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Arts and Crafts Are Experiencing Surge in Popularity Amid COVID-19

Stay-at-home orders have inspired those with ample free time to pick up hands-on projects

Some U.K. crafters are dedicating their spare time to making masks and drawstring bags for medical professionals. (Getty Images)
smithsonianmag.com

With much of the world on lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic, hands-on hobbies like crocheting, flower pressing and baking have gained traction as relaxing alternatives to screen-heavy activities.

Brooklyn-based animator and filmmaker Tom CJ Brown, for one, decided to build a harp to help pass the time.

“I definitely knew that I wanted something that I could do that didn’t feel a lot like work,” Brown tells the New York Times Molly Oswaks. “I was just like, ‘I think I need something that will take a lot of time,’ and I wanted something that was completely nondigital.”

Brown has long wanted to learn a harp version of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” But he didn’t own the string instrument prior to the pandemic’s outbreak, so he had to brainstorm a somewhat unconventional acquisition method: namely, purchasing a build-your-own Etsy kit. After twelve days of construction—a process Brown documented via Instagram Stories—the 22-string fireside folk harp was ready to play.

Crafting has also enjoyed a resurgence in the United Kingdom, now in its seventh week of a national lockdown. The country’s biggest craft supplier, Hobbycraft, has seen a significant jump in online searches for sewing, scrapbooking and knitting tutorials, as well as a 300 percent uptick in page visits to its “Ideas” hubs, reports Zoe Wood for the Guardian. Smaller shops have adapted to the shutdown by offering personal shopping and crafting tutorials via video calls, as well as shifting to delivery and no-contact curbside pickup, according to the U.K. Hand Knitting Association’s Yarn Shop Love campaign.

Some U.K. crafters are dedicating their spare time to making masks and drawstring bags for medical professionals. (The bags, which are designed to hold used scrubs, can be thrown into the washing machine without removing their contents.) Yarn store owner Melanie McKay, meanwhile, tells the Guardian that she has been creating kits for those hoping to get back into knitting after time away from the hobby.

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My famous Harp, as seen in @nytimes & @jezebel

A post shared by Tom C J Brown (@tomcjbrown) on

Per the Guardian, popular crafting projects range from crocheting amigurumi dolls characterized by their demure stature and adorable appearance to creating bunting, or festive decorations featuring triangular flags hanging from a ribbon, in preparation for this Friday’s 75th anniversary of V-E Day.

Museums are also getting involved in the arts and crafts renaissance. The National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, for example, has moved its bimonthly knitting circle online. The event, titled “Mrs. Wilson’s Knitting Circle,” is inspired by Edith Wilson’s wartime crafting drive; according to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, the first lady knitted trench helmets and sewed pajamas, pillowcases and blankets for soldiers during World War I. On the West Coast, the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco offers do-it-yourself tutorials detailing how to create salt-based clay and paper flower crowns for Mother’s Day.

Another potential creative outlet is trying one’s hand at shibori dyeing, which draws on tools such as PVC pipe and wood blocks to create specific patterns in dyed cloth, or natural dyeing. Pennsylvania art teacher and chef Erika Urso-Deutsch tells the Times that she used turmeric, paprika and hibiscus flowers to stain all sorts of projects in a range of warm hues. Starting with a batch of turmeric-dyed Easter eggs, she has since expanded her oeuvre to linen napkins, doilies and yarn.

“It is something I’ve wanted to try for probably 10 years, and I never had the time,” says Urso-Deutsch. “Most of our dyes used to be botanically based—made from fruits, flowers, roots and such. So it’s really a return to a lost art.”

Speaking with the Times, the Pennsylvanian predicts that she will feel good about how she spent her time in quarantine. Just as successful sourdough starters can bubble away for years, crafting skills will come in handy long after the pandemic has passed.

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