Mary Broddle wanted to be an engineer from the age of 5, and has had a very successful career in mechanical engineering – in a typically male-dominated environment. She worked hard and really enjoyed her work in the corporate sphere, but in the background her health was deteriorating, until eventually she had to make the difficult decision to quit it all and focus on her physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
It was round about this time that she re-discovered a pastime she enjoyed as a youngster, although now is ready to take it to the next level, sharing the holistic benefits she has gleaned from mindful and contemporary stitching with others.
Mary Broddle at Creativityfound.co.uk
Clubhouse: @clairewaitebrown and Creativity Found Connect club
Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.ukSupport the show
For this episode, I'm speaking with Mary Broddle, a former mechanical engineer for the railways. She worked hard and really enjoyed her work and corporate sphere. Within the background, her health was deteriorating, until eventually she had to make the difficult decision to quit his role and focus on her physical, emotional and mental well being. Let's find out how revisiting a creative pastime helps Mary do just that. Hi, Mary. Hello, Claire, you have an engineering background, which we will learn about more soon. But for now, tell me what your creative outlet is. My creative outlet is embroidery, mainly hand embroidery. And I try and teach it now with with mindful stitching, because I'm a great advocate for embroidery for well being. Because I've learned that and used it myself for that. And I want other people to try it as a tool for their well being. Brilliant. I'm interested to hear more about how the two connect. Tell me first though about your childhood, at home and in education. Were you a creative child I liked to craft as a child. I remember doing all those craft kits from plaster of paris moulds that you'd paint, spending hours cutting and sticking those kits for paper castles and houses. And I used to love doing all of that stuff. And I think back in the 80s you had more time that you had to fill with things like that. So if you were crafty, you got on with that because the telly wasn't on all the time and handheld computers weren't around. So yeah, if you liked that sort of thing, and I've always loved colouring and in fact, my mum says I've got a GCSE in it, which was my graphic design GCSE. So my childhood was I was brought up very strongly middle class, West London, had a lot of access to the craft, etc. And my mum taught me embroidery when I was a girl. So about 910 I got really into it then. And then as the teenage years came, it sort of fell away to try to keep everything going, going out with your friends. And then off to University where I studied engineering, I went to the opposite end of the country. I'm went to Newcastle, which was quite a culture shock. Where I studied mechanical engineering in the 90s and spent a year of my degree in Germany as well. So I've had wide experience in that respect. But yeah, yeah, I remember the kinds of kits as well, like you'd always get them for a birthday or Christmas from someone, wouldn't you? And I remember there was these ones that were black and you'd carve into them. It would be a gold pattern. Yes. And I just seem to remember doing sort of Wedgwood like plaster of paris things and Beatrix Potter statues that would be white and you'd paint them and get where you put them into a floppy mould. Yes, yes, I had a bit tricks. Anyway, anyway, we don't rest. So when you say engineering to me, that means crikey all sorts of things. Tell me about mechanical engineering that you studied. And then what happened after university? Well, all I'd ever wanted to be was an engineer from about the age of five. All the men in my family were engineers, my dad as well though he was became a builder when I was little. And I just like knowing how things worked. I used to, and even now, it's not just how machines work. It's how processes work, how people's jobs work. I've just like to understand things. And I think also that nitride during the A team on the telly had a bit of a factor in it. So it's all I ever wanted to do. And I get all my A Levels towards that, or the maths, physics, etc. And I went and studied mechanical engineering for four years and mechanical engineering with German, which was hard. I think my finals was the first time I burnt out in my life, to be honest, because I've done two degrees in two languages in two countries in four years. And looking back. Yeah. So I studied mechanical engineering, I loved all the gears I loved. Back in those days, we did the technical drawing, as well as computer aided design, I think we were the last lot to actually sit on a drawing board as well. And I loved all of that. And I loved the flow of the calculations. And again, just understanding how things worked, but it was hard. And then I when I graduated, I was just applying for jobs, and I got a job in the railways. And I realised there was so much going on there. And they hadn't recruited any graduates for nearly 10 years because of privatisation. So I was the first wave of graduates to go back in. In 99. I started and I've done all sorts of jobs in the railways a lot around risk, reliability, maintenance improvements, safety assessments. I did that at some of the big train builders. And then I might the last job I had, I was a contract manager for a leasing company. So I'd go around the train depots of England and Scotland and Wales, trying to make sure they were performing well enough. And lots of meeting stakeholders and I loved the variety and I love meeting new people and getting to new sets of things from reading the contracts to understanding the management structure and how people interacted in the depots. That's what I really enjoyed doing with the old spreadsheet. I am an Excel fan. I might be a creative now but I still love a spreadsheet. Good for you. I know a few other people who are the same actually. You have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Can you explain what that is? And tell me how it has developed how it's affected you over the years. It's a connective tissue disorder. So my DNA dictates that my collagen is too elastic, it's too stretchy. And the collagen is connective tissue. It's sort of well, it's mainly in your ligaments, it's in your joints. So you have a wider range of movement. And you injure really easily. And you can injure yourself. You can do sprains, doing the most everyday things, I can spray my shoulder trying to wash my hair. So you know, it's that sort of thing. But it's also connected tissue is in your muscles. It's in your internal organs. So it's a systematic problem. It's not just my knee dislocates or something. And I've had problems with my hands since I was a girl. And then in my 20s I developed chronic pain and then as I had kids in my 30s it just got harder and harder because toddlers are hard work difficult pregnancies. You know, it's physical, having children, and I've just, it's got harder, and I was trying to hold down, you know, a high powered job 40 hours a week, even part time travelling around the country. I did international travel before I had kids, and my body just couldn't hack it anymore. I think chronic stress broke me because my body just takes more energy to do everyday things. It's a bit like if you think you've got a load of programmes running in the background that are running slowly if you think about Computer, and they're taking most of the memory and energy of your computer. So what you're trying to do, and work on is sluggish. Well, that's sort of like my body, it's just harder to do normal things. So you have less energy. So I was pushing myself living on adrenaline, chronic stress was affecting my immune system it was affecting my skin was breaking down in places got high blood pressure that I can't, couldn't get under control. And then eventually, the injuries got such that I could no longer drive my legs too weak to use the pedals in a car. And I had to take myself off the road because I couldn't drive safely. And that was three years ago, and it became impossible to get to work to keep my job going. Because by that point, I was, it was taking everything I had just to get to my desk, or to get on the 630 train to Crewe or London or wherever. And I just have nothing left. And I had to take a really difficult decision that I couldn't do it anymore. And I think the driving force that weren't, you can't drive and you can't actually get to work. It because the public transport was impossible for me because of the distance from the station, I couldn't walk it taxis wouldn't come on to pride Park and Darby because the traffic was too bad. I still had childcare issues. So I had to get home to pick the kids up, that juggle. But imagine if you can't just keep going, it's a juggle so many people know. But if you can't just leg it to the station to catch the bus or the train at the end of the day. If you can't keep it going any longer. And I had to stop. And it was it was hard because it's all I'd ever wanted to do. But I sort of took the view that I decided to think about it. And instead of saying I failed, I took the view that actually I didn't fail. I achieved, I achieved everything sort of my generation was taught to the high powered job, the the high income, I had the kids, I was trying to do it all. And instead of saying, No, I did that, but that I can't do that anymore. So what's next, and the pandemic hit just a couple of months after I left my job. And I was starting to look at engineering consultancy waits a couple of days a week, but it would still have been 10 hour days, etc. And all that dried up when the pan locked during the first lockdown. You know, and actually, I think in hindsight, that was a good thing. It stopped me going back in to what it was, but just for fewer hours. And it made me take stock and think well what can I do because I'm not traditionally employable anymore. Because I have problems sitting at desks for long periods of time. I can't walk easily. So it's not like I can stand in a shop, can't carry things I am seriously disabled by this. I use a mobility scooter out and about. I'm waiting on an adapted car, that sort of thing. I've been stuck at home for the last couple of years. But I've done lockdown before lockdown. Because I've been three months locked down with pregnancy with foot operations with chest infections. It's not new to me. Anyway. So I thought, well, I've got all these embroidery skills. It's what's kept me sane, over 20 years of chronic pain and being stuck in the house a lot. And when I wasn't at work, I didn't have a social life because all my energy went on work. So I'd spent hours at home and I'd so I'd stitch I put my feet up on the sofa because I had to rest. And by embroidering it stopped me getting so frustrated and angry and it kept my mental health on an even keel. So imagine you're stuck in the house for three months, which we all know what that's like now. But imagine if you couldn't have gone on that one hour walk because what's the point if you can't walk and you're a vulnerable person, you need to keep away from everyone. So it you get angry, you get frustrated, you want to do things but you can't do things you can't do it when you want or what's helped me with that over years and years is just sitting and sewing. All sorts of traditional techniques I've done I've done classes I've taught myself through kits, all the lovely traditional stuff, but also just more contemporary things, some easier things, different things for different energy levels, see what I feel like something I can do in front of the telly with the family around or something I can hide myself away for an afternoon and get in that sort of flow state for and really get that feeling of calmness that comes. So when you're sitting there or the frustration just sort of dissipates and you feel like you've been productive. I really kind of connected there with your computer analogy about what's going on in the background and I've been reading a lot about so called invisible disabilities you know, it doesn't look like Like you're, you're struggling. And there's such a lot going on behind the scenes. I was also wondering, did this? Did you have a diagnosis? Did you know about this? early on? It was explaining things. No, I remember going frequently to the GP and just being told, Well, it's not arthritis, or, Oh, well don't wear party shoes. I was an indie kid in the 90s. I walk Caterpillar boots, and DMS, and don't wear high heels. And so I had all these pains, my hands would cease up if I had to write a lot. And obviously, this was before computers in exams and stuff. It was when still back in the day when you know, the secondary school had three BBC micros, there was no computers, and my thumb would cease up. And I just had to carry on writing. Despite that, you know, I guess I learned really young just to push through, you had to push through the pain barrier because it was just, I, I lived in London, so you had to walk a fair way. My feet would never stop aching. And then it took a lot. It wasn't till my university as I realised this wasn't really normal. And I actually got, I actually went to a doctor's at uni who sent me for a referral and then went back in that day and went, you've got Hypermobility syndrome. Yeah, that's what it is. Off you go. You're very bendy off you go. And it all fell into place. All the other things you get, like easy bruising and stuff like that it all made sense. And that's what it continued with till I had children. And because I had a very difficult first pregnancy, I had a very primitive but my first son was born very premature because my waters went and that was connective tissue stuff. By second he was fine. He was huge. Anyway, he didn't even hit low birth weight seven weeks early. So the second time I got sent to a geneticist because they said oh, there might be some complications. And I live near a big Teaching Hospital, which I've always been quite grateful for with my issues. And they diagnosed me with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which by that point was considered one and the same as Hypermobility syndrome. In the 20 years, I've had a diagnosis, there's been so much more understood and discovered about them. When I was a kid, no one had even heard of it. I'm sure it's come from my mom and my grandma. But my grandma was born in 1910. It wasn't just wasn't recognised till about the 60s. So who's gonna? Who's gonna find it and my mom, I think got misdiagnosed with arthritis in the 70s. So that's when it sort of came a bit further in in my 30s. I got the diagnosis by but by this point, I was really struggling physically, and chronic stress we had a difficult year with bereavements, etc, when the kids were little, and it just pushed me over the edge physically, I started using a walking stick, things like that. And then my immune system would go down. So I got a chest infection about three years ago, I couldn't shift. And then I lost more muscle condition. So I couldn't, my leg was weaker, I couldn't drive. It's just progressive in that way. And I honestly look at myself for two, two and a half years of not being in that job in that role in that juggle. I look younger than I did five years ago, just from the way my skins changed and stuff like that, because I can manage my health better, it's still very fragile. I feel like it's a part time job in itself. There have been times during all that juggle that I was at the hospital once a week on top of the kits and the 40 hour job and it's like a like a hobby or a part time job in itself, just trying to keep yourself going. So I've gone into the embroidery world and teaching embroidery because it can offer me the flexibility I need. And that's that's it's a way to work for me that I can use my skills, I can share my passion and I can hopefully earn an income whereas otherwise I are not employable. Because I can't sit in front of a computer and I can't stand behind it till etcetera, etcetera. Creativity found.co.uk is the place to go to find workshops, courses, supplies, kits and books to help you get creative. So if you're looking for your own creativity, and experience, go have a browse to see what's on offer so far. And if you can help adults to find their new creative passion, please get in touch on social media or through the contact details on the website. You've touched on the sitting on the sofa and being able to stitch and calm the mind. You said so that you you did embroidery when you were younger but teenage years algebra that kind of gets put to the side. Did you instantly try that when you were looking for something? How did you kind of come back to embroidery? In my mid 20s, I gave up smoking, because you know, I won't pretend I didn't party hard as an engineering student work hard play hard. I gave up smoking, and I knew that I am fidgety sort of person. And I didn't want to eat loads. Because I've always tried to keep my weight down. I thought that's another issue but and basically I was in the local John Lewis and I had a epiphany in the haberdashery and picked up a tapestry kit, a needlepoint kit. And I remembered how much I'd loved it as a child. And I picked that up. And that was it. I just went with it. I loved it, I won't go in, I got more kits, I'd ordered the magazines. And it was before there was a big online presence. There were a couple of specialist stores that had basic websites. But I just went for it that way, teaching myself the different techniques through kits and then getting myself on courses. I remember for kids, I'd go down to Hampton Court in the Royal School of Needlework to do some of the stuff I found hard to teach myself, like needle painting and stuff. And I loved it. I just found my passion hobby. And it was so different to work. That's what I think was good. Like, I went to the local embroidery skills meetings. I'm still the youngest member, 20 years on the local stitching group, the talks and everything that was just, like 180 degrees away from my engineering world. And I really enjoyed it. And I've always been someone who's been the odd one out in whatever room I'm in. I was a woman in engineering from about my GCSE. So I was the only girl in the class. So it didn't bother me turning up to stuff and having to say, you know, this is me. Hello, can I join you? I just did that happily anyway. Yeah. Do symptoms restrict you with the stitching? Yeah, they restrict me, there are days where I can't do the projects I want to do, because of the way I'd have to sit. So I always have three or four projects on the go at once. So it depends upon the frame, it depends upon how whether you have to sit up right or whether you can pretty much lie down reclining on the sofa, depends upon how tired I am. And there are days when my hands just hurt too much my knuckles, etc. So I found I can't knit, I can't crochet because it's too much pressure on my fingers on my joints in my hands. But actually just pulling a needle and thread through material is so much lighter. If you've got stands to hold the hoop, etcetera, I can manage that. So there are always different things on the guy that I can turn to when I need it. Yeah, well, that's brilliant that you can adapt. And really, you can still do what you want to be doing, I'm gonna come back to the change in engineering as work as a job and embroidery as a job with the teaching. I'm going to touch on that in a minute. But tell me a bit more about mindful stitching that you've also already touched on. You've mentioned the kind of traditional ideas of embroidery and I know you do that as well as modern staff and the mindful stitching and visible repairs. So tell me about all of those elements of embroidery that we might not necessarily know or think of straight off. Mindful stitching is, is about sketching without worrying where the stitches are going. It's like dangling and thread. I've seen so many people say Oh, I'd love to do that. But I can't do it well enough, because they've never stitched before they expect it to be perfect. Or they do the design. And it's not as it looks in the picture. So they're disappointed with themselves. And that could be because you know, I know a lot of high achievers who expect perfection. They like the houses to be nice and tidy and Insta worthy and stuff. And also, I think you get to a point in life where you're scared to try new things. I've been teaching young children, they don't mind if it's not perfect. They're just happy with what they've done and what they've learned. And there's so much we could learn from that. So mindful stitching is just a piece of material, no design, needle and thread. I teach you some basic stitches and you just go for it. Because you get the physical, mental and emotional benefits from the process. without having to worry and stress whether you're doing it right and unpicking and actually trying to persuade people not to unpick because the line isn't totally straight, or just just go for it just doodling threads, you can do so much with the most basic running stitch, you can play with colour, you can play with shape, you can layer it, you don't have to be able to do really fancy stuff to do it, you just have a go. And you get that relaxation, your stress levels have proven to lower in your blood, different parts of your brain, start lighting up to your reward centre lights up. So your amygdala, where you are with your anxiety and your adrenaline and your fight and flight, it actually calms it down. And I can test you know, my testament to that that has helped me so many times because I live on adrenaline at times to push through when I'm in pain. And the stitching just helps that calm down. So it's brilliant for your stress levels. And learning a new skill. With any creativity, any new skill, it builds new brain synapses in your brain. So it's brilliant for brain house is great against ageing, because it helps your brain just keep working and try new things. And no crafter ever has said that's perfect. Even the most experienced people will say I could do better. So you're on that continual learning journey as well. And I find with mindful stitching and with embroidery, it just takes enough concentration, that mindful element that your thoughts calm. And it gives you a bit of time to contemplate. So you get that emotional well being it puts things in perspective. So the racing thoughts Calm down, because you're just focusing enough not to stab yourself with a needle. And that's what I try and teach and to get people to relax. And now I have I have kits with everything you need in it, including the scissors. You know, it makes absolute sense. And you've backed it up with the science as well. Well, I am still an engineer by nature, I want to know how it works. So I've been researching it or I've been researching the neuroscience, which is akin to the you know, art therapy and occupational therapy, I've been searching. And I've been looking into the history of how over hundreds of years, embroidery sewing etc has brought communities together. And it's brought people together. And I think it's great for groups coming together for team building for parties, but just a different way for friends to meet up. And it's brilliant for zoom, because, as I said, the pressures taken off, and it includes introverts, which I think often with these things, it's all about the people who are happy being in the limelight and everything. But if everyone's looking down at their sewing rather than that your face, you're happier to talk natural to penicillin. Yeah, I hadn't thought about it that way. But the community aspect is, is certainly very important in lots of creative activities. My background is you know, drama and singing and singing together has a whole different effects on the brain than than the wonderfulness of singing on your own does, you know the extra benefits, you must really enjoy teaching for that community element, but also, for the fact of imparting maybe a new skill or your passion. I'm amazed at how much I do enjoy it. When I was trying to take stock of what I could do. When I lost it, I realised what I really missed from my old job was meeting people, which sounds a bit odd for an engineer as well as supposed to be antisocial. And you know, lost in Maths. But I actually really enjoy meeting people, people are fascinating. And I realised by teaching that was a way I could do that still. And I'm surprised at the patience I have for showing people how to thread a needle over and over again, because I will show you how to knock the thread and thread the needle and do the basic stitches. And I always thought I'd never make a teacher but I found the right thing to teach for me. And I think because it is something I'm passionate about, and it's something I've lived. It's not just something that I thought I could do if you see what I mean. It's not just, oh, well there's a gap in the market for that. It's like no, this is my passion hobby. I'm sharing me skills because I know it can help other people. You know, do some sewing instead of having two glasses of wine every night you can do it in front of the telly with everyone around. You don't have to find silence to do meditation you can just do it and get the benefits without having to find that time you don't think you have some like stitch don't drink less of a hangover Okay, before we get on to contacting you, you've been loving the embroidery and it's been helping you on a personal mental well being physical well being journey. And you've said you enjoy sharing that passion and teaching other people How does the process of combining a creative love to I'd actually quite like to make some money out of this? So I need to give a bit of a business head to it. How have you found putting those two together? And do you still have a better balance for your general health and well being? I very much about to two years ago, nearly Yeah, nearly two years ago, I sat there and said, Okay, I've got these skills. How can I? How can I turn it into an income, and I found some online courses around business models for creatives and stuff, and I've tried various things I've tried from making my own art and selling it, which I then learned that people would rather make it themselves than pay for your time to make it. I also learned that I physically cannot cope with craft fairs. So that had to go, I felt like it was sacrilege saying I'm doing this for a business, but I'm not going to do craft fairs. So I've been trying lots of different things. And with support from online business networks and people that you Claire, and just the creative community out there online is so supportive. I've sort of found my way. And I've found that teaching workshops, teaching team building trying to get into social prescribing. That's the way to go to go out and teach it. But it's a lot longer than I thought it would be. I suppose if you sit back and you think, Oh, I'll be making enough to pay the mortgage in six months. And I'm 18 months in and I'm not, it's longer. So you sort of almost need that not naivety. But I know I'm onto something, I found my niche now. And that's my full stitching, which also then leads to visible mending and close embellishments because that's about donning and making a feature of patching your holes in your jeans and stuff like that, which actually is very much linked to the same same sort of stitch as you you can do in mindful stitching. But it's there's a big market out there for people who don't want to buy new clothes. So let's make those secondhand clothes unique to you. People are really interested in that. And again, it's like, my passion is sewing, where's the market. And I've sort of identified three markets that I'm trying to attract bid on LinkedIn, with corporates, be it with creatives and social prescribing with mindful stitching, but with the Eco community and the students around jazzing up second hand clothes, I think you've got to be have more than one string to your bow to make it turn into a job. And it comes back to my engineering training with problem solving. How can you take an idea and turn it into a business? And actually I've really enjoyed it. I love learning, I'm enjoying the learning curve. It's taken me so out of my comfort zone, especially marketing, which I find the hardest bit. But you're just what's the building blocks, what's the steps, it's testing things, what works, what doesn't, right, here's my niche, people want to learn rather than to buy stuff I've made, let's go there. It's given me a lot better balance for my health wise, because I don't have to turn up unless I've got a workshop. Now I don't want anyone to ever think I'd cry off a workshop or something because I hurt too much that day, you know, I am the queen of pushing through. But what I no longer have to do is push through six days a week. So I can do my physio after I've done the school run, then do some work, then have a nap, pick the kids up, do another couple of hours work, I can set my pattern rather than be expected to do other people's and that's really helped my house and got me on a steady keel. Like as the doctor said to me, the steady spine steady is good. I might not be going up but I'm not going down. And I really think if I hadn't have stopped I would was heading for heart attack or stroke before fifth day. And that's quite a scary thing to realise. But I'm determined. And you know, I'm just changing my achieving pattern in my life. I've always done from academia and corporate world into creative entrepreneur and it is hard it is hard going starting a business in a completely different world where you have no contacts. So I think for 18 months I've been building a network and now I'm getting that foundation I'm getting somewhere you know, I'm not going to sell many stitching kits to a lot the middle aged men who love their Landrover So I used to work with unsightly I'm so pleased for you. I'm pleased for everybody that will get to learn from you as well. But I'm so pleased that you've found this. And we know it's hard work, but that it gives you a balance and you can use it your way. What I always think there's always something you can do. Don't get fixated on what you can't do. What can you do? And that's something I guess I've always done. There's no point getting down. So what I can't do this anymore, I can't do that anymore. What can I do because my world's gone from international travel to being stuck in my house. But I am not. In great gloom because I'm building connections over zoom. I'm building your network and meeting I had a zoom with a thread company in Canada yesterday, because I've got med teach programme. You don't have to do things in a traditional way. You can make your own route to do things as well. I guess my unusual upbringing with my parents who were 60s dropouts told me that we didn't even touch on that. You don't you don't be stuck in a job you hate that's making you ill because there's always something you can do. That is a very brilliant, positive, upbeat endpoint there. So on that note, how can people connect with you? I have my own website, Marybroddleembroidery.com, which has my background story and has sort of my offerings on it. I'm quite present on Instagram, where I'm married Braudel underscore embroidery, and on LinkedIn, Mary Broddle, all I've got social media presence on most of them on some variation on Mary Broddle embroidery with a dash in there somewhere. But that's all via my website. And I'm always happy to hear from people via my email by DMS on social media because it's said I just love sharing my passion and I want people to try embroidery to give it a go. Even if they think it's too difficult, too hard. They can't do it well enough. Just give it a go and see how you feel. I love in my workshops, just watching people chill out. And they're also going Oh, actually, this is lovely. Yes, it is riot. Instead of telling me you're too busy. That's why you need to do it. For me. Good. That's been really, really lovely. Thank you so much for talking with me today, Mary. Oh, I've loved it, Claire. Thanks so much for listening to creativity found. 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