My daughter is in bed and I could reopen my laptop to start work again, or turn on the television, but instead, I dig out a half-finished scarf that I started two years ago. There’s something satisfying, not only in the total absorption of the clack of my needles, but in the emergence of my creation, as if I’m putting something of beauty and made with love out into a world that feels very troubled.
Turning to crafting is something lots of us are doing more of right now. “As we all have to rapidly adjust to more time at home, we’ve seen a huge number of people seeking out opportunities to use their hands and their minds and be creative,” Natalie Melton, creative director at the Crafts Council, says.
Hobbycraft, the crafting retailer, says it’s seen a surge in traffic to its online “Ideas Hub”, where it has guides and videos for learning crafts such as knitting, crochet and macramé, and Instagram reports that its nearly 3.7 million #crafting posts had increased since lockdown (with #coronacrafting on the rise).
The popular Facebook group Handmade Craft Network UK has also had an influx of new members.
“For many, the creative urge is often limited by lack of time, and anecdotally it seems that many are seeing enforced isolation as an opportunity to develop a new skill or pick up an old hobby,” Melton says.
She jokes that her own crafting skills are “woefully inadequate”, but she will be using her extra time at home with her daughters, now schools are shut, to “have a go at a few different things – I’m planning to start with using old fabrics to create some colourful covers for the worst of my pots”.
Crafting is not just good for using up spare time, it is also wonderfully soothing. “It’s good for the soul,” Sally Coulthard, author of Crafted, agrees.
“I can see why so many people took up knitting in wartime – not only did it provide the soldiers with much-needed socks and clothing, but it also provided the knitters with a distraction and positive focus.”
She feels that too: “I’m working on a new book at the moment, but yesterday I decided to close my laptop and spend the day drawing instead. I felt too preoccupied to write, but the act of putting pencil to paper was just the tonic I needed. I think we sometimes underestimate the therapeutic side of making and the sense of peace that comes from being totally absorbed in a practical, creative task.”
It’s been well reported that crafting really does make us happier and less anxious: in a study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy of more than 3,500 knitters who had depression, 81 per cent of respondents said they felt “happy” after knitting, with more than half feeling “very happy”. And researchers at the University of Auckland found that creative writing even offered a boost to patients’ immune systems: something not to be sniffed at right now.
Sarah Murrell, co-founder of the plant-based beauty brand By Sarah, knows just how making something can help with stress. When her younger sister Lauren was going through aggressive treatment for cancer, she started concocting beauty products to help her sister’s skin, and provide a helpful distraction for herself. “When I was creating products for Lauren it was a great release for me and a way to channel my energies into creating something really beautiful,” she says.
Another benefit crafting can bring is the solidarity of the wholesome and supportive “making” community. But at a time when we can’t socialise and go to crafting classes and workshops, many creators, such as block printer Molly Mahon, are moving their tuition online. Last week she launched free videos on her Instagram channel. “The response has been bonkers,” she laughs. Despite not being able to meet in person, her followers are tagging her in their creations.
Mahon says the reason we are turning to crafting now is because it’s a primal instinct. “We are all creative, it’s a natural emotion to want to make something, and most of us have had it removed from our lives. We need it back.”
For me, creating something beautiful feels like an antidote to the negativity. “I think we are all searching for ways to lift our spirits,” embroiderer Cressida Jamieson agrees.
Her T-shirts have fans including Dree Hemingway and Kate Winslet. “When our screens seem filled with so much upsetting news, looking at something beautiful that has been handcrafted offers a relief and a reminder to stay hopeful.”
Online craft resources
Free tutorials for various skill levels, plus beautiful kits available to buy with a range of yarns from Alpachino Merino to recycled plastic. For an easy beginner project, try the Good Time Blanket; for an advanced knit, get the Taylor Sweater.
Features projects that use everyday household objects, from plant pot covers to earrings to finger knitting.
Ranging from topical ideas like creating a soap dispenser from a preserving jar to a tapestry cushion. Plus craft tools and kits to buy.
Watch crafting on their TV channel or browse a database of projects, plus buy supplies.
A self-confessed Kirstie Allsopp wannabe, Mike Aspinall’s blog details his crafting projects, ranging from a Mondrian-inspired sweater to a leather watch strap.
It’s the repetitive nature of block printing that Molly Mahon finds so therapeutic. “There is something meditative about the process and as you have to concentrate it takes your mind off all other things,” she says.
Her designs, which have featured in Vogue, are created with custom-made wooden blocks, but she says that chic designs can be made by beginners at home with a bit of practice.
She started free online videos on Instagram TV to help people start block printing at home. “Start with a sheet of paper, any pot of paint and then progress to printing on old sheets, tea towels, and more.”
The first step is to create a shape out of a block of wood or lino – or even a potato if that’s all you have – press it into paint and press it on to your sheet. “It’s addictive,” Mahon says, “before you know it you will be replacing your curtains and everything else with your own creations.”
WHAT YOU NEED
Paper or fabric
A potato, block of wood or lino, or block painting kit (available from mollymahon.com)
Nothing sums up self-isolating better than a snuggly quilt, especially one you’ve made yourself. “It’s a lovely feeling to be making something that can be used, whether it is to keep warm, put on your bed or build a den with,” quilter Jenny Haynes says.
She believes it’s easy for beginners to get started on quilting with fabric scraps in their drawers. “Cut up a shirt or some jeans and experiment, by hand or using a machine. Just check with your other half, flatmate or sibling before you start cutting up their clothes!”
She has patterns on her website, starting at £3, and recommends the Sunflower Block for beginners who have a machine to hand. For a challenge, try her animal quilts made in collaboration with the designer Donna Wilson.
Quilting doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. “It could be nice to FaceTime a friend and have a sew-day together,” Haynes suggests.
WHAT YOU NEED
Fabric – old clothes, or libertylondon.com
Sewing machine: try brothersewing.co.uk
Needle and thread: johnlewis.co.uk
Along with exclusive designs for Matches Fashion and Liberty London, Cressida Jamieson creates bespoke embroidery, featuring floral sprays or tiny emblems. A former fashion PR, she retrained as a florist under Flora Starkey, creating displays for clients including Louis Vuitton, before turning to embroidery.
Jamieson says embroidery is a great beginner’s craft. “As long as you have some threads and a needle, you can embroider anything, on to anything.”
A keen gardener, she is inspired by the plants in her allotment and garden in east London (geraniums are a favourite), and mood boards in her light-filled crafting room. But she is also inspired by current events: “You can make it up as you go along or use online tutorials to learn specific stitches.” You can find a useful guide to various stitches from French knot to stem stitch at thesprucecrafts.com, but Jamieson suggests not getting too bogged down in the details.
She says that she’s grateful for her work at the moment. “I have always found designing and embroidering therapeutic. I have been using every opportunity to get lost in my sewing over the past few weeks. Focusing your mind on creating something offers escapism, and joy through the final result.”
WHAT YOU NEED
Embroidery thread and needle: try dmc.com
Search YouTube for tutorials
For the wood maker Sebastian Cox, getting into scruffy clothes and getting absorbed in a practical task is his cure for stress. “I get lost in the task of controlling the tool to cut the wood in a precise and accurate way. In these moments my mind and hands are a machine with millennia of instinct behind them. I forget about worries like VAT bills and admin.”
Cox has been running workshops, which have had to be paused, but he is planning online content.
Beginners might want to start with a simple project, using offcuts of wood they might have lying around. “With a sharp knife, an axe and a little tuition you can make a spatula, which I prefer to a spoon because it’s quicker to make, you can use it readily and chuck it in the dishwasher without being too precious,” he says. “Make sure your knife is sharp and that you follow expert guidance.”
WHAT YOU NEED
A sharp knife and axe: try wood-tools.co.uk
Offcuts of wood or logs
How-to video by Barn the Spoon: barnthespoon.com
Lots of us wish we were better at drawing, but Alexandria Coe, whose signature line-drawn nudes are amongst the most sought-after on Instagram, says we all have it in us. “As children we draw a lot and it’s a great way for children to develop, so why do we not continue as adults? Drawing is the most natural way of communicating with ourselves and others,” she says.
With more time on our hands, she says, it’s the perfect opportunity to put pen to paper. “Drawing has always been my own personal form of stress release, because it works like medication. It takes you out of your saturated thoughts and requires you to concentrate on one thing.”
During her real-world tutorials, Coe issues (separate) challenges to her tutees including using their opposite hand to draw and not taking their pencil off the paper as they sketch, both things possible to try at home.
If you have a willing nude, then you can start sketching them in Coe’s signature style, if not, set up a still life with objects around the house that are special to you. “Allow your mind to focus on each one for at least 10-15 minutes,” Coe says. “Try to remember that drawing is a practice and the end result is not a finished article. Use this time to be less critical and enjoy doing an activity that is purely for you alone.”
Get more artistic inspiration by following @partnershipeditions, the online art platform, for free live drawing and painting sessions.
WHAT YOU NEED
Pen or pencil (treat yourself at carandache.com)
Everyone thinks they’ve got a novel in them, but the challenge is how to start. First-time novelist Hannah Tovey started her book by keeping notes on her iPhone and printing them out. “I numbered every section and laid them out on the floor before I started writing, so I knew how the story would flow.”
Tovey took a Faber writing course to help her get started, and there are online versions of her course available with fortnightly deadlines, tutor guidance and peer feedback (six months starting in April costs £1,400).
Laura Lee Dockrill is hosting a free “writers’ club” on Instagram, where she sets exercises to get creative juices flowing, while fellow author Clover Stroud is hosting weekly talks with writers.
Tovey says she read Stephen King’s 2000 memoir On Writing, in which “he recommends writing 1,000 words a day and stopping wherever you are in the sentence when you hit that target”. Last year Will Storr published The Science of Storytelling, which ends with a step-by-step guide to writing a novel.
The Education of Ivy Edwards by Hannah Tovey is out in May (£8.99; Little Brown). Order your copy from books.telegraph.co.uk
WHAT YOU NEED
Pen and paper, and/or computer and printer
“Working with clay between your fingers really helps you process emotions, which is something that we all need right now,” ceramicist Ana Kerin of Kana London says. “The clay is forgiving, you get absorbed in the process and somehow, an hour has gone by.”
Her signature style involves rustic, roughly-shaped pots, plates and cups, and she teaches sell-out classes from her studio in east London, where fans have included the chef Melissa Hemsley.
This week she launched an at-home kit along with easy how-to videos using tools you already have at home. “If you haven’t done it before, it’s very easy to get started, and a great way to nourish your creativity when we’re all stuck at home,” she says.
Kana London has a safe collection point where customers can drop off pieces to be fired and glazed, “or you can hold on to it until it is safe to travel”.
WHAT YOU NEED
“At a time when many of us feel overwhelmed, stressed and even scared, weaving can be a creative antidote,” says the weaver Maria Sigma. “Focusing on repetitive actions can allow us to enter a ‘flow’ state, a perfect state between skill and challenge.”
Weaving has made a comeback on the catwalk in the designs of Anteprima, Gabriela Hearst and Simone Rocha, among others, and women like Sigma are leading the way.
Sigma is known for her zero-waste, sustainable approach to her craft, and says now is the time for beginners to try it out. While she works on a bespoke giant loom in her east London studio, she says that it’s easy to make a small DIY frame loom at home by fixing lines of string from an old picture frame, something that takes 10 minutes to construct. Or try a pre-made loom from sites including lunaandcurious.com.
Once the loom is constructed, you thread the yarn over and under the strings to create a weave. “From there anyone can start on wall-hangings, cushion covers and even rugs.”
WHAT YOU NEED
Cardboard and string
Fabric and old clothes or yarn: weareknitters.co.uk
“Making something by hand is alm
ost like a meditative practice as I’m totally immersed in the creative process and everything around me just melts away,” says Sarah Murrell, co-founder of the organic, plant-based skin care brand By Sarah.
The brand’s bestselling face mask is made from organic green clay, but Murrell says anyone can whip up a simple mask at home by grinding up green tea from a tea bag in a pestle and mortar, and mixing with a teaspoon of organic honey.
Scarlett Johansson has talked about using apple cider vinegar for spots, Halle Berry uses coffee grounds in favour of expensive body scrubs while Salma Hayek keeps her hair in top condition by coating it in an avocado mask. Goop has a recipe online for an oat, honey and ground almond facial scrub.
Murrell says that spending time making a potion, with the promise of a period of self-care at the end, is a powerfully relaxing combination. “With so many of us spending hours a day in front of a screen or glued to our smartphones, there is something magical in making something with your hands to encourage a deeper sense of connection,” she says.
WHAT YOU NEED
Green tea leaves
Pestle and mortar
Inspiring Instagram crafters
If you can’t get to the Bruton gallery, you can still get inspired online.
For chic upcycling inspiration, see Yinka Ilori’s beautiful chairs.
London’s last working passementerie weaver, who has created tassels for the Queen, no less.
Watch a video of Lucy McGrath marbelling paper, which she sells in Fortnum & Mason.
For a celebration of craft and art, and tongue-in-cheek commentary, follow the designer.
A magazine celebrating crafters and creators.
While you won’t be able to attend their workshops, Stitch School shows off a variety of creative sewing projects and has kits to buy
Devon-based potters with a calm-inducing feed filled with their ceramics
An online shop championing the contemporary craft scene in the UK