From Colonel Tom Moore knitted dolls and VE Day bunting to “scrub” bags and face mask adaptors, Britain is in the thrall of a crafting revolution the likes of which has not been seen since the second world war.
John Lewis is reporting a big jump in haberdashery sales as shoppers finally get round to tackling their mending piles while independent yarn shops, which have all been forced to close their doors, have found creative ways to prop up their finances such as offering personal shopping services and hosting knitting tutorials on Zoom.
Craft specialists, including high street chain The Works, are also experiencing an online sales rush as Britons take inspiration from new TV shows such as Grayson’s Art Club, presented by the artist Grayson Perry and comedian Noel Fielding’s online art club.
Hobbycraft, the UK’s biggest arts and crafts retailer, said the number of people visiting the ideas page of its website – where the projects range from the ambitious Japanese toy-making technique amigurumi to the more straightforward art of scrapbooking – had tripled since the lockdown began. Its “50 sewing projects for beginners” blog post had been its most popular post with searches for sewing machines, fabric and thread up 155%, 60% and 310%, respectively on the previous six weeks on the back of it.
With its 99 stores closed Hobbycraft customer director Katherine Paterson said it “was a challenging time for the business but positive in the sense that the conversation around crafting was so good”.
A lot of people were “having a go” while seasoned crafters were splashing out on gadgets such as £180 cutting machines that could be used to give a professional finish to projects such as DIY bunting ahead of next week’s VE Day anniversary.
The shortage of PPE for frontline workers has also galvanised skilled and unskilled stitchers with searches for mask-making materials such as cotton fabric and elastic up more than 500% and 700% on the Hobbycraft site. Others have also been making drawstring bags – in which frontline workers place their scrubs at the end of their shift and can put directly into the washing machine without handling again – out of fabric remnants and old pillowcases while the crochet community has been churning out mask adaptors.
With many independent wool shops struggling to make a living before the crisis the UK Hand Knitting Association has launched the “Yarn Shop Love” campaign to shops that were “facing a once-in-a-lifetime challenge to stay in business”. It said many stores had adapted to the lockdown by offering new services such as personal shopping on FaceTime and knitting tutorials on Zoom.
With her shop closed Melanie McKay, who opened her yarn outlet Ethel and Em in Lancaster in 2019, said loyal customers were “paying it forward” by placing orders by phone for collection or delivery. McKay is assembling kits for lapsed knitters who have picked up their needles after being forced to self-isolate. Projects being tackled range from the practical, such as socks, to the wacky with amigurumi likenesses of Joe Exotic, star of the Netflix series Tiger King, apparently a “thing”, she reported.
Online arts and crafts store Baker Ross said it had experienced record demand for its products but that free colouring posters, such as one to celebrate VE Day, were also proving a big hit with families.
Paul Baker, a director at the firm, said: “Getting creative during these uncertain times helps kids and adults cope with isolation, as the new Grayson Art Club on Channel 4 where people have started to paint demonstrates.”
Top 5 craft hobbies
1 Knitting projects 400%
2 Sewing projects 300%
3 Kids arts and crafts 400%
4 Cross Stitch 410%
5 Jigsaw 800%
Top 5 emerging craft trends
1 Crochet 140%
2 Macramé 134%
3 Cricut 90%
4 Brush lettering 70%
5 Marbling 67%
Source: search requests on Hobbycraft website over the past six months
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