Weaving for Recovery grew out of the links between Woven Communities, the Everyday Lives at War project at the University of Bedfordshire, and basket-weaving group Basketry and Beyond. Following our second symposium in January 2017, retired hospital specialist and basketmaker, Tim Palmer, decided to see how basket-making could be useful with patients at the Acquired Brain Injury and Stroke Recovery Unit at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness. Working with the unit’s organizer, Dr Ashish MacAden and trained occupational therapist and basketmaker, Monique Bervoets, and supported by Woven Communities, Tim developed a series of practical basketry tasks for patients to trial. Trials were supported by the University of St Andrews KE and Impact fund and the results were impressive.
Put simply, a stroke can be caused by a bleed or a blockage to one of the three cerebral arteries supplying the brain with oxygen. It can damage a person’s ability to carry out specific cognitive functions (Bolte-Taylor 2009). It will usually damage one side of the brain, which can affect linked areas of the body, often on the other side. The result is that a person may not be able to move or control one side of their body, or may have no sensory feedback about it. They may have vision, mobility or speech problems. Strokes can also affect qualities such as paying attention, abstract thought, even insight, or reflection, judgement or self-awareness. See the work of cognitive neuroscientist Bolte-Taylor (My Stroke of Insight) for a clear explanation).
Tim and Monique worked with people whose strokes had affected the left or right side of their bodies, and so could not walk or use their arms or legs well on one side. They also worked with patients whose strokes, or other brain injury, affected their ability to engage in some way, such as to have interests, or reflect, or have insight. We achieved good results as much in all kinds of cases, which sometimes surprised our specialists.
Basketry helps on many levels. Practically, basket-work can be broken down into steps or simple activities a person can learn so that they can slowly build up greater manual dexterity. Included could be weaving in and out, adding a new willow strand, telling right from left, focussing observation and imitating a teacher, or using word ‘slogans’ to sum up the activity, such as ‘tip to tip, butt to butt’, or ‘no over-taking’ (Palmer 2020).
Basket-work also give valuable physical exercise that may encourage the other side of the body to take part, even if with not much control. It can also help with skills such as concentration and problem-solving, and counting (Cannavacciuolo 2020). And, it helps with social skills, producing a real outcome, a basket, which a person can feel proud of, or use in their relationships with others, can give or share.
Basket-work is also involves hand-to-eye coordination, encouraging mind and body to operate in an integrated way, on one spatial activity. Moving and working with the hands and eyes in this way, in three-dimensional space, we think aids neuro-plasticity, encouraging new neural pathways to develop. Crucially, the right hand helps the left, and vice versa, and attention moves across from right to left and back, ‘crossing the middle line’ (Bunn, 2020b). Craft activities like basketry in coordination with appropriate physiotherapy, can provide a cumulative effect which can help patients regain use of their limbs. Kate Davis, a scholar who experienced a stroke, writes about how another craft, knitting, helped her to regain her confidence and mobility and restart her life (Davis 2018).
Our successes have been as often with very withdrawn patients as with those with mobility problems. Each person is catered to to suit their needs, differently and staged exercises which both challenge and encourage them. You have no idea how difficult it is to make a basket with just one hand. One patient was literally working with just his finger and thumb.
Some comments and feedback:
“This (the basketry) really helps; that is everything helps, hospital, physio, Everything, but the basketry really makes a difference. It helps you learn.” Patient 5. August 22nd.
“Now P5 notes himself that he is more reflective and introspective and his insight is coming back. He has commented that the brain injury, and may be some input from the basketry, has made him reflect at the start of what he does and forced him to slow down.”
Bolte Taylor, J. 2009 My Stroke of Insight. Hodder
Bunn, SJ and Mitchell, V 2020 (eds) The Material Culture of Basketry. Bloomsbury
Bunn, SJ. 2020 Basketry, wellbeing and recovery: The story from Scotland. In Craft Research 2020 v11, no 1, pp39-56
Cannavacciuolo, F. 2020 Basketry as Therapeutic activity. In Bunn, SJ and Mitchell, V 2020 (eds) The Material Culture of Basketry. Bloomsbury
Davis, K. 2018 Handywoman. Kate Davis Designs
Palmer, T 2020 Basket making as an activity to enhance brain injury neurorehabilitation. In Bunn, SJ and Mitchell, V 2020 (eds) The Material Culture of Basketry. Bloomsbury.