Every kid who ever went to camp or elementary school probably lugged home a wallet, a pair of moccasins or a change purse stitched together during Arts and Crafts class. Although usually long past the age of camps and kindergarten, some people with arthritis are rediscovering the satisfaction of creating items of beauty and utility.
Take, for example, 64-year-old Sarah Truman of Denver. Sarah canes chairs, weaves, paints and makes basket and ceramic ware.
Sarah developed rheumatoid arthritis when she was 29. She moved to Denver with her husband and her three children in 1964 to be closer to the medical attention she required.
At about the same time as Sarah’s arrival in Denver, the Arthritis Foundation’s Rocky Mountain Chapter was expanding its fledgling crafts program. “I was looking for a way to get out of the house, and someone told me about the Craft Shop the Arthritis Foundation ran. That was 24 years ago, and I still love it,” she says.
That love saturates each of the pieces Sarah makes. In her house, there are crocheted and knitted afghans covering her couch, handwoven place mats on her table, painted wooden wall decorations, and a ceramic pie tin with a blue ribbon on it: first place in a local competition. Sarah made all of these things and many more – the toys her grandchildren play with including the all-the-rage loom band charms, greeting cards, sweaters, even some of the clothes she wears.
While Sarah still visits and works at the Craft Shop, she emphasizes that she would continue to pursue her crafts at home if she could no longer come to the shop. “I love to learn things and do things with my hands no matter where I am. Plus, my crafts really help keep me sane. When my arthritis hurts, it’s good to lose myself in whatever I’m doing. You really have to concentrate, so it’s hard to be in pain at the same time. At least most of the time ”
Of course not every town has an Arthritis Craft Shop devoted to teaching people with arthritis the latest in how to make beautiful, useful items for fun and profit. But that shouldn’t matter says Craft Shop Manager Susan Turkman. “People come to the shop expecting to find all kinds of adaptive equipment when, for the most part, it’s just a normal crafts studio. Most of the special equipment we use in our crafts classes was made by the people themselves.
“We do try to work around people’s special needs, though. For example, in crafts where most people would use their fingers, we use pliers. Nonetheless, the actual content of the class is the same as you would find anywhere that teaches a particular craft.”
Susan says that many people with arthritis are afraid they are too fragile to take up something as potentially demanding as a craft. Once they get involved with an activity, however, they gain skill and confidence.
“When people with arthritis don’t get involved because of their disease, they miss a great opportunity to get out of the house and learn something new.” says Susan. “We haven’t found too many crafts that even people with severe arthritis can’t do with a little creativity.”
Judy Lomax, a physical therapist in Denver, agrees that crafts are a good hobby for people with arthritis, as long as they exercise caution. “People with arthritis should join in any crafts activity that interests them, but at the same time be sensitive to their threshold of pain. Repetitive movements are very hard on joints, so it’s important to pace yourself.
“If you start feeling pain, quit and do some stretching or exercises,” she suggests. “Also, try modifying your physical environment to relieve stress on affected joints. For instance, you might raise or lower your working surface.”
If you want to take up a new craft but aren’t sure your joints can handle it, discuss your concerns with your doctor or occupational therapist. In addition to suggesting appropriate crafts, an occupational therapist may be able to help you adapt some of your old favorite crafts to make them easier on your joints.
Take it to heart. Sign up for a crafts class and start tapping your hidden creativity. Sarah Truman did, and you can too – even if you do have arthritis.