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Creative Pursuits | Try Your Hand at a New Hobby This Winter

When I was a child, I loved visiting Ms. Figgans, an elderly family friend. Her house was a fascinating museum of sorts. The parlor was filled with display cases of precious gems, minerals, and fossils, all neatly labeled. At the top of her spiral staircase was a room plastered with newspaper clippings and piled high with books about our solar system and space travel. Her bookshelves were filled with many collections, including Fabergé eggs. She would often turn on her record player and teach us a new dance she learned or pull out a new recipe she tried. At every visit, she would show us her “hobby book,” where she numbered and catalogued all of them. She was proud to say she had 100 hobbies. Ms. Figgans was all the evidence that we needed to prove that hobbies can enrich our lives — and the lives of those around us. 

It’s scientifically proven that carving out “me time” can improve our mental health. The slower winter season may be a chance for you to get your own creative juices flowing and take up a new hobby. Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas. 

Bruce Ward has an eye for photography. A lawyer by trade, he started by taking photos of what he knew: courthouses. Later, he developed an interest in sailboats and began shooting them on and off the water. To him, photography can be a personal art that serves a bigger purpose. 

“Photography can be both an art form and a historical reference,” he said. “We take photographs of our family over the years for historical purposes. We take photos on vacation as a reminder of where we’ve been, or parties we go to — all those things are important as a part of photography.” 

Ward is vice president of the Roanoke Camera Club (www., a group that dates back to 1951 and now meets once a month. Photo contests are offered every month, with members voting for their favorites. The group also hosts “group shoots” at different locations, from the downtown market to Mill Mountain to a local sunflower farm. 

Ward said photography has changed drastically since the age of film cameras, but it’s for the better because anyone can try the hobby now — even if they don’t know the difference between aperture and shutter speed. Most people in the group now resort to using their smartphones because of the ease and convenience, as well as affordability. 

“The cameras in phones are so sophisticated that you can take professional-quality photos,” he said. “And we always have our phone with us, so we always have our camera with us. There’s so many potential photos that you’re not going to miss now.” 

Photography is also a good motivator; you can’t sit in one place very long. You literally need a change of scenery. Taking photos keeps you active and out and about meeting people and exploring new places. 

“I try to remind people that there are photograph possibilities all around us — all one has to do is open their eyes and the opportunities are there,” Ward said. 

Maybe you took lessons as a child but had to give them up when school, sports or a job begged for your time. Or maybe you’ve never held an instrument but always wanted to play piano or guitar so you can lead family sing-alongs. 

Many people find that learning a musical instrument as an adult comes with more freedom than it does as a child. There are no tryouts or auditions and no pressure to perform for audiences. Plus, studies show that playing an instrument can preserve memory function, so it is never too late to take up the world’s universal language. 

But where do you start? The same place you did as a child — with lessons and practice. Many local music stores offer education programs for all ages, and local professionals who give private lessons to children are pleased to welcome adults. It’s also fun to share music with those you love, so ask a child or grandchild who plays an instrument to teach you the basics. (Musical talent can be hereditary, so you may have more in common than you know.) 

If you’re interested in sharing your passion for music by blending your voice with others, join a choral group, such as the Roanoke Valley Choral Society ( You may also consider joining a church choir and finding solace in worship and fellowship

Most of us have made it to adulthood with basic cooking skills, but some of us may long to cook our restaurant favorites or entertain guests with fare more exquisite than our weekly chicken casserole. TV cooking shows have become popular for this reason, and you have probably felt challenged by those brazen chefs who make cooking look easy.

But choosing cooking as a hobby can be one of your most beneficial endeavors. It can cause you to take more interest in your family’s nutrition, and it can open the door to explore other cultures.

Many catering businesses offer classes, and many companies, such as ClassBento, offer online-based workshops. You can order a kit with all the ingredients sent straight to your door and can interact with a private instructor online as you cook. Classes are offered in Thai, Indian, or European food.

A personal challenge to heat up your new hobby and expand your palate is to choose one ingredient a week that you’ve never cooked with before. It may be a vegetable, a type of pasta, a meat or fish, or even a new sauce. Commit yourself to cooking with at least one new-to-you item every week.

Another idea is to throw a cooking party. Ask a friend who knows their way around the kitchen to serve as host and give you pointers. Spend time preparing a full meal with your friends and then reap your rewards at the table together.

You may have tried needlecrafts years ago, or maybe you watched your grandmother from afar, but they are making a resurgence. Now could be the time to try cross-stitch, needlepoint, embroidery, knitting, quilting, or a close cousin of needlecrafts: crochet.

Kay Shackelford, co-owner of Point on Piccadilly, a local store dedicated exclusively to the art of needlepoint, said business has really taken off since the pandemic, especially among younger adults.

“It’s popular with all ages — it’s relaxing, it’s creative, it’s about having control over what you’re doing, whatever colors you want, when you finish,” she said. “It’s an accomplishment, because you’ve made something pretty, you turn it into something else.”

She said one of the best things about needlepoint is that you can take your projects with you wherever you go. Plus, how many times do we find ourselves waiting for something: a doctor’s appointment, sitting in a carpool line, traveling by plane or train, or simply waiting for the tiredness to kick in before bedtime?

Needlecrafts can be therapeutic, too. The back-and-forth rhythm of the stitching is calming.

“We call it mind yoga,” Shackelford said.

Her store, located inside Ivy’s Fine Gifts, has a giant wall full of patterns and canvases, from traditional designs to more modern. The store also stocks thread, scissors, stretch bars and bags. There are more options for decorating with needlepoint than ever before. The store can send your work off to a finisher, based on the product you choose, which can range from a belt to a headband, cummerbund, clutch, eyeglass case, and even shoes.

Shackelford encourages beginners to choose easier objects, such as Christmas stockings and ornaments, and work their way up.

Cross-stitch and needlepoint are perhaps the easiest of the needlecrafts and a great place to start. Both of the crafts call for making art out of stitches on fabric; cross-stitch uses mainly x-shaped stitches, while needlepoint tends to be more intricate and involves a variety of textured stitches. 

“It’s easy for any age,” said Shackelford, who remembered learning to do it when she was 7 years old sitting in her mom’s car. Her mother is 90 now and just finished a needlepoint clutch. 

When time allows, Shackelford said she will show customers how to get started, suggesting the tools they will need as well as canvas, threads, needles, and scissors. She hopes to be able to provide classes for beginners soon. (Visit Point on Piccadilly on Instagram for some inspiration and updates).  


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