Crafting a connection to self and others with Nasreen Imrit
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
Nasreen (also known as @sewcraftynaz on Instagram) is a multi-crafter and relatively new knitter. She joins me on the podcast to talk about how craft has allowed her to connect to her mother who died when she was very young. After being introduced to needlework at school, Nasreen inherited her mum's crochet hooks, patterns and some of the items she made, and she found a new connection to her mum. Nasreen also intentionally chooses crafts that her own children can join in with, and has noticed that each of them have gravitated towards different types of craft, but that each of them have found activities that allow them to experience creativity and calm.
Nasreen also speaks about how making time for creativity is a really important part of her own self-care as a doctor and a parent of young children. She makes the interesting observation that 'just' watching TV left her feeling more tired, whereas craft actively allowed her to switch her attention to something else and resulted in her feeling rejuvenated.
If you'd rather listen to our conversation, click play below or the full transcript is at the bottom of the page.
Mia Hobbs, Nasreen Imrit
Mia Hobbs 00:04
Hello and welcome back to series two of the Why I Knit podcast. My name is Dr Mia Hobbs and I'm a clinical psychologist who's passionate about knitting and its benefits for our mental wellbeing. Each episode I interview a different knitter about why they knit and how it benefits their mental health. This week on the podcast, I'm joined by Nasreen Imrit, also known as @sewcraftynaz on Instagram. Nasreen is quite a new knitter but an experienced crocheter and sewer and multicrafter. Hi, Nasreen. Welcome to the podcast.
Nasreen Imrit 00:39
Hi, Mia. Thank you for inviting me on to the podcast.
Mia Hobbs 00:43
You're very welcome. I'm delighted to have you! So you are a multicrafter? And a relatively new knitter, is that right?
Nasreen Imrit 00:54
Yes, that's right. My crafting journey probably started when I was about 11/12, so starting secondary school and doing Textiles, which was known as Home Economics at the time. We had to make these aprons for the next module, which was going to be Cookery. So we had to start embroidering, to embroider something on the little pocket. So that's how I discovered thread, and then started to do a hand embroidery, and I really, really enjoyed it. And then I think my dad noticed and was like, "Oh, what's this?" and I said, "Oh, we have to embroider this thing", and then he... So my mum passed away when I was really little, when I was five, and she enjoyed crochet. She made mostly doilies and I think she made a couple of shawls, so my father kept all those things for when myself and my sister would be a bit older; we might be interested. So that's how I discovered yarn and crochet. And at the time, obviously there was the books that she had, and I just picked up whatever crochet hooks she had, which were really small ones because she was making more doilies and really fine lace things.
Mia Hobbs 02:06
So was she using thread more than yarn?
Nasreen Imrit 02:08
Yeah, she actually had some fingering yarn as well. And then I just picked it up and I thought, "Let's just try this". And I remember the first things I made ended up being tiny beanies for my Barbie dolls.
Mia Hobbs 02:24
Nasreen Imrit 02:26
Because I didn't know how to increase so I just kept going in the round, so it became a little bowl. So I was like, "Well, that could be a good little hat for my dolls." So that's how I started to crochet. I made anything that would work out through the bowl, because that's all I could do, little baskets...
Mia Hobbs 02:42
Yeah, kids are so great at finding a use for something. They've made something and they're going to turn it into a thing. I found that in my knitting groups, as well. They're really good at seeing the potential in something that's an unusual shape.
Nasreen Imrit 02:54
Yeah they are, absolutely. And yeah, so that's how I started crochet, then dabbled in lots of little things, mostly cross stitch and embroidery. And then when I started having my children, I started to crochet again and do blankets and hats and things. But I probably took it bit more seriously in the last few years, as the kids grew up a little. I've just always wanted to keep trying new crafts and keep trying new things. Cross stitch was a favourite for a while but obviously the work's quite slow. And so then I discovered quicker crafts, things like dot printing, screen printing (that was a fad for a little while), so really transforming tote bags and things like that. And then as I had children, they wanted to get involved. "Come on, I'm going to come into your craft room. What can I do?" And I'm like, "Oh, what can you do...? Don't touch anything!" (Laughs) So that's been quite interesting because it's helped me understand craft on many levels, in terms of doing it for myself and how do I connect my children with it. And so then obviously my next challenge was to learn to knit. And for me it was just seeing jumpers like yours, constantly, on Instagram! And I was like, "I want to make this! I want to make this!" And although with crochet you can kind of get a little bit close, you can't get that same effect that you get with knitting.
Mia Hobbs 04:40
Yeah, it's the different kind of texture, I suppose, of the fabric, isn't it?
Nasreen Imrit 04:44
So that was my main inspiration to learn to knit. And then I somehow, in one of those competitions they have in Instagram giveaways, won some circular needles and I was like, "Ooh, I must start using them!" And so I kind of fell in and out of love with it initially because I could do so many other things quicker. I could crochet quicker, I could sew quicker. But when I did start it, I actually found it quite addictive because it was the use of both hands, which initially was challenging as I kept dropping the left needle quite a lot.
Mia Hobbs 05:23
Because you're used to just having one implement.
Nasreen Imrit 05:25
And I was like, "Oh no, oh no, oh no, I need to save the stitches!"
Mia Hobbs 05:30
And I guess just one stitch, usually, with crochet as well.
Nasreen Imrit 05:32
That was it! You work stitch by stitch and you can stop your work, you can lose your crochet needle, it wouldn't matter.
Mia Hobbs 05:38
I always lose my crochet hook, just in the sofa! When we take the sofa cushions off, there's always a crochet hook in there!
Nasreen Imrit 05:46
Yeah, likewise. So I think that that initially felt a bit new to me, like, "Ooh, I can't just whip this up really quickly, I have to really sit down and concentrate." But once I kind of accepted it as a different craft - not because I'm a crocheter, I can just knit - I actually enjoyed it. So I would do it more to relax rather than to produce something. I made a phone sock as my first project, which I think I have saved somewhere, with some scrap yarn, and I even tried some colourwork on it.
Mia Hobbs 06:23
Nasreen Imrit 06:24
It was a variegated yarn but I tried some colourwork with yellow, because I was like, "No no no, that's where I'm going, I want to do colourwork." And I actually really enjoyed it! But then again, with lots of WIPs going on, I thought, "Okay, I will pick that up at some point when I've got time." But then my mother-in-law came to stay with us for a bit, to spend some time with us, and then she was like, "Ooh, I've always wanted to learn to knit." And I was like, "Okay, let's do it!" And we both sat down in front of the laptop with YouTube on, and she took to it really quickly. She made a mini thing, just garter stitch, that ended up being a little neck wrap that you could wear if you're cold around the house, and she really loved it. So I picked up knitting again, just to do it together with her, and thought I was gonna make myself a top. So that's still ongoing. I pick it up, put it down, depending on whether I just need something to relax and not to follow any pattern because it's just going to be a rectangle really. But yeah, it's a slow start but I'm learning to see it as very different from my other crafts that I do. I'm seeing it more like cross stitch: I know there's going to be an end but I enjoy just the bit that I'm doing at that time. I wasn't too sure about it to start with but I think it's growing on me quite nicely.
Mia Hobbs 07:57
There's so much I want to ask you about what you've already said. You've had a slightly different journey to many people because you've got quite good in other similar crafts that are similar but a bit different, and I wonder whether that just made you... Like, most new knitters wouldn't even think about a colourwork sweater, probably, whereas I wonder whether you felt like you had this springboard and you almost had higher expectations of knitting to start with because you already were really good at crochet, for example, and maybe that was a tricky experience!
Nasreen Imrit 08:33
I think you're right because I started doing colourwork in crochet. There's a stitch that actually resembles knitting a bit, which is the centre stitch. So I started doing some colourwork in crochet and I really, really enjoyed it. And then I was like, "Ooh, now this is the next step", not actually really appreciating that it is actually a complete different skill. And I was like,"Yeah, if you can crochet you will be able to knit really quickly". On Instagram, obviously, I know a lot of crocheters-knitters and they were like, "You'll be absolutely fine". And they've been really really helpful with pointing me in the right directions, what patterns to try first, etc. And I'm like, "No, I'm going for a colourwork sweater!" (Laughs) But then I thought no, maybe a hat, let's start with a hat. I think that that expectation was what probably set me back initially, because I was like, "It's yarn, it's two needles, I crochet, I should be able to do it." But once I kind of set that aside, I realised actually I enjoyed it so much more, and I accepted it as its own craft, as its own skill. Even my husband can tell the difference between knitting and crochet now!
Mia Hobbs 09:56
Oh, that's good!
Nasreen Imrit 09:57
I know! He's like, "Oh, you're knitting!" "Yes I am!" (Laughs) It's something that I'm going to develop more this year, I think. And yeah, let's watch this space, see what I make!
Mia Hobbs 10:10
And I'm interested in the idea that you might have different crafts that give you different things, like the idea of having some times where you might need something that feels more relaxing, and it's okay for it to be slow. And maybe there are other times where you feel like, I need... I think you used the words "quick fix" just before we started recording. I'm interested in hearing a bit more about that, like how you decide whether it's based on your mood, or what else is going on in your life or...?
Nasreen Imrit 10:38
Yeah, so I find that each week, I need to make something.
Mia Hobbs 10:45
Does it need to be finished, or just spend some time making it?
Nasreen Imrit 10:48
No, just spend some time making it, but at least it's tangible. It's a tangible progress. I work part time, and the rest of the time is kids, etc. But then if I do make something or make progress on something, it makes me feel like, "Oh, yeah, I've done something for myself this week".
Mia Hobbs 11:10
So it feels like your thing, for you.
Nasreen Imrit 11:12
Yeah, it's my thing, for me. And sometimes with large projects, even though I've done two or three rows, it doesn't feel tangible because it's large, and it's going to be ages before it's finished. So I have little quick projects, like block printing which I quite like, and often, if I want to do that in an evening, my boys will always come in, "Can I try it?" And then they will use one of their old vests and they will join in and print their vests.
Mia Hobbs 11:44
And how old are they?
Nasreen Imrit 11:45
They're seven and four. They just want to spend that time, and then they will come in (and if one comes in, the other one will come in). And I was like, "Okay, well find some old vests and you can block print." And they block printed a couple of vests, it was quite funny. I always have some spare tote bags and scrap fabrics that are plain, so I'll block print them. If it's a tote bag, that will probably be gifted at some point. If it's a piece of fabric, then I know that I'll probably use it to make a little pouch for something. And then I'll be like, "Ooh, that feels finished." Or I will actually look up a pattern and choose yarn for it and put it separately so it'll make me feel like I've decided something or I've made something. So my quick crafts tend to be things (like with block printing) that are quite small, or I'll arrange all my scraps to decide a project that I can use all my scraps for. Or sometimes I'll make things that are just squares, so crochet squares. If you made a square, that can take about 45 minutes, and then feel like, "Okay, I've added another square to this project." So it would depend on the week that I've had as to whether I need my quick fix. If I know I won't have much time, got to wait in the car for somebody to finish something, I'll just do a quick thing and then I'll be like, "Yep! Done it. I'm okay now."
Mia Hobbs 13:16
Do you plan that quite deliberately, like to sit and think what do I need right now? Do I need to have something quick that I finish, or could I just do a couple of rounds on this knitted thing?
Nasreen Imrit 13:30
I do think about it deliberately a lot more now. When I used to work a lot more, I would find that the day that I was off I'd be floating about just kind of doing the things that needed to be done, and at the end of the day you just still feel mentally tired, even though you've achieved quite a lot. I wasn't consciously making time for that break, to think how do I break away from work and everything else. So now, towards the end of my working week (which is Wednesday) I will actually think during my lunch break, "Okay, what do I feel like this week?" and then I will know if I'm putting on too much, "Okay, now I don't have to finish that, that can wait." So I will deliberately make myself think, "Okay, I'll probably try and finish a border on this. And actually, I'm not going to pick up another new project, I'll try and finish this a little bit longer. I'm a bit bored with this. Maybe I'll just put this aside." So I'll talk myself through it for 10 minutes or so. So then I actually do feel that when I've done it I'm like, "Yeah, actually, that was alright." It was contained, it was planned. I actually feel better that I've achieved what I wrote down. So it's all that feeling of having made a list and having achieved it as well.
Mia Hobbs 14:44
So you're quite goal-focused.
Nasreen Imrit 14:47
Yeah, I find that works better for me because I have a lot of WIPs across all the crafts. So I can get lost into it. I get distracted very quickly, so I've found that helps keep me focused.
Mia Hobbs 15:09
Interestingly, Nasreen, no-one else has mentioned school in their crafting origins story, which is interesting. And certainly in my own experience, I'd kind of almost forgotten I'd done Textiles at school because it was so off-putting. (Laughs) The teachers were so scary that I was 100% convinced I would sew through my finger on the machine. I haven't done that yet! Similarly, making pastry: also filled with terror. So that's interesting, actually. Obviously there was enough good about it that it got you hooked, actually. It was a positive experience for you.
Nasreen Imrit 15:51
Yes, it was. And I think because obviously, there wasn't anybody who really did any crafts in the immediate family, obviously I didn't know my mum, so I think for me it was like a lightbulb moment. I was like, "Wow!" I grew up in Mauritius for a bit, so that's where I'm from originally, and I remember on the way back from school there was one little embroidery shop, a craft shop, on the way home. And I would save my pocket money and I would buy embroidery thread on the way home. And I would buy a new colour each time. And those moments still are quite vivid, because I would remember "Oh my god, I've got so many shades of this one!" And I even made a cross stitch for my brother when I was 15 because he travelled and he was missing home, so I made him a little Home Sweet Home cross stitch project. So the memories of that actually are quite nice in the sense that I'm really glad I discovered it through school.
Mia Hobbs 16:56
It sounds like it also was a really nice link to your mum.
Nasreen Imrit 17:00
It was, and I think obviously having lost her so young, we always found ways to reconnect with her. And she was a baker, she crocheted, she sewed. I still have her books from the 80s. I was looking at them the other day and was like, "I should try and make something that doesn't look terribly dated. There are some things I could probably make." And I thought I might do that. So my dad said, "Okay, there you go." So my sister's got the baking side of things. She loves baking and decorating cakes. And I do more of the crafting, the sewing and the crochet. So it was really, really nice to have that connection and actually love crafting. My dad would always tell me,"Your mum used to make that." And that was actually quite nice to have that.
Mia Hobbs 17:45
And also special that he kept some of the things she actually made and her crochet hooks.
Nasreen Imrit 17:52
Yeah, so I still have her crochet hooks and some bits and bobs that she made. A lot of it used to be home decor things, like little doilies and things like that. They've kept really well, actually. So that was very precious. I guess that's how my love for craft actually started, which is really nice, and I carried on with it. And yeah, it's a big part of my life, I would say.
Mia Hobbs 18:21
And that must be a special thing to share with your kids as well, that they can see those things that their grandma made.
Nasreen Imrit 18:26
That's it! Yeah, I was showing it to my daughter the other day, and I was like, "Oh look, this is my mum's book." She was like, "Oh, wow!" And she was amazed it wasn't in black and white. I was like, "No, colour did exist!" (Laughs) And we were looking at it, and obviously the patterns used to be in these little foldable paper flyer type things when they bought the patterns, and very brief. It's really interesting to see how it was, you know, none of the yarns exist anymore. It's really interesting. She was like, "Oh, this one's cute. You could make that!" for one of my little nieces. So it was really nice to show that, and also to pass on the love of making to them as well, although they're interested in different things. I find it's an integral part of home, actually making, for us. Well, not my husband probably but the rest of them! (Laughs)
Mia Hobbs 19:30
I suppose part of this podcast is about thinking about how crafting can benefit our mental wellbeing, and that those of us who do it a lot feel like we get lots of benefit on a kind of wellbeing level from doing it. And I think there are many ways you can interpret craft, like some people do Lego, I had a client who was making circuit boards, doing all these things I didn't understand. But the the feeling behind it, I suppose, was very similar to the feeling I get from making something from scratch, with yarn and needles or sewing a dress or something. The idea of having something where the outcome is not high stakes, nobody else cares about it, you can kind of experiment or be creative and a safe place to make mistakes, and that it's kind of just for you with no other useful purpose, necessarily.
Nasreen Imrit 20:26
Absolutely. I noticed that with my daughter, she's more into calligraphy, so she can sit there and will do beautiful lettering, and she will apply that to her art or her homework and things. So that's her thing. My middle one will cross stitch. He actually asked me the other day... we've run out of the size of the aida that he actually uses, and he was like, "Can I do a cross stitch?" and I was like, "I don't think we've got the size that you use, we have to get some other ones." So it's a nice quiet space for him. And he'll cross stitch mostly vehicles, but it doesn't matter. So he cross stitches anything that he likes, and if he makes a mistake, I'll say "It's alright! We'll just cut it and start again." So he really, really likes it. And I think they've noticed, especially my middle one, that if you need some quiet time, that's a nice space for him to recharge, and feel that this is something that's just his. He uses it a lot when he feels like the world's getting too much or schools getting too much and things like that. So he really does enjoy that. And you won't hear him! He's the loudest, but you will not hear him at all. And then he started sewing. So he's got interested in sewing a little bit. He does keep coming into my room saying, "What can we sew?", and I was like, "I don't have any boy fabric anymore!." (Laughs) Because I bought some for their room but they've used it all up. And I was like, "Well, I don't have anything with cars or planets or dinosaurs anymore." But yeah, I really love the way that they're all, in their own way, discovering working with their hands a lot more and creating things themselves actually.
Mia Hobbs 22:14
Yeah and it sounds like you really notice that having an impact on them, that they kind of feel regulated and calm when they're doing it.
Nasreen Imrit 22:23
They do. And I think it's really nice because it's something that they've done and they've made; it's not just their homework or their school activities, all these scripted things. So things where they have a blank canvas and they can go wild. They can decide what they want to make and what they want to draw and what they want to write and things like that. So I think that's quite important, especially during lockdown when we couldn't go very far anywhere. It was somewhere to actually explore, these avenues to think how can they express themselves and find an outlet. And I think that was really useful at the time.
Mia Hobbs 23:03
And I think with kids, they don't get that many choices over things really, do they? Like they're told what their English homework is and there's probably very little scope for choice, and the older they get, probably the less scope there is for choice, what they write about. So it's nice for them to have a space to create something where they're the boss.
Nasreen Imrit 23:21
Yes! Yeah, absolutely, and I think we noticed that a lot more over lockdown. My daughter started making little furniture out of paper. So she would have the boxes of cardboard and she would make a little bedroom. Everything was made out of tiny cardboard or paper. She'd make this little scene. That's her idea of making. She's more pen and paper now. And my son did the cross stitch. The little one just kind of dabbles into everything at the moment. He's not quite sure yet. They will come into my room and be like, "Ooh, what can I have to put in my little project?" So I was like, "Okay, you can have ribbons, you can have this, you can have this." But yeah, I do think that it has a big, big space for mental wellbeing, to promote mental wellbeing in all children and adults.
Mia Hobbs 24:16
And it's a great thing to send them out into the world with, isn't it, for the rest of their lives really, this kind of little hidden superpower that when they need to feel calmer, they can go and do that. Take themselves off. Certainly at university, I hadn't discovered knitting then but I did some cross stitch. I would go and secretly do it in my room when everyone else was cramming and I'd had enough of revision (laughs).
Nasreen Imrit 24:39
Yeah, absolutely. And you reminded me actually... I studied in Manchester at the same med school as Atia (Azmi). There's lots of fabric shops there, so I remember buying this piece of fabric that was enough to cover my single bed but the weave was as such that you could cross stitch through it. I had it on my bed and I decided that I would just add little bits to it. So that's why I would take breaks from my revision. I would go and say, "Oh, I'll make a little piece on it." I don't have it anymore, I think. I'd put a little piece on there and then I'd go back to my revision. So it was basically several years of bits of cross stitch on it for a while. I might be able to locate it. I can't remember where I've left it.
Mia Hobbs 25:28
Have you got a photograph? That sounds like an amazing keepsake!
Nasreen Imrit 25:32
It does! I know that it's been around for ages. I haven't seen it recently. We've moved a few times, so I need to try and find it. Photos... it's going to be from a very long time ago, probably not digital even.
Mia Hobbs 25:44
Yeah, that's the tricky thing, isn't it, with pre-digital?
Nasreen Imrit 25:49
I'm going to try and find out if I can still see it. I think I can still find it somewhere. But yeah, you just reminded me of that. Yes, at uni...
Mia Hobbs 25:57
So were you crafting buddies, you and Atia?
Nasreen Imrit 26:01
For a little while. We spent three or four weeks, I think, doing a project in Wales. So we went to Wales together; there was me, her and another friend. And I remember spending a lot of time in libraries looking at cross stitch books and other craft books. So we would spend a lot of our spare time being in the library and think, "Oh wow, look at these patterns!" and things like that. So we spent that three... I think it was three weeks, actually... three weeks in Wales together, a good few years ago now. But we didn't do much crafting together at uni as such. But I reconnected with her a few years ago through Instagram. That's when I discovered Instagram.
Mia Hobbs 26:47
I've had quite a few health professionals get in touch with me who are knitters or crafters. Parlty maybe that's because I am a psychologist and they're more attracted to the idea of what I'm talking about. It was something I noticed when I did salsa dancing years ago, that there were loads of doctors there, and I suppose I developed this theory that being a doctor is quite stressful and quite taxing on the brain, and that maybe that means you need kind of an active way of turning off your brain from your work. So the idea of dancing, I suppose it's hard to think about anything else if you're trying to coordinate what your feet and your hands are doing at the same time. And I wondered also about craft, whether that's the appeal: that it's quite an active way of switching your brain off from other things and having this... I don't know... escape. I don't know what your thoughts are.
Nasreen Imrit 27:43
Yeah, I would agree with you, because I would remember the time where crafting was there but not a major part of my life. So if I had a hard day, so probably at the beginning, when I went into my first years as a doctor, I would be so tired I'd probably spend the evening watching TV, but that would not relax me at all. You think that if you empty your brain, you're filling it with something else. And I think after doing that for a while I did notice that actually I just felt more and more tired, which is when then picking up a craft... the fact that you're concentrating on it, reading a pattern to it... you're actually actively emptying your mind of the other things, rather than just blocking it and watching a screen which obviously doesn't do that at all. So I do think that it has that effect of cleansing your mind in the way that you're concentrating on something repetitive, something creative. And I do notice the difference after doing some crafts if I've had a stressful day. So after finishing work, catching up with everything I have to do, if I shut myself in a room and decide to just crochet for a couple of hours or even sew, I will notice the difference. When I come out I do feel mentally refreshed in a way. So I yeah, I definitely believe that it does actually healthily help you kind of cleanse rather than forget. And at the same time you're creating something. I think it does have a big part to play towards preventing burnout for a lot of people who feel burnt out, because it is difficult to switch off. Possibly from the work that YOU do, as well: it's quite difficult to switch off from the things that you have to listen to, you have to hear. Even though you've got your professional hat on, you still absorb it. You're still human, you still absorb it. And to learn to let that go is necessary, I think. To have a method of really switching off and recharging before the next day or the next thing. So yeah, I'm a strong believer in that. I'd go everywhere with my crochet stuff if I could! (Laughs) Even when there's no time, I take it with me. You never know, you might get stuck in traffic!
Mia Hobbs 30:21
Yeah, definitely. That's really interesting, the idea about preventing burnout. I think burnout's an increasingly big problem, isn't it, in the health service, certainly here. And yeah, I resonate a lot with what you say about finding a way of... I find sometimes I'm attracted to really complicated patterns because, like you say, I want to absorb myself fully in something so my brain can't be thinking about other things from my day. But also the idea of having this kind of soothing repetitive motion. It almost sounded like you get something almost a bit rejuvenating from it, like that time you spend in your craft room.
Nasreen Imrit 31:05
I do. It's like my little haven. I'm quite lucky to have a space, and that the children know I'm generally off limits. (Laughs) So on the days when they're at school and I'm not at work, I will actually have the door closed and maybe listen to something, maybe not, depending on whether I want quiet. And it will just be like the best time in the world, just making something. Over time, as I've learned to understand what crafting means to me, I've realised actually I need it. It's part of something that I need to be who I have to be, at home at work, etc. rather than just being this thing that I do because I enjoy it. I remember when I was cross stitching in my late teens/early 20s, I used to get comments like, "Why are you doing that? This is what old people do." They would say it in a laughing way and it would be relatives. "Why are you doing that? You should be going out!" And I'm like, "Well, I really like it. I love watching this white fabric just burst with colour, and I made this!" They wouldn't really understand it, but I'm glad it's not something that anyone's been able to ever take away from me, even from that age.
Mia Hobbs 32:25
Do you think you understood then? Because I think certainly for myself, I don't think I really understood that I needed it and that it was beneficial to my mental well being until really relatively recently. Maybe the last five or so years, I've really thought deliberately about what do I need right now for me in terms of crafting, and just how important it was to me. And I had certainly lots of those comments about being an old lady and those kind of things at university, when I was literally the only person doing cross stitch or knitting. I'd be interested to hear about the journey you've been on in terms of your understanding about how much you've needed craft.
Nasreen Imrit 33:08
I would say in my early years I didn't link it to my mental health as such. It was really just, "Mum used to do it. I really want to do it." So I kind of grew into that. And then I always just liked it. That was just it. I just liked thread and I did it on and off, on and off, through uni as well. But I would say in terms of benefit to my mental health, probably the last four or five years, I would say. That's possibly because now my youngest is four, so I was too busy to actually think about it. And then recently, obviously now they're all a bit older, but there is still lots more to do. I started thinking about it more deliberately. As they get older their needs increase, and work's been more stressful with Covid times, and I think that's made me a lot more aware of it. It's gone from being a hobby to something that's more therapy. When I discovered Instagram, that was mad because I was like, "(Gasp) Look at all these patterns! Look at all these people!" So that's how I learned to sew, when I discovered Instagram, and I self-taught.
Mia Hobbs 34:33
And when you say sew, what do you mean by sewing? Is that like machine-sewing or hand-sewing or...?
Nasreen Imrit 34:39
Yes, I do mainly machine-sewing.
Mia Hobbs 34:42
And is it clothes or...?
Nasreen Imrit 34:43
Yeah, so I made the dress that I'm wearing at the moment. I do mostly clothes and I will make random things for my children, like if they need a little bag I'll make them pouches for things, clothes for their little teddies and stuff. But then Instagram initially stressed me out because I had to make everything that I saw. (Laughs) I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with my craft, because it kind of tipped into being this stressful thing from being this relaxing thing, because there was always something that I had on my list. The lists are still there but they don't stress me out so much. I had to learn to tip that balance, that actually my craft was to relax me not because I need to churn out three things by the end of the week.
Mia Hobbs 35:35
It sounds like your automatic thing is kind of an ambitious drive sensation of "Ooh, look at all these things! I could make them." And I can hear the doctor in you there, like the ambitious person wants to go for it, and that you've kind of slowly reined that in into "No, this can be a bit more about process and not just about achievement."
Nasreen Imrit 35:56
Exactly. And I think that's where knitting has really come in, because obviously, as I've started to be more mindful of what I'm doing, meditating, taking that time out, the knitting actually fits in really nicely with that. You enjoy the process of knitting because it's not one stitch at a time; you've got to do a few rows before you can actually see what you're doing and see what's come out. Whereas with crochet, you've done a few stitches, "Oh yeah, I can see, yeah that's going to look like that for the next..." But with knitting, you have to be patient with it for a bit before you can actually understand. So that's where I was just thinking actually, yeah, I'm ready to start to take this on. But yeah, the last couple of years, as I've taken sewing and crochet and now knitting more seriously, I've had to find my balance between wanting to make everything that exists and, you know, having a sweater like yours (which I will get to one day!) to actually just putting it back and making sure that my craft doesn't become like everything else that I have to do. So that's been very interesting. And it sounds
Mia Hobbs 37:06
And it sounds like now, Nasreen, it's very much part of a deliberate part of your self-care strategy.
Nasreen Imrit 37:12
Yeah, absolutely. So, for example, normally if I make something I would say, "Okay, I'm going to follow this pattern and then I'm going to make it." Because I know it will only take me two days to make it, for example a sewing pattern. But when I sit and think about it, what I really want to do is I want to create. So I know that actually I don't like this bit of it, but I'd like to add some applique to it; I could even add some crochet to it. If I gave myself that little bit of time to think, I would come up with something that I'd absolutely love because I took the time and I was mindful about it. So I'm learning to do that a little bit more, rather than just think, "Yeah, I made it." And I'm finding that initially challenging, but I'm getting better at it. So I can let something sit for a while and think, "Actually, let me come back when I feel that I really love what I'm doing right now, and it is me" rather than "I've done this pattern. There you go, guys. Look, I made it."
Mia Hobbs 38:12
Do you feel like it's more rewarding when you do it the second way? Slower and slightly more creative, giving yourself time to have those ideas in the first place?
Nasreen Imrit 38:22
I do. I've made a couple of pieces of clothing like that, a dress that I made with an old shawl... So that shawl was a beautiful shawl I bought from India. For some reason I decided to put it on a surface. I put candles on, didn't put a plate, the candles kind of ruined some of it. It was so beautiful, I kept the part that was still okay. And then I decided to incorporate it as part of a dress, but obviously I had to redesign the dress slightly to make it work. It took me longer but when I look at it, I love it so much more because I was like "Okay, it is exactly as I wanted it to be." So I'm learning to do that a little bit more, rather than just say, "Yep, made this pattern, made this one, made this one".
Mia Hobbs 39:08
And there'd be none others in the entire world that are exactly the same as yours.
Nasreen Imrit 39:12
Exactly. So yeah, my relationship with craft has evolved through the years to somewhere where I think I wanted to be.
Mia Hobbs 39:24
And how about your relationship with the finished objects? I don't know whether there's anything about that that still gives you kind of therapeutic value. For example, like today you're wearing a dress you made; does that make a difference to your mental health on a daily basis, do you think?
Nasreen Imrit 39:41
Now it does! When I first started, I didn't like the things I made! I don't know whether I was just too self critical, or is it that perfectionist in me that, you know... It wasn't quite... It was a bit rough round the edges. So I remember with first few things I made, I'd be like, "Hmm, I'll wear that thing that I bought instead." But now, most days I will wear something that I made. And it just gives you that sense of warmth that nothing else tends to. And I'm like living in this dress at the moment because it's warm. And I'm like, "Ooh, should I buy some more fabric the same and just make a top? Because it's actually quite nice and warm." And I'll add pockets to designs that do not have pockets, because we all need pockets all the time. But generally, I notice myself sometimes, I'll be like, "Oh, am I wearing anything I made today?" and usually there would be one item. And I don't find myself buying clothes anymore, much. I will look, but generally if I'm browsing online I'm taking pictures of what people are wearing! I'm like, "Oh, I could make this!" rather than actually buying it. But yes, it does make me feel more confident, and it's like a silent confidence that yeah, you know, I made this and I'm comfortable in this, and it's me.
Mia Hobbs 41:04
And do people around you know? Like people at work, do they know about that side of you and notice if there's something you've made, or think that you might have made it?
Nasreen Imrit 41:14
Yes, at work there's a few of my colleagues who do know that I make things. So every now and then they will look at me like "Did you make that?" And sometimes it'll be yes, sometimes it'll be no, because sometimes they can't tell!
Mia Hobbs 41:26
No, with sewing I think it's harder to tell, isn't it? Whereas with a knitted jumper, it probably looks more obviously hand-knitted.
Nasreen Imrit 41:33
Yeah, it looks more handmade. So they do comment on it. And I've made a few things for a couple of people at work as well. So they do know that I make it. I was making something at work the other day. We had a training afternoon over Zoom, and one of my colleagues came in. She was like, "Are you making that? Are you selling it?" And I said, "I haven't thought about it yet!" She was like, "Well, if you're not doing anything about it, I'll buy it, I'll buy it!" (Laughs) I find that really hard. I've never thought of selling things I make!
Mia Hobbs 42:07
People ask me about knitted things, but the hourly rate would be 0.00p! (Laughs) So it's not something I'm interested in.
Nasreen Imrit 42:15
That's the thing! I was speaking to my husband about it and I said, "I wouldn't know what to sell this for, because the amount of time I've spent on it... people won't be willing to pay what it's worth!" So yeah, my crafting bug or obsession (whichever one!) is generally well known. Family as well - they will always ask me, "What are you making?" But yeah, it's part of me now, and I'm kind of glad it's not this thing that old people make. And you know, I've found a lot more confidence in it, that actually I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I discovered it when I did.
Mia Hobbs 43:00
And did it help finding other similar people on Instagram, as in people who were younger? Certainly when I discovered Instagram, which was long after I started to knit, I felt like I'm not the only person my age who's doing this, and found more patterns that were more things I would be interested in wearing, for example.
Nasreen Imrit 43:23
My sister asked me to go on Instagram and I was like, "Nah, I don't see why I would." And then I decided to, about three years ago, and then I developed a lot more as a crocheter and a sewer at that point, because I discovered everything: all the indie sewing designers, all the beginner patterns. And then I started doing colourwork in crochet which are things that I hadn't ventured into before. I started doing tapestry; I designed a blanket then a cushion about three years ago. I've designed several things. I have too many... I get distracted too easily. I haven't followed through into publishing them. I've got about two or three other things that I've made and designed but not written up or released, so that might come one day.
Mia Hobbs 44:18
Yeah? That's exciting!
Nasreen Imrit 44:20
I've met designers as young as 15 on Instagram who are so so talented, yarn dyers and stuff, and it's been such an amazing space to find other people who do what I do. Because before that I was the only one who did what I did. Which is fine... everyone's like, "Oh you do this!" but now it's like no no no, ALL these people do this. There's a whole world out there! So yeah, it's an app where I've learned so much. So so much. And I still keep learning. But I've certainly learned so much from all the people I've come across online. You help each other. You know, they've tested my pattern, I've tested patterns for a lot of people, so made some nice Insta friends. I made face masks for them during the pandemic, at the beginning. So yeah, it's been really lovely to build that community.
Mia Hobbs 45:18
I'd love to hear about a significant project. It doesn't have to be knitting; it could be crochet or any other craft. I don't know if you can think of something that stands out as being a kind of significant project for you.
Nasreen Imrit 45:30
I have a couple. So I have one that I made. It's upstairs. It's actually made on a canvas. It was the last one I made before I had children, and it was made with scraps from a cushion cover. It was a combination of... so if you imagine a large rectangular canvas, and it has fabric stuck on it with a ribbonwork and embroidery and paint. So then I painted in Arabic on it. So it was just a massive combination of loads of different crafts, and that was like the biggest thing I made for the house. Apart from that, I'd probably say the things that I make for my children. So they all have this little teddy that's exactly the same. My daughter had it, and by the time we realised she was so attached to it we bought a spare, just in case she ever lost it. She never lost it, so then the second one got the teddy. And then when we had a third, we were like, "Well, he's going to be left out!" Every so often I have to renew their outfits. They have mini jackets - crochet jackets - and I think that's the thing that's just the most loved. So they will put their jackets on in winter; in summer they're hot so they'll take their jackets off. So their jackets go on and off, and then after a few years my daughter was like, "We need to make a new jacket. This is just getting really tatty." So they will choose their yarn, and it's a good way to use up scraps. That will be the thing that is hugged the most, all the time. So I think that's probably my nicest project that I've made, the things that I've made for them. Or the blankets. I've made a few blankets for them. It'll always be dens, but it's the fact that they choose those blankets to make the dens with, and they know that I made it for them. And then they will always proudly say, "Oh my mum made this!" "No no no, that's my blanket!" you know, if somebody else touches them. "That's my one, go and touch the one that my mum made for you." So, you know, they really find it something quite precious. So I'd probably say those are my most significant makes in that sense.
Mia Hobbs 47:38
Yeah, so the family connection is really special. Oh, that's amazing. I always end with asking: what's the greatest gift that craft has given you for the rest of your life?
Nasreen Imrit 47:49
I would say connection, because I guess that's how my relationship with craft started, was trying to connect with my mum's memory and what she did. And then obviously moving into kind of connecting with myself, and then connecting with other people through the web, and then finding a different way to connect with my children and passing that on to them. So my middle one who loves crafting is waiting for me to make a next... we make little reels about how to do easy things... so easy projects. So he's looking forward... I told him we'll try and make another one this weekend. So I get to have a one to one time with them, with something that they enjoy. And it's always something crafty. So I think that that connection and that love that's been passed on - I think that would probably be my main takeaway, my main connection (I'm using the word connect again!) to crafts. It's what links me to it that's the strongest thing, I would say.
Mia Hobbs 48:58
Yeah, that's really special. And it's really interesting that you said it's connection in your family, but also to yourself... like feeling really you.
Nasreen Imrit 49:06
Yeah! It's so versatile because you can have it be something that's completely your own, but it can also be something that creates friendships and creates... You know, like the other day we were talking about health and wellbeing at work, and I was saying to one of my colleagues, "How about if we started to teach crochet and stuff?" She was like, "Yes, yes, yes, yes!" Not sure how it's going to materialise but it's something that we would like to try and do and see if people are interested to learn crafting - different types of craft to promote health and wellbeing at work.
Mia Hobbs 49:40
I think it's such a lovely... I mean, I did it for a few... it wasn't deliberately for that but I had a colleague who had twins and they were very special babies (long-awaited and two of them) and lots of people came up to me and said "I know you knit. Can you help me knit a cardigan for these babies?" and I was thinking, "The last thing these poor children need is 15 half-knitted holey cardigans in the same size!" (laughs) and I was like, "This is what we're going to do: I'll buy yarn, you can knit squares, or crochet squares, and I'll crochet them together to make blankets." Because that's easier, obviously, than doing the shaping and everything, for people who were... some of them were rusty knitters, some of them were completely new to knitting. But actually it was lovely! Often on a Friday, and it was just a very short amount of time, like half an hour, where we'd go in the staff room, and I could help people with various dropped stitches and things, and some people did crochet, some people did knitting, but it really did give people a... Like lots of people commented on having that little space, because so many people were just eating at their desks (me included!) and we had some different conversations about, you know, family stories about knitting and crochet. And I got to know people in a different way, who I didn't really know much about their personal life. It was really a boost to team morale, I think.
Nasreen Imrit 51:13
I think you're absolutely right, and that comes back to the whole connection thing,. You know, the people we work with, we just talk about work. But to have a space which is away from that and be able to talk to them and to have a chat with them on a different level completely is just too rare, I think.
Mia Hobbs 51:40
And just to give them that skill, like you've done with your kids, to give them this kind of therapeutic potentiaI, I suppose, that they can whip out on a bus or at home or wherever they need to.
Nasreen Imrit 51:53
Absolutely. And I do wish that there are things like that, that are more widely available in terms of helping to promote mental wellbeing, that is available at the moment for people. And I don't know, maybe that will come on the NHS that's more available for people, because I think there's a lot of people that I see that I think could benefit from something like that. But it's very difficult for me to say it when there is nowhere to actually provide it. Yeah, so you never know.
Mia Hobbs 52:29
I mean, that's one of my hopes for the podcast, and my kind of project in general. But I think it's tricky finding the money and the people to value it enough to pay for it and to give staff the time to do it also. Nasreen, it was an absolute pleasure to hear your wonderful stories and to hear all your insights on craft. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast. If people want to follow you on Instagram or find out more about your makes, how would they do that?
Nasreen Imrit 53:02
So I am on Instagram, and my handle is @sewcraftynaz. That's where you will find me and all my makes and half-makes and everything else (laughs).
Mia Hobbs 53:15
And is it sew as in sewing? S-E-W?
Nasreen Imrit 53:19
S-E-W crafty Naz with a Z, as one word. But yes, that's where you'll find my creative corner. But thank you so much for having me on! I've really enjoyed it. This is my first podcast, so I'm very honoured that it's yours. So that's really lovely.
Mia Hobbs 53:35
Thank you, it's been a privilege. Thank you so much for listening to the Why I Knit podcast. If you'd like to find out more about therapeutic knitting, you can follow me on Instagram @knittingistherapeutic, or at my website therapeuticknitting.org, where you can also sign up to my newsletter to receive my blog on the themes from series one. If you're enjoying the podcast, I would really appreciate it if you could leave a rating and a review on your podcast app. This will help grow the podcast and let more people know about the therapeutic benefits of knitting. And don't forget to subscribe too. Thank you!