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Willow Weaving and Mental Well-Being

Sylvan Skills recently had the chance to discuss willow weaving and mental well-being with Robson Green in the 2nd season of Robson Green’s Weekend Escapes. The episodes was first aired on New Year’s Day 2024 on BBC2 and can be viewed on iPlayer now.

Willow Weaving and Mental Well-Being
Willow Weaving and Mental Well-Being

As a creative practitioner Sylvan Skills is keen to make a difference to people’s mental well-being.  Our experience shows that by interlocking willow branches one can achieve much more than long-lasting functional or decorative items. Willow weaving improves our well-being by connecting our outer to our inner self. People working with willow find the process grounding and deeply relaxing as it not only engages their hands but also their minds, rooting them in the current moment. But willow weaving not only connects us to ourselves; it also tightens the bond to our surroundings. When working with natural materials we can’t help but appreciate the richness of nature. As every branch is different we learn to deal with ‘imperfections’ and irregularities, a skill which helps us in everyday life. And who doesn’t want a mind as bendy as a willow branch?

Moments of calmness and confidence

An example of this kind of work is the pilot project Sylvan Skills realised with the mental well-being charity Northern Butterflies in spring 2023. Sylvan Skills delivered weekly willow weaving workshops, and will be continuing this work in spring 2024. Hexham TV interviewed Ruth on site and got feedback from participants. Click here to watch the video.

A questionnaire revealed how working
with willow made people feel:

Willow Weaving and Mental Well-Being

And this is how they felt it helped
with their mental health:

Willow Weaving and Mental Well-Being

The sessions with Northern Butterflies offered participants a great opportunity to be creative with natural materials. The relaxed environment gave them a sense of calmness and it was noticeable that their self-confidence was growing through the process. In the course evaluation Northern Butterflies said:

“Throughout the sessions it was evident that willow weaving was improving people’s physical movement, self-esteem, concentration, and new conversations embedded with laughter and sharing of each other’s work was observed. The profound impact the sessions have had on people in a short space of time has been incredible. The sessions have added great value to people’s lives, they have felt deeply occupied and distracted from their own troubles, which has allowed a new sense of wellbeing to begin and improved their own mental health. Everyone enjoyed the sessions and felt closer to nature by working with natural materials.”

Helping with PTSD, brain injuries and chronic pain

The gentle process of willow weaving is an acknowledged therapy for people with PTSD and other forms of mental distress. Its therapeutic effect has been found to make them happier, more confident and distract from both mental and physical pain.

Statements from workshop participants:

“Willow weaving is a pacifying process which keeps your mind occupied. I suffer from chronic pain and I’ve come to realise that if I don’t think about it then I can’t feel it. Willow weaving helps with that.”

“It’s very good to learn a new skill. It’s relaxing because you have to concentrate on what you’re doing so you don’t think about other things.”

Whilst working with Northern Butterflies Ruth collaborated with Dr Tim Palmer from Inverness who treats patients with acute brain injuries. Quote from Tim:

“Willow weaving demands a mix of concentration and patience. It also has a strong rhythmic quality, and the materials are sensuous, woody, and flexible (…). Its capacity for total absorption means it has been increasingly recognised as calming the mind and focusing attention in a way that is rather like meditation. It does this through encouraging focus on the task at hand. This can help to reduce stress, be uplifting, and generally improve mental health.”

Read more about Tim Palmer’s interesting work in this article.

Sylvan Skills’ willow weaving sessions offer a safe learning environment which allows plenty of room for fun interaction and interpersonal exchange. Participants not only get the chance to become part of a creative community but develop a new skill which boosts their self-esteem. Through the weaving process they can improve dexterity, concentration, and focus.

Are you interested in organising a willow weaving workshop? Please get in touch to find out more.