Grandmas aren’t the only ones rocking yarn creations nowadays. Crochet is taking the spotlight recently, turning into a hobby rather than a retirement home activity. Not only can you make cool tops and stuffed animals with some hooks and yarn, but it’s a great stress reliever due to its simple repetitive movements. Don’t worry, we’re not gonna just string you along, so here’s the new trend that has us all in stitches.
As students navigate their way to a four-year degree, the stress of exams, presentations and projects seem inescapable. Don’t worry, though; a new hobby has been becoming popular among Gen Z — crocheting. Once associated only with grannies, crocheting has taken TikTok by storm, and it can look a lot cooler than you think.
While popular stress-relievers include napping, exercising, reading, participating in a sport or listening to music, one uncommon and often overlooked alternative literally is right at students’ fingertips — crocheting. Okay, it may not be the first thing that students consider when looking to unwind, but those who practice the craft say they love it.
“It is really not just relaxing, but fun for me,” said University of Miami junior Kalliope Tsartsalis, who began crocheting at 13 and continued her hobby on into college.
Sophomore Rachel Davit picked up the habit three years ago.
“Taking the time to make something myself helps to take my mind off of my crazy schedule this semester,” Davit said. “Sometimes I just need a break and doing this stuff [crocheting] has kept me calm and off my phone.”
Tsartsalis and Davit, both active in the campus UKnit club, are among the thousands of college students across the nation who are indulging in crocheting.
Crocheting is a yarn activity where patterns are created with a single needle lined with a hooked edge and yarn. The craft, which dates to 1820s England, spread across Europe and was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants during the potato famine in the mid 1840s. During the 1800s, single patterns were popular; crocheters made floral motifs to use as decorative doilies.
Beginning in the 1900s, crochet evolved into functioning fashion pieces. Simple lace patterns turned into full wedding and ballroom dresses. The next great shift was seen during World War II when the art of crochet became dedicated to wartime efforts. Women at the time crocheted hats and mittens for soldiers at war serving overseas.
In the late 1960s, crochet had another resurgence, but this time the bright, colorful “granny square” style garments came into fashion. Individually crocheted squares were woven together to create a loud fashion statement that many people loved. The woven squares were used to make everything from hats to purses to dresses and even blankets and bedspreads.
The art of crochet has gone in and out of style over recent decades, but it is enjoying a resurgence since the pandemic lockdown when the textile art form exploded in popularity. The crochet style du jour is
Streetwear. Students all over campus can be seen sporting crochet crop tops, tote bags and accessories. And crochet items can be bought just about anywhere, from designer boutiques to even general merchandise stores such as Target and Walmart.
Not only have shirts, hats and crochet bags come into style, but crochet toys have become all the rage.
Knitting in the Now
Jenny Baumer, shop owner of Elegant Stitches in Pinecrest, occasionally makes custom crochet projects to order. The demand for stuffed toys and baby items has been increasing over the past three to four years, she said.
“It’s not just grandma style squares anymore,” Baumer said. “I have seen people express themselves, make art through knit and crochet.”
Baumer’s store specializes in knitting and crochet materials and supplies — from yarn to needles and hooks to stitch markers. Baumer teaches one-on-one lessons and also heads a small community group of women crocheters.
“I have seen it all — older women looking to try newer styles of crochet and young girls looking to copy projects off of their Pinterest boards,” Baumer said.
Young people, including college students, start the craft looking to ambitiously tackle the newest fashion trends. Once they master the basics, it becomes much simpler, she said.
“Once you can single [stitch] crochet, everything easily builds off of that,” Baumer said. After mastering simple tops, young knitters soon turn to plush toys. Amigurumi-style crochet plushies have been the biggest and most recent trend for her customers, she said. Amigurumi is the Japanese art of kitting or crocheting small, stuffed yarn objects, and the crafter needs only to know a handful of stitches and techniques to get started.
Baumer describes crochet as “dense, elegant and elaborate.” She cautions beginners that the most common mistake made by first-time crocheters is the use of the wrong sized needle or the wrong thickness of yarn. Crochet hooks range from 6mm to 30mm. The larger the crochet hook, the larger the stitch and the larger the final project will be.
The most common size hook is the 8.5mm, which is the perfect size for hats, scarves and blankets. Similarly, yarn comes in differing weight classifications. Yarns can span from lace weight to jumbo. The most commonly used is a light to medium weight yarn, depending on the intended purpose of the crochet project.
“Following a pattern can be simple, but if you’re using the wrong materials, a normal-sized hat can be crocheted large enough to fit an elephant,” Baumer said.
Crocheting can be done in a myriad of styles to create interesting patterns. Multi-strand crochet uses several strands of different color yarn to create a distorted blend of color. Overlay crochet creates stitches over each other to create layers of color and different textures. Each style creates new opportunities for crocheters to express their creative abilities in new ways.
While crocheting is undoubtedly a form of art and fashion, the real question is, how will crocheting benefit stressed-out college students?
According to a May 2021 National Institute of Health, study, crocheting offers positive benefits for personal well-being. Of those surveyed by the group, 89.5 percent of participants reported feeling calmer, 82 percent reported feeling happier, and 75 percent reported feeling more useful while crocheting.
According to the American College Health Association’s 2018 National College Health Assessment, 87 percent of college students reported feeling tremendous stress at least once in the previous year.
Knitting and crocheting can be almost meditative, according to KnitPal, an online group that encourages students to form knitting clubs. Among the benefits for college students are improved self-esteem and sense of accomplishment; improved health, since knitting groups sustain a person’s social contacts; and the satisfaction of giving, since crafters often create items not for themselves but others.
Tsartsalis, UKnit’s vice president, said the group’s weekly meetings are a much-welcomed escape from the daily headaches of academic life. The club, which was started by UKnit president Gretchen Nauck in the fall 2022 semester, has attracted about 30 students who love to knit and crochet. The group is made up of mostly women, plus a handful of their boyfriends who choose to participate. The club, which meets weekly on Wednesday nights, also welcomes beginners seeking help or encouragement on their first crochet ventures.
Crocheting and knitting clubs can be found on campuses throughout the United States, especially at universities that endure cold winters. For example, there’s a Harvard Undergraduate Knitting Circle and a Boston University Knitting Club. Student crafters knit or crochet blankets, caps, scarves and sweaters. Many campus clubs, including the University of Maryland’s Crocheting for a Cause and Columbia University’s Gosh Yarn It, donate their creations to local charities. At Naughty Knitters at New York University, administrators and alumni join students in creating and donating such items as baby blankets, hats and scarves to the needy.
While fiber artists at cold-climate campuses may curl up by the fire or gather in warm, cozy settings, UKnit members meet in air-conditioned rooms at Mahoney Residential College. And while the UKnitters may make the traditional winter gear, they most recently have made bikini tops, blankets and stuffed frogs.
“I’m not sure what kids up north would do with crochet bikini tops,” Davit said.
Fun Crochet Kits for Beginners
Crochet kits are an excellent method for beginning crocheters to get started. It’s simple to master the fundamentals of crochet because the kits often include all the supplies and instructions needed to finish a particular project.
Here are two of the most popular beginner crochet brands, but there are many more out there to choose from depending on your interests and skill level.
The Wobbles: The kits come with a beginner’s crochet book, a crocheting hook and a variety of colorful yarns. It’s an excellent way to begin the craft and learn foundational stitches like chain, single crochet, and double crochet. “The Wobbles – Crochet Kit for Beginners” gained popularity after their cute crochet animals, along with the founder’s impressive pitch went viral for their appearance in episode 1,402 of the famous business reality T.V. series, “SharkTank.” The kits promote the art of amigurumi, a technique used to form small stuffed animals or characters.
Learn to Knit – Pocket Scarf: “This Scarf Kit” also includes all the basic materials needed to create a warm and fashionable scarf. It is an excellent way to practice basic stitches while also making a useful accessory, and the best feature is its pockets. The “Learn to Knit Pocket Scarf” is a best seller at Amazon and a great recommendation for a DIY Knitting Kit for Beginners.
words_maria rocha & julianna sondon. design_michael cervantes. photo_valeria barbaglio.
This article was published in Distraction’s Summer 2023 print issue.