As many of us have found ourselves with excess free time in the last year, some have turned to hobbies that they might not have considered previously. Some students have turned to arts and crafts for physical creations, as the pandemic continues to keep most activities online.
Finn Hopkins, a senior studying international relations, started pursuing physical crafts to keep himself busy.
“I think probably the biggest thing was that I live alone, so once everything moved online and we were quarantining, the isolation was there,” he said. “So I spent a good chunk of the first bit of quarantine binging Netflix, doing all of that fun stuff, and then after a while that just wasn’t cutting it, I was so bored. So, I got some art supplies, and that’s kind of how I started – just fighting the boredom that we all experienced.”
Hopkins, who used Adobe Photoshop creatively, turned to physical crafts like painting and punch needling.
“Both of those kind of served the same purpose for me, which was a form of escapism almost, like a creative outlet,” he said. “I found that with COVID, and then with the news and political turmoil, and then on top of that all of my classes were about politics, it just felt like I was constantly immersed in fairly depressing topics.”
“The art allowed me to escape all of that and really be creative and also just exercise a different part of my brain too – let that super analytical side go and just kind of have fun with it.”
Maddy Eischer, a junior studying apparel and textile design and genomics/molecular genetics, has been making masks for nearly a year.
“It came out of a desire to help my community members/ and people really needed masks at the time. There was a real shortage,” she said. “I had some leftover fabric and was like ‘I can sew,’ so really, I just wanted to help out and donate these to people who really needed them, and then it exploded from there and has actually turned into a business.”
Eischer, who had pursued various crafts throughout her life, said that even though she expected to produce only a handful of masks to donate early in the pandemic.
Then, she said, “People would start donating to me, like they gave me just a couple bucks here or there to pay for the product and the materials I needed and I guess my time. I think it was also a way for them to feel like they were giving back during the pandemic and everything crazy, and then I think around when it switched from people needing masks to just wanting cooler fabrics or unique designs, that’s kind of when I started charging for them.”
Maddy estimates that she’s sold around 1,800 hand-sewn masks in the past year.
Meg Croft is owner of Woven Art Yarn Shop, a crafts store on Grove Street just off MSU’s campus. She said that it’s been a complicated year in terms of business.
“Overall, in 2020, I saw less new customers than normal, mostly because MSU’s campus is closed,” she said. “Not only does that mean that staff isn’t coming in, but it also means that conferences were canceled, both at MSU and through the state government.”
However, Croft said she thinks she’s seen more student customers.
“I did get more new undergraduate customers than I normally get,” she said. “I think for everyone who was stuck at home, and especially because they were living pretty much their whole lives digitally, they were looking for a more tactile thing to do with their hands, in order to get through and maybe make their lives a little bit more interesting and complex.”
Croft also said that she felt other demographics were more open to exploring crafts.
“I saw a lot of guys coming in and wanting to learn how to either knit or crochet,” she said. “Especially it happened really when some of the seasonal sports were kind of canceled, so I think guys who usually had watching sports as a hobby realized that maybe they needed something more hobby-like than just watching sports.”
Maddy Gray, a junior at MSU, got into crocheting during the pandemic.
“Mostly because all of my friends went away to school and I didn’t, so everyone was gone and I was like ‘nothing to do now,’” she said.
Gray said social media may have played a part in her exposure to crochet.
“People on TikTok were getting into crochet and I was like ‘I can crochet for sure,’” she said. “I saw a bunch of people making stuff, and I was like, ‘I could do that, they look like they’re having a great time’.”
“Media plays a huge role in the popularity of craft – just being able to see how things are done, and that perhaps these popular handcrafts are not as difficult as one might think, or that it is more of a concrete skill that can be learned rather than something that is somehow innate – like if you practice something, you will get better at it,” she said.
“The benefit to TikTok and YouTube has really been that you can actually see something being made and learn how to do it and be able to mimic something even if you don’t have access to in-person lessons,” she said. “So that’s a huge benefit to how things were 20 years ago.”