Harry Styles, Michelle Obama help knitting’s popularity surge among Gen Z

PHOTO: Twitter

Definitive proof that knitting was no longer the domain of blanket-on-the-knees nana’s churning out bootees for their grandchildren came in July last year when British singer Harry Styles wore a rainbow-hued patchwork cardigan from JW Anderson’s spring 2020 men’s collection and it went viral on TikTok. 

The cardigan, a piece that the brand’s founder, Jonathan Anderson, told Vogue Business he loved because it felt “rather authentic and almost home-made, like your grandmother could have made it … at the same time, it feels a little deconstructed and punk”, tapped into the cool-kid #craftcore challenge trend on the social media platform.

The hashtag #HarryStylesCardigan has since accumulated more than 55 million views on TikTok as crafters around the world had a crack at DIY-ing the cardigan themselves.

Anderson later released the pattern for the cardigan online free of charge.

But resourceful Gen Z-ers (those born in 1995 or after) on social media aren’t the only ones picking up the knitting needles and crochet hooks.

Throughout these homebound times amid the sourdough starters, the Zoom quizzes and the banana bread there has been a trend toward traditional crafts and hobbies.

Looks from the Gabriela Hearst autumn/winter 2021 collection.
PHOTO: Gabriela Hearst

As The New York Times noted, if you google “knitting” and “pandemic” together you’ll get around 42 million hits, including the pattern for a Covid-19 teddy bear.

In just a couple of weeks in March 2020, the online knitting community We Are Knitters experienced a 50 per cent increase in Instagram reach for people seeking out its knitting kits.

Other social media accounts such as Gimme Kaya Crochet and Lily Fulop – author of the book Wear, Repair, Repurpose, who posts under mindful_mending – have created engaged communities around knitting and other kinds of crafting.

Meanwhile, on the autumn/winter 2021 catwalks in February and March, knitwear was a major trend, from the cosy blankets at Gabriela Hearst to the Fair Isle knits at Chanel.

Michelle Obama on The Ellen Show in a beanie she knitted.
PHOTO: YouTube

And it all makes sense. Knitting, with its meditative process (you have to concentrate lest you drop a stitch) is said to reduce stress. There’s something notably uplifting, too, about making something with your own hands.

It also fits neatly into a pandemic-inspired resetting of values around sustainability, reducing waste, and appreciation of craftsmanship, mending and making do. 

Ask Michelle Obama. The former US first lady recently appeared on US talk show The Ellen Show wearing a beanie she’d knitted, having taken up knitting during the pandemic.

“I am so into knitting. I made all of this stuff! I made this hat, I made this scarf for Sasha [her youngest daughter] … this is what I’ve been doing in quarantine. This is my practice mitten, isn’t it cute?” Obama told the show’s host Ellen DeGeneres with the enthusiasm of a recent hobby convert.

Melissa Tan-Lu, founder of the Sydney-based sewing and craft workshop Sew, Make, Create, says knitting and craft have definitely seen a revival, particularly among younger generations, over the past 10 years. This has become especially apparent in this past pandemic year.

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The surge in popularity is in part, she says, because people are looking for activities and hobbies to take them away from their screens. 

“There has also been an interest in doing more mindful activities for your mental health and for self care.

Craft is perfect for this, to help you slow down, focus and be in the moment. Craft and making is also very rewarding, as it’s very satisfying when you finish making something,” she says.

As Tan-Lu notes, while many of us would like to spend less time on our screens, technology and social media are also driving much of this take up.

“Knitting and craft has taken off also thanks to social media, where people are able to share their creations and their making process. There are now numerous online craft groups and communities, connecting people from all over the world,” she says. 

London-based DIY fashion brand Wool & The Gang has fostered a community of 1 million crafters who come to the site and its social pages for tutorials, cute patterns, and knitting and crochet kits.

Anna Veglio White, its head of brand, says the company experienced a surge of first-time crafters visiting the site throughout the pandemic.

Yarn from Wool & The Gang.
PHOTO: Wool & The Gang

“I think a combination of people having more time to dedicate to learning a new skill, along with the proven calming effects knitting can have on you, means it’s been the perfect hobby this past year,” she says.

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“Once you’ve mastered the basics, knitting can provide some much-needed calm to your day – there are few activities that don’t involve a screen, so having an hour of ‘analogue’ a day can feel like pressing reset.”

Veglio White says perceptions of knitting had already been changing pre-pandemic, in part because consumers were waking up to the environmental impact of fast fashion .

“The impact of fast fashion has meant more consumers are turning towards slow fashion and wanting to know more about where their clothes come from,” she says.

“We offer people the education and materials to make their own clothes - the most sustainable production process out there! The boom in the past year has been a bit of a catalyst for an already growing movement.”

As for what’s next, both Tan-Lu and Veglio White believe the knitting trend is here to stay.

“People are becoming a lot more interested in craftsmanship, and a huge part of that in fashion is traditional techniques such as knitting,” Veglio White says.

“Creating something by hand means it’s truly unique and that comes across in the amazing designs you see on the catwalk but also in crafting communities online.”

“I think we’re going to see a lot of small independent makers turning their hobbies into businesses as people continue to turn towards more sustainable fashion choice.”

A jumper from Wool & The Gang.
PHOTO: Wool & The Gang

As for how to get started if you’ve never been crafty before, Veglio White suggests beginning with a more forgiving chunky yarn. 

“Our Crazy Sexy Wool is super soft and oversized so you can see every stitch detail – this is really helpful while learning.

“Also, utilise the hundreds of videos on our YouTube channel. Watching someone do the technique really helps speed up the learning process.”

ALSO READ: 12 chic cosy knitwear pieces to add to your workwear wardrobe

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.