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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Pandemic Prompts Big Boom in Homemade Crafts

And here’s one more good result born out of the pandemic. Many more people started using their hands and hearts to make crafts at home.

All those would be crafters who used to say, “If I only had the time, I’d like to take up (fill in the blank: needlepoint, pottery, quilting, candle making, basket weaving, woodworking, painting, or making macrame wall art out of old bicycle tires and used pantyhose) got their chance.

As folks figured out creative ways to keep themselves and the kids entertained during lockdown, the pursuit of small crafts became big business.

Crafts supply stores like Hobby Lobby and Michaels reported unexpectedly high sales during the pandemic, and their projections for 2022 remain strong. In 2020, Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade items, more than doubled its revenues, and for the first nine months of 2021, its gross merchandise sales were up 39 percent over the same period the year before, according to Forbes.

Even smaller craft businesses felt the boost. “Our business tripled in 2020,” said Shannon Brinkley, a quilt and fabric designer, author, and quilting teacher based in Leesburg, Va. Brinkley also runs The Meander Guild, an international online forum where quilters gather to explore quilt-making styles from around the world and to develop their crafts. “We grew tremendously because so many people were looking for an artistic connection and had free time.”

“When people were stuck at home, they tried to think of new things to do, and creative sparks took root,” said Jeff Herman, editor in chief at Lawnstarter, an app that lets users book lawn and outdoor services. This month his company, known for its curious surveys (Best Cities to Walk Your Dog, and Best Cities for Aspiring Chefs), released its 2022’s Best Cities for Crafting report. (More on that in a minute.)

“We’ve all seen the stories about how many people spent the extra time and cash they had on hand during the pandemic on home improvement,” Herman said. “But fewer talked about how they used the time and cash to improve their homes and their quality of life through crafting. That is showing up as a huge trend.”

Indeed, as a society we went from wringing our hands to wringing tie-dye t-shirts and from knitting our eyebrows to knitting afghans. Creating crafts not only helped us pass the time in isolation and took our minds off the problems of the outside world, but also made our homes look better, and sometimes brought in some dough.

Kat Kennedy, of Newport News, Virginia, is a good example. “I’ve always enjoyed doing crafts,” she said. But when the pandemic hit, the 34-year-old mother of a 9-year-old son, took up finger knitting, a technique that does not use needles. She started churning out blankets with a vengeance.

“Before the pandemic, I’d probably made a total of three blankets in my life,” she said. Since Covid, she’s made 21. Several grace her home. Some she’s sold. Others she’s given as gifts or donated to the homeless.

Her boyfriend, Daniel Hardy, also caught craft fever. After Kennedy dragged him to a few thrift stores, he took an interest in old furniture. The 38-year-old medical insurance representative started picking up a few worn but well-made pieces, including China cabinets, cedar chests, and dressers, some of which he found on the street, and taught himself how to sand, refinish, and restore them by watching YouTube videos. He now sells his renovated furniture through his ecommerce store.

“When the pandemic started, so much changed,” said Kennedy, who works from home doing customer service for a gardening company. “You couldn’t go out. Kids couldn’t go to school. Knitting and furniture restoring occupied our time and took our minds off all that was going on.”

Her son helps Hardy sand, paint, and stain, and sometimes also knits scarves. “Crafts have really brought us together and strengthened our relationship” she said. “We are our own little family.”

And they do it all in the living area of a two-bedroom 925-square-foot apartment. She knits in an oversized armchair, while Hardy works nearby in a portion of the dining room they’ve converted into a workshop and covered with drop cloths.

Now back to the craftiest cities. According to the Best Cities for Crafters survey, the top five cities are New York, San Francisco, Miami, Seattle, and Patterson, NJ, and the worst, coming in at number 200, was Enterprise, Nev. But more important than the rankings is knowing what to look for in your community to help you achieve crafting success. Here are the qualities researchers found that can help fire up crafters’ glue guns:

· Access to materials. Having a lot of craft supply stores per square mile helped boost a city’s ranking, as did having an abundance of hardware, fabric, and thrift stores.

· Craft community. Cities where a lot of local artists participated their local Artists Sunday — an art-shopping event held every November in cities across America — ranked high, along with those that had a lot of craft meet-up groups. “Having a concentration of artists nearby is important for both inspiration and networking,” Herman said.

· Educational opportunities. The more art classes and craft workshops a town offers and the more schools that provide art and craft courses the greater the opportunity for artistic growth and enrichment, and the higher a city scored in the rankings.

· Art events. A final measure of a city’s craft potential is how many art events, including craft fairs and art festivals, a city hosts each year. Whether you tap into a creative community online or in person, artists do better when they engage with other artists.

PHOTO CAPTION: Artistic Expression -- Quilter and fabric designer Shannon Brinkley teaches quilting classes online. Her business has tripled since the pandemic started. The Meander Guild, an international quilters network she established, also “grew tremendously because people were looking for connection and had free time,” she said. Photo courtesy of Shannon Brinkley Studio.

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