Pom-poms, anxiety and #TinyRevolutions

Many Makers and participants at Fun Palaces find the connection in community the most important thing about creating or taking part in a Fun Palace. We are all concerned to take care of our own and others’ well-being right now, so we’re very happy to share this blog from Paul Simpson of Yately in Hampshire about pompom making, community connection and mental health.

A yarn about a tiny revolution with pom-poms from Paul Simpson of Yately in Hampshire

My own connection with pom-poms began around five years ago. I’d always been fascinated by them – I think it was something about the texture, as well as the playfulness – but for some reason, saw the making of them beyond me. And as someone interested in making change, I’d long been fascinated by the power that the ‘yarn-bombing’ movement had to unleash in subtle fashion.

It was then that I was retired early at a relatively young age, due to a neurological condition called ‘Chiari’. I am regularly looking for things to fill my time, and around then I met ‘crafty’ Jane Friend. Not only did we become the best of friends, she showed me how to make pom-poms – and I never looked back. I never realised how simple it was – and, as I soon discovered, how therapeutic it could be too.

Fast forward four years, and before I knew it, I was making endless pom-poms, spending long evenings wrapping wool, first one way around a semi-circle, turning over, then wrapping it around the other semi-circle, before closing them up, carefully cutting between the gap around the two semi-circles, double knotting a piece of wool around the gap between the two, then prising them apart to discover the delight of a fluffy ball. A final trim with a pair of scissors gently fluffs up the pom, and gives it definition.

This was all as I listened to the radio, as my anxiety levels increased while the Brexit debate careered towards its conclusion during 2019, in what now feels like another era. I found solace seeking an ever more garish array of colours in my supply of balls of wool (using two strands of differently coloured wool at the same time creates a fleck effect; alternating them one at a time a marble effect), and had been making connections with new small shops selling them around the area, pre-lockdown.

I started to give out individual pom-poms to people I’d made connections with on the bus, who really liked the idea – we’d been part of a successful campaign to save the community shopper bus. Then came memorials for friends who had died, and their favourite colour seemed an appropriate way to remember them. Some were turned into mobiles, hanging from small branches, as gifts for family and friends.

Before lockdown descended on us, I had been planning to hang some pom-poms, encased in protective baubles in a public place (like a tree), with an appropriate message attached as a ‘random act of pom-pom kindness’ so this wasn’t a completely new idea.

As the weeks went by since I went into an early self-isolation, I was looking for something that I might be able to do with the pom-poms. Seeing the #tinyrevolutions initiative, and hearing Stella Duffy from Fun Palaces talk about an idea she tried, leaving poetry outside her home for passers-by, I realised I could adorn my own wall with an array of differently coloured pom-poms, encased in a protective clear bauble (the clear kind you use to put small gifts in, to hang from the tree at Christmas) to keep them dry in case of rain, with a view to making our own connections with passers-by.

The message on the gift-tag accompanying each pom read:

“An act of pom-pom kindness, with thanks to NHS, carers, and all other frontline workers – and in solidarity with YOU! Feel free to take one, pass one on, or leave as a celebration of those supporting our community. Each bauble contains a different coloured pom-pom.”

The logo I put on the tag was also something I had produced myself at a course of linocut classes I was lucky enough to complete just before the lockdown, at Aldershot’s West End Centre, and it seemed appropriate.

It has brought sheer joy watching people stop to look at the pom-poms, particularly parents with small children. One family took the first pom-pom on the way down to the local shops, and on the way back, called into me through the window from across the lawn, waving, and expressing thanks by leaving a chocolate egg on the wall – a connection had indeed been made!

I didn’t think many passers-by would take a pom-pom – they might be concerned about transmission of the virus – but as a display, they make a powerful statement, like the rainbows in windows, and they encourage people to stop, and make a connection with our house, rather than rush straight past. We’ve had people stopping to wave across the garden and say ‘Hello’, and we’ve seen others post photos of the display on our local 20k strong Facebook community group page. Another neighbour sent a relative to collect a pom after they had heard about them, and gave us a telephone call to say ‘Thanks’.

It had been important for me to do something with #tinyrevolutions because I am conscious that a fair proportion of my immediate neighbours either do not have access to the internet, or do not use it regularly, so these type of real connections in the street can be more meaningful.

Making pom-poms continues to help me cope with any anxiety. I do feel at one with the planet, and enjoying the pace of life being much slower, but the uncertainty over what happens next; the fact that this is affecting everyone around the world at the same time; a feeling of a lack of control over the response to events by those in power; and the sheer scale of the impact of the horrific virus has left me feeling more anxious again – and ridiculous as it sounds, I have found solace in the mindless pursuit of making pom-poms, particularly while I listen to the radio in the evenings, sometimes texting or ‘tweeting’ in for additional live connections. Whether it’s Janice Long on BBC Radio Wales; Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2; Lynn Parsons on Magic; Iain Dale or Nick Abbot on LBC, Phil Taggart on BBC Radio 1, or any of the vast array of fantastic stuff on BBC Radio 3, they help me make me feel more connected (indeed, Lynn has championed the poms on-air).

The latest ‘job lot’ of pom-poms were in the team colours for my twelve year old niece – ‘Chard Evolution Majorettes’ in Somerset – a surprise addition for their kit, which I despatched in the post! Twenty five poms was a mass connection!

#tinyrevolutions come in many shapes and sizes – but can be fluffy too! You can make connections with the people and places around you in many ways, and it can not only bring delight to them, but solace to those making them. The feeling of making something can somehow make a real difference too.

Paul Simpson, Yateley, Hampshire (@dutchPaul)

If you want more information on making pom-poms, you might try this link here using one of the makers:

Or this link using a homemade maker:

You can use two cardboard circles with a small chunk cut out, placed alongside each other, but for ease, and a good finish, I recommend one of the relatively inexpensive, and easy to source plastic pom-pom makers you can purchase via most craft outlets online, which come in around four sizes. Similarly, you can use most wool you often find lying around hidden in a cupboard or failing that, through an online craft retailer.