Recovery by Design

The Recovery by Design program operates on the principle that engaging in design thinking, methods, and practices can be used as a therapeutic technique for adults recovering from mental health and substance use disorders. It offered a series of workshops that provided a creative outlet for expression through co-design processes, as well as the re-connection to public social spaces that aid in de-stigmatization. As program director, I developed the methodology, curriculum, taught workshops, organized and volunteers, fabricated class tools and equipment, and curated exhibitions of student work. I also designed the program’s identity and promotional materials.

Sound Design

The class starts with a discussion about how sound is used to evoke emotional responses in movies and podcasts. Participants were asked to visualize sounds they like or make them feel safe, then develop their own MP3 soundscapes for listening whenever they need comfort or relaxation.

Decorative Mending

Students were taught decorative sewing and repair techniques. A mending-circle paired with relevant talking points led into a very productive group discussion about embracing imperfection.

Character/Fashion Design

This class focused on fashion design for an alter ego based on a creative writing prompt. Students were encouraged to imagine themselves with a mindset of limitless possibilities. Dresses were fabricated based on student designs.


Class begins with mindful walking and storytelling exercise, based on the students’ footwear, which asks them to imagine stepping into another person’s shoes. Taking into consideration the mindfulness exercise, participants added felt designs to personalize their own shoes.

Pattern Design

Based on Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, students are paired together to play a game. They roll the dice to ‘get a feeling.’ Using their stamps they make a facial expression that interprets that emotion. The participants then take portions of their designs and create repeating patterns on tea towels.

Textile Printing

As a continuation of pattern design, student patterns are digitized for fabric printing. The class focuses on teaching students various techniques of fabric printing including screenprinting, block printing, and roller-printing.

Fabricated Printing Tools

Early in the process of designing the curriculum, I envisioned fabric printing as a special community-building activity for creating design collectively. Not only does a practice like printing set up an ideal context for cooperation and flow, but it also allows participants to easily reproduce their pattern designs at a larger scale. Unfortunately, mid-scale manual printing techniques and equipment died out during the middle of the 20th century and off-the-shelf options were prohibitively expensive. So I began experimenting with tools and trying to create my own that would facilitate fabric printing at a larger scale without demanding expertise, as dexterity varied. My criteria were that the tools be constructed of low-cost and widely available materials, preferably sustainable. After a long prototyping process, I fabricated usable tools for block-printing and roller-printing fabric.

© 2018 Cassandra Ellison. All rights reserved.

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