COVID-19 has been a boon for crafts

Who’d have thought a pandemic would trigger a global renaissance for the craft sector, as a balm for both the soul and the pocket? Helped along by modern technology.
COVID-19 has been a boon for crafts Image: shutterstock.com
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Gina Fairley

Tuesday 7 April, 2020

Simple fact: studies have long shown that participating in crafts – especially those such as knitting, quilting, needlework and woodworking – are good for your mental health and wellbeing. These studies make the point that the focused, quiet and repetitive nature of many crafts have mental health benefits similar to meditation, and relieve anxiety.

It is not so crazy, then, that craft is witnessing a global boom as millions are confined to their homes, searching for distractions to keep them “sane” during COVID-19.

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With hashtags such as #quarantinecrafts #covidcrafts #covidcrafting #coronaviruscraftproject #coronaviruscraftchallenge spurring the trend across social media platforms, craft is up there alongside TikTok and fitness apps as the new normal.

Rosa Inocencio Smith of The Atlantic (USA) said: ‘I’ve turned to old-fashioned crafts in recent weeks to calm my anxieties, to hold something tangible in my hands and my thoughts while uncertainty swirls around me.’

The thought is echoed by Darwin-based photographic artist Claire-Louise Smith, who has described the recently formed Facebook group artisan at home as her ‘new favourite page’.

‘I feel like creative people are taking this opportunity to do what they do best, be inspired by an event and turn it into something beautiful. To take focus away from fear and anxiety, and bring it back to the constructive and creative,’ said Smith.

Read: Why your brain wants you knitting

'artisan at home' is an initiative of artisan, Queensland’s peak body for craft and design. In less than a week after COVID-19 shutdowns in Australia, over 750 makers of craft and design across Queensland, and beyond, have joined the online group.

While in London, the department store Liberty has reported that sales of sewing accessories are currently up 380% on last year, while purchases of their craft kits have risen 228%. With similar spikes recorded here at stores such as Spotlight and Lincraft.

It is just one example of the unprecedented boom in all things craft since COVID-19 has swept the world, forcing individuals and families to isolate at home.

How do you occupy yourself in lock-down? How do you stay connected? The answer appears to be craft.

ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN TODAY’S CRAFT BOOM

While many of us can conjure images of Little Women’s Jo March lamenting that she was stuck at home kitting sock for the Civil War effort, or the iconic images of people sheltering in the Tube from London air raids while knitting - the notion of anxiety, isolation and craft is very human.

But a lot has changed since air raids and Little Women. Today we have the Internet, e-commerce and platforms such as Instagram and Etsy, among others. Arguably, this is why a new renaissance of crafters are on the rise.

Anyone can log on and enter a D.I.Y world of lessons, source free patterns, or join a virtual workshop – all made possible by shopping for materials online, which are then delivered directly to your door.

A great example is the Craft ClassBento initiative co-founded by John Tabari – a new live-streaming artisan workshop platform, complete with free craft box delivery to your home.

Tabari said, ‘There’s never been a more important time to stay socially and mentally active. By bringing our incredible teacher’s workshops into homes via live stream and free craft box delivery we hope we can do our bit to help friends, workmates and families with kids keep connected and stay stimulated during lockdowns.’

He added that they launched the Australian initiative to help small creative businesses and around a hundred local makers to make an income during these uncertain times. 

One of the strengths of craft practice is that it can be a solitary activity, while also connecting with a broader sense of community.

It can also shift our focus away from the perpetual media stream by honing the crafting moment in a meditative, physical action. It is almost like an anchor in the chaos around us, and can help us start to put things into perspective.

‘I can be sure I know how to link one loop of thread into another…I know I can unravel my work and start over if I do it wrong,’ said Inocencio Smith, adding that this very primal sense of control can be healthy.

In our 21st century lives we are not so great at being still. At this point in the COVID-19 cycle it is not so much a case of people wanting to calm down, rather it is more a transference of pent up energy.

Craft, and the socialisation it can bring, has proven to be another avenue “out”.

The aforementioned Facebook group, artisan at home, is growing at lightning speed, driven by makers throwing a lifeline to others to link up online and share what they are working on in their homes and studios. There are others also emerging within the ceramic sector.

‘We don't know how long this new isolation will last and artisan at home is bringing us together,’ said Pamela See, a Brisbane artist who practises the traditional Chinese art of papercutting. She joined the group to keep connected and share.

‘There’s a wave of positivity and resourcefulness coming to the surface on the page, so you go away happy and inspired,’ See added.

Leah Emery, Public Programming Offer at artisan added: ‘We know that life is very different right now, and it could be for some time, so I’m delighted that through artisan we’re able to find a silver lining and bring makers together for the benefit of both their personal and professional wellbeing.’

There are new initiatives emerging on a daily basis – all aimed at making the transition to crafting in your home easy – and fun. 

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
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