Hi, friends! My name is Jake Kenyon. I am a 26-year-old crochet-obsessed, astrology-loving (Taurus), french-fry-eating, whiskey-drinking, list-loving, and fiber-dyeing fool from Providence, Rhode Island. I’m here today to share with you my journey as a maker, what being a maker means to me, and how it has influenced my mental health. For as long as I can remember, I have been making. There was not a Mother’s Day or Father’s day that did not include a hand crafted construction-paper fiasco expressing my undying love for my parents. As I grew, my interests expanded far beyond paper and glue. I have pursued drawing lessons, oil painting, and even jewelry design.
Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find me doing my favorite thing; hand dyeing. I currently operate out of my tiny kitchen. I’m sure it’s a scene all too familiar to many of you reading this; boiling pots, hanging yarn, and materials covering the counters. My fingers are constantly ten different shades of blue-despite my religious use of rubber gloves-and I’m often found looking like Bane with a large dust mask on. I got started dyeing after reading an entire book on the topic that I found at my local art store. I gathered some really basic supplies and went from there. I think “trial and error” is an absolutely perfect term for my beginnings. There were many missteps along the way, but I’m more and more proud of what I create every time I dye. I often find myself laying in bed at night dreaming up new colourways.
In my 9 to 5 job, I work full time with the elderly as a speech language pathologist in an acute-care hospital. I help rehabilitate patient’s speech, language, cognition, and swallow function while they’re acutely ill. I love interacting with patients and helping them reach their fullest potential. I don’t pretend to know it all and feel lucky to be involved in a profession and a creative side hustle that are constantly creating opportunities for new learning. As any one in a helping profession will tell you, balancing your own needs with those of your patients can be quite the tightrope walk. Days can be challenging but the reward of improving someone’s quality of life is incredible. Its only within the last two years that I have begun to develop and establish my creative side hustle and soon-to-be small business, ‘Kenyarn’. To me it is the most hilarious play on my last name (Kenyon) but in reality, I just end up getting mistaken for someone named Ken. But I digress. It’s been an amazing journey and allowed me to establish some lifelong bonds with fellow makers as well as showcase my work and catalogue my growth.
Since I was a child, my parents have told me how stubborn, hot headed, and how difficult I can be when I have my mind made up. I have always been sensitive to change and I don’t take no for an answer. I’m a go-getter and have the tenacity and intensity of a bulldog. On the outside I am bubbly and energetic. People are often intimidated by their first impression of me, but I’m harmless at my core. What people don’t often see are my struggles with feelings of anxiety, isolation, and compulsion. I was familiar with these emotions having struggled with them on-and-off growing up, but never as seriously as when they were at their worst during my first year of graduate school. I noticed changes in my behavior and even in my ability to make it through a day without needing a break or step outside of the classroom to gather myself. I felt trapped beneath the compulsions that controlled my day with a set of routines. That winter brought cold weather and an incredibly difficult break-up with the first guy I had ever truly fallen in love with. Above all of this, loomed the overwhelming amount of pressure from my coursework. It was the perfect storm of circumstances to send me careening into a dark mindset-except this time I couldn’t shake it. This was by far the worst I had ever felt mentally. It was when I had my first anxiety attack severe enough to keep me from attending class that knew I needed to do something. That semester I made an appointment with the on-campus counseling center and asked for help. This was one of the most important appointments I have ever made. During my initial visit with the counselor she encouraged me to make a list of things that brought me genuine happiness.
That week, I finished final exams and travelled home to be with my mom for winter break. She and I talked about how I was doing and the exercises I was encouraged to complete in my first session. I was determined to find my passion. During that vacation my mom introduced me to crocheting. She tried to teach me knitting but I was far too concerned with how to hold two needles and yarn at the same time-and still am (Ha-ha). I felt immense and almost instant relief in the ability to manipulate the fiber and divert the focus that had been so heavily directed on my negative thinking, into my project. I don’t know if I was self aware enough at the time to realize what learning this skill was doing for me-and would do for me- but hindsight is 20/20. It brought me back to my creative roots. It allowed me to be alone with my thoughts and was a period of real growth for me. I will not say that crocheting was a cure all, but rather a useful and functional extension of my therapy. Every one of us has a personal struggle with mental health. It’s talking about mental health and creating dialogues like this one that are so important. By doing so, we chip away at the stigma associated with it. The creative community is enormous, it is diverse and it is filled with some of the most beautiful minds of our time. You are not alone in this struggle. The more we discuss this topic, the more we normalize it. It wasn’t until about a year later when I began reaching out on social media to other people who were creating for positivity, did I even hear the term “maker”.
I believe there is a general thinking that when we create; we express our inner emotions through our art. We personify that which cannot be verbalized and seek to evoke the same emotions we felt when creating the piece, in our target audience. Picasso’s blue period is a great historical example of this. We view his paintings, they emote sadness, and we are meant to experience sadness. I believe that this is a slightly different end goal than that of a maker’s. To me, the most unique and special part of being a maker is bringing joy to others and in turn, returning that joy to us. I believe that when we make, we filter our personal struggles into and through the process of our craft and dissolve them within our work. The magic here is that once they are lost within our piece, those feelings are destined for a life of bringing nothing but happiness to those holding, wearing, or using our creation. There is less emphasis on passing on a particular thought or feeling from when we were creating the piece, and more emphasis on transforming our negative emotions into positive ones during our creative process. In my particular case, dyeing yarn is my sanctuary. When I dye, I am constantly considering what my fiber will be transformed into. I have grand ideas for my yarn’s next adventure. Will it become a blanket for a beloved grandparent, a hat for a newborn, or a scarf that makes its owner feel like a movie star? I use making as a way to pour my energy into my work and avoid giving any of it away to unnecessary doubts or concerns about the unknown. It is an incredibly important tool for my own well-being and I hope that every skein I dye becomes someone else’s tool for self-improvement. Whoever the recipient, they are now the owner of a new and incredible tool to create their own joy with, which in turn, brings joy back to me. It’s cyclical, really.
I’d like to share a short story on the power of making. During the first year of my career as a speech pathologist, I worked in a skilled nursing facility. This type of facility is used for patients to receive rehabilitation for a short amount of time after a hospital stay and before returning home. At that time, I worked with a patient who had begun to experience a decline in her swallow function as well as in her memory. I was addressing both of these areas in our therapy together. She was about 90-years-old and we quickly bonded over our love of steak and cheese sandwiches and costume jewelry. She came from an unfortunate prior living situation, and didn’t have many clothes with her when she arrived at the facility. The staff often collected clothing items for patients in similar situations. She had significant hair loss and confided in me that she felt more comfortable wearing something to cover her head. I showed up the next day at the collection station with a crocheted hat in vibrant reds and pinks-her favorite. She acted like I had made her a gold crown. She was ecstatic and I had never felt more excited to give something so simple to someone so deserving. Almost two and a half years later I encountered the same patient-except this time-in the hospital setting. She had fallen ill. I hadn’t seen her since leaving my previous job. When I arrived in her room, I pulled back the curtain and was greeted with the biggest smile I had ever seen. My expectations that she would remember me were very low but were instantly shattered. She couldn’t remember my name and couldn’t remember where she had met me but she looked me in the eyes and said, “Sweetheart, thank you for my hat. I still wear it.” The joy that was painted across her face was the same joy that was there the day I handed it to her. These are the moments I make for.
My journey with making has taught me an incredible amount. It’s taught me that I have so many wonderful untapped skills. Just because I don’t know how to do something by the book, doesn’t mean I can’t draw and gather from my past experiences and take a shot at it. It has taught me to not worry about being a beginner and to feel confident with my own fundamental knowledge and flair for creativity. It’s given me the confidence to always try again, even when the first time I tried something it didn’t work out. Making has humbled me and has constantly been a reinforcement of the age-old phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. I have learned to pace myself and to adjust expectations of myself. It has taught me to measure my success by my own growth, not by comparing myself to others. Comparing myself to others has only ever left me feeling miniscule and incomplete-both awful feelings to experience and recover from. It has taught me that reasons to celebrate are subjective. Every milestone is worth a party hat and a glass of champagne. I now keep photo journals of all of my work. I cringe when I hear other makers tossing old work or talking about feeling ashamed of their roots. I’ve embraced my tangled, gnarled, and twisted roots. They make a damn sturdy tree! Making has taught me not to force anything for even a second. If it doesn’t feel right then chances are, it isn’t. I let go of “how I imagined it” and exercised my patience with the process and the growth that occurs at different rates within all of us. I became more aware of the importance of balance between my own needs and the needs of my craft. It has allowed me to toss out the old blueprints I had drawn up for my future. Blueprints that had kept me so rigidly in line with a lifestyle that I now realize-I was not born for.
Making has taught me that authenticity is the key to success. Let people fall in love with the real you. It’s helped me to surround myself with a tribe of supportive and beautiful friends. Being a maker is about embracing a passion so strong that it keeps me up at night, makes me jump up and down with excitement, causes me to lose track of time, makes me scream, and makes me laugh. I’ve strayed off course many times in the last few years but by allowing my passion to be my North Star, it has always been easier to get back on course. Making is about finding yourself within the process, so that you never feel lost again.
Make on, makers.