber