Fashion & Culture

How Quarantine Made Making Cool Again

Given an unexpected supply of free time, millions of people started making, remaking, mending, and upcycling clothing during the pandemic. Was it a random side effect of boredom, or will this trend have legs for the long haul?

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The COVID-19 quarantine left many people with an unexpected issue: a sudden surplus of time. So they turned to making. Some made sourdough bread. Some made art. And others made clothing: they crocheted, embroidered, knitted, stitched, wove, and upcycled. Global craft platform LoveCrafts saw their tutorial guide visits rise by as much as 8704%, while We Are Knitters, which sells yarn, patterns and craft kits, experienced weekly sales increases of 75%.

The pandemic was the unexpectedly perfect catalyst for making and the tactile, emotional investment it inspired. Left idle by lockdown measures, a new generation of makers found the time and the tools to defeat overconsumption and take a more measured, mindful approach to their possessions. But will this approach stand the test of time?

History Repeating Itself

While living through a pandemic may be a new experience for most, turning to crafting in a time of crisis is nothing new. WWI veterans suffering from PTSD were prescribed embroidery therapy. WWII saw the proliferation of knitting for victory. And the Kitchener Stitch, a technique for seamless toe joins in socks, is said to have been inspired by Herbert Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War from 1914 to 1916, to stop soldiers suffering from blisters caused by home-knitted socks.

During quarantine, people took to making masks for loved ones and health care workers to keep them safe. Free patterns and tutorials were shared as people took to their sewing machines to do their part.

Not all making was borne out of necessity, however. Many took to crafts to fill their days, occupy their attention, and distract them from the crisis on their doorstep. The link between crafts, improved mental health, and mindfulness has been explored increasingly over recent years. Knitting has been proven to help manage anxiety in eating disorders and boost feelings of happiness, while textile crafts have can increase self-esteem and wellbeing in those with depression and other health conditions.

Crafting a Community

Sharing the finished products—or the process—of their makes also proved a positive experience for many, helping to build a social community when in-person interaction was a no-go. True to that, the #quarantinecrafts hashtag has been used on over 100,000 Instagram posts as people share embroidered mandalas, fresh-off-the-loom weaves, upcycled quilt jackets, crocheted characters, and cross stitch art.

Prominent makers also helped bring makers together, creating challenges and encouraging people to share their results under specific hashtags. Katie Jones held a weekly crochet along using the hashtag #QuarantineCAL. Each week, Jones guided people through the process of making a different style of granny square which could eventually be stitched together into a blanket, cushion, or jumper. Scandinavian knitwear and textile designers Arne and Carlos held a weekly knit along, the results of which came together in a "hug me later" cushion. Abbie from DIY Fashion Rebel created a Facebook group for all the people taking part in her 5-day sewing challenge, and thousands of people joined in with the quiltalong hashtag.

Even brands got involved. Alexander McQueen taught its audience how to make paper dolls, patchwork, and print onto fabrics in their McQueen Creators series; sustainable brand Christopher Raeburn released weekly creative tasks complete with free patterns under its Raeburn At Home initiative; designer Edward Crutchley released a free pattern for a one-piece robe; and Liam Hodges released the design for an “Isol8” rug made from recycled T-shirt yarn.

The Long View

There's no denying the skills that were once commonplace in Western society have been lost among newer generations. Knowing how to sew, mend, knit, and make were once a given, but a 2017 survey found that 1 in 6 people were unable to replace a button on an item of clothing.

Quarantine bridged this skills gap—somewhat—but will it last? What will the long-term impact be? It’s still too early for a definitive answer, but there are some clues as to how it’s going.

UK fabric dye company Dylon saw sales in certain colors rise 10% in the first year of COVID-19 (no doubt in part due to the tie-dye craze of early quarantine). It shared that its new customers are mainly those aged 18-25, demonstrating engagement from a younger demographic. Etsy, meanwhile, more than doubled its revenues to $1.7 billion in 2020, indicating a shift towards making for commerce as well as pleasure.

Knowing how to sew, mend, knit, and make were once a given, but a 2017 survey found that 1 in 6 people were unable to replace a button on an item of clothing.

Furthering its stamp on crafting, Etsy acquired second-hand darling depop for $1.6 billion, a platform that’s acted as a breeding ground for Gen Z upcycling. And, as revealed by thredUP in its resale report, 51% of consumers are more opposed to eco waste than before the pandemic.

Certainly, there’s no "right time" for a pandemic, but the return to making struck just at the right moment for it to have significant cultural cut-through, as eco-consciousness among younger generations reaches fever pitch. And while the initial boom will likely slow, it’s clear that making has become an indelible part of life for many.

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