Crafter Interview: Laura McLIH

I have another great crafter interview to share with you. I find it really inspiring that there are people with so many different conditions that are still managing to create and do something they love. This one is from the lovely Laura and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Who are you?image7

Hi, I’m Laura McKee or Laura Mc Iih (re-named to raise awareness of my rare illness-idiopathic intracranial hypertension: IIH). I write a blog about life with this disease, chronic migraines and other illnesses I’m picking up along the way!

You can find my blog here: Laughing While You’re Crying and if you want to make sure you never miss an update then sign up to it’s very own Facebook page.

I also write about my crafting. I always try and find the funny side of living with an extremely debilitating illness but write with brutal honesty about life as a Spoonie at the same time. I aim to be accessible to readers without chronic illnesses.

What craft(/s) do you do?

I was originally a silversmith but had to put that on hold; a busy workshop, tools and machinery don’t mix well, with a cocktail of drugs and a brain disease. I had the skills I’d learnt in these classes and the tools at home, mixed with my addiction to vintage buttons and beads; when my life needed something other than NCIS, Paprika Jewellery was born.

I make silver plated and some sterling silver jewellery with vintage and reclaimed beads and buttons, as well as semi precious beads.

Here is an example of one of my favourite pieces that combines lots of my skills. il_570xn-864628207_alan

I have just begun to teach myself some new crafts at home, such as card making, decoupage and frame decoration using my buttons, embellishments and paint. I plan to sell jewellery storage as an extension of my business very soon! My business has just changed its name to Paprika Jewellery & Accessories.

What illness/es do you have?

I have had migraines since age 12 but was only diagnosed at 32 when they became chronic. After medication settled the first bout of extreme facial pain, I was left with photosensitivity, tinnitus and hyperacusis (normal sounds are amplified to extremely painful levels; different for each suffer really)! It leaves you nauseous, dizzy, tearful, confused and wanting to run and hide!
In January 2014 I suffered what we all thought was a 3 week migraine (this pain has never gone). I then developed pulsatile tinnitus (PT); you constantly hear your own heartbeat. After futile visits to ENT and neurologists; I found an amazing otologist in Cambridge that specialised in PT. At my appointment, I was so relieved to finally find a Doctor that understood every symptom. He thought I had IIH and after a range of tests it was confirmed, although borderline. My local consultants all disagreed with him and refused to continue to treat me. I was devastated, but The Wizard (as I’ve nicknamed him) told us that this was a common response to his diagnosis and not to worry. Luckily, through my IIH support group, I now have a local neurologist, who, although slightly dubious of Cambridge’s groundbreaking techniques; is willing to work with them to treat me.

I deteriorated quickly after diagnosis. IIH used to be called pseudo tumour cerebri because the symptoms are the same as those of a brain tumour; without the tumour. My worst symptoms are head pain and poor mobility. I walk like a drunk; stumbling and falling often. I have a wheelchair and walking aids in the house. The pain I experience is like I am in childbirth at some point on most days, even on morphine and a host of other pain killers. I try to get downstairs once a week but the return trip is excruciating and even with oramorph top ups and sometimes very strong diazepam doses, it takes days to recover.

I also suffer with dizziness, extreme brain fog, aphasia (I make up new words etc.), nausea, neck, eye and facial pain, extreme fatigue and all previous symptoms. I’ve also just been diagnosed an under active thyroid, I’m currently anaemic due to loss of appetite and I pass out with hormonal migraines.

We have a treatment plan to give me some relief and it may even give me an almost normal life one day, but it’s a very long road. My IIH is caused by tortuous veins and restricted blood flow. Blood can get into my brain but not out and so builds up; also increasing levels of CSF fluid. All this extra fluid is then pressing on my brain! I have had the first two procedures, venoplasty: where they inflated a vein with a balloon and a Styloidectomy: a piece of my skull was removed: veins were twisted around it. I am due to have a stent inserted soon which should be even more effective in opening up the veins and increasingly blood flow. il_570xN.986923643_at4y

What are your favourite pieces of craft equipment?

Buttons. I love all buttons, but particularly vintage and retro! I love their versatility and I try and use them to make things that are a little bit unusual. I can sit for hours rummaging through tins of buttons and sorting them in to piles, or searching for the buttons that will finish a project beautifully. I love buttons with shanks as they are so easy to use!

Why did you start crafting?

I started silversmithing as a gift from my husband when I was working part-time after my cimg_3627hildren had just started school! I’d never done anything like it before and didn’t think I was creative at all. I loved it and couldn’t believe that I produced a beautiful statement necklace; myself!


When I was at one of my lowest points, feeling worthless; I remembered that I had a jewellery making kit and realised it was something that I COULD do; when faced with all the COULDN’TS!

Concentrating on something kinaesthetic is a wonderful distraction from the pain. I can create something simple even when the pain is quite high but, of course, there are times when my PA (carer) puts it out on the bed for me; at the end of the day it is still there, untouched.

What adaptations or changes have you had to make to craft because of your illness(es)?

I can’t sit at a desk as my head needs supporting the majority of the time so I used to sit on the sofa and now I lay in bed. I can’t bend down or carry things, so I have a trolley to organise most of my jewellery. My husband, children or PA would wheel it next to me or bring me the trays I need.

I can only spend about 20-30 minutes on something. So I have to allow for that when planning custom or bespoke orders. I rely on my husband for a lot of help; he does many things but he’s always my postman! At the moment, I can’t manage to use my light box; however I’ve found an app that cleans the photos for me and makes them look great!

Favourite project:

This was my first bespoke order. It was for a frie
nd, before I’d even started a business page on Facebook. I hadn’t had much practise and I certainly hadn’t learnt about product photography; although I love this image (a great photo, but no good for marketing)! My friend was going through a difficult time. She visited regularly, brought gifts, took me out if I could cope. When she asked if I could make a necklace for her mum as a thank you gift for helping her through her difficulties; it was the perfect chance for me to say thank you and to practise my skills.

The necklace was centred around a hammered circle. I couldn’t hammer anymore of course, so my 11 year old (at the time) gladly put on his safety goggles and did it for me for some extra pocket money. It was beautiful with the silver and purple beads, bird and elephant charms and the stunning purple agate cabochon. I practically gave this away to her but it was worth it for all the compliments; I’ve even had a few custom orders from the design.

How expensive is your craft/ how much do you spend on crafting?

My favourite item of stock, my buttons, are mostly from my Nana’s collection; added to by friends with vintage gifts and donations. I have bought some new buttons which are useful for some decorations and children’s jewellery.
Rummaging through flea markets, vintage fairs and charity shops; I’ve found many bargains. Although that is not why I like pre-loved and vintage. These items tell their own stories. I built most of my original stock this way, but I have to have spare spoons to go out on those adventures now. (You’d be amazed at how many charity shops aren’t wheelchair friendly though!) Now I shop online for everything, so I’m not really making a profit yet!

I’m going to be expanding my business by making beautiful decorated jewellery boxes plus accessories; aimed at a wide market. I’ll be making small boxes with hair grips for children; beautiful boxes and jewellery stands with decoupaged poems or personalised word art, even wedding themed boxes! I am very excited by this addition to Paprika Jewellery & Accessories but it costs all of my monthly £100 budget and more, plus any profit. I’m ready to start now, decoupage in bed-could be interesting and will definitely be exciting!

Advice for someone with a chronic illness starting off in your craft(/s)?

You might not know what YOUR thing is until you get started! And even then you might find that you discover other strings to your bow along the way. If you can get out of the house for a bit then I’d highly recommend a group of lessons to teach you the basics; either in a structured setting or a few lessons from a friend. Failing that (or as well as), invest in a couple of recommended books and get a Pinterest account/board for ideas and then just have a go! Remember to always count your spoons at the beginning of your day and spend them wisely. Don’t expect to finish tasks in one day or even two; be prepared to spend 20-30 minutes at a time. If you can manage longer, then great, you’ve exceeded your expectations! Finally, if you’re wondering whether or not you should try crafting, then please read this blog post I wrote. I researched the benefits of crafting for those with illnesses. It’s quite a long read but I’m sure that you’ll be convinced that crafting will make you feel special again! You deserve to craft!


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