Can a yarn store be a place of healing?

Unlike so many small businesses, Downtown Yarns, Leti Ruiz’s yarn store in New York’s East Village, has made it through the pandemic intact. A renewed interest in crafts – including knitting and crochet, store specialties – has brought both loyal customers and new customers looking for comfort and entertainment. When people were stuck at home, customers would place orders over the phone or via Instagram, and a friend at the store made deliveries to all five boroughs. Ultimately, the store is doing better financially in 2020, Ms. Ruiz said, than in 2019.

Now, however, Ms. Ruiz faces a new landscape: the unknown world of post-pandemic crafts. “It’s kind of slowed down because people are going back to work or traveling,” she said. “So I feel like now it’s more like regular times. “

For many, crafts emerged during the pandemic as an essential way to reduce anxiety and turn feelings of turmoil around them into something soothing and productive. Andrea Deal, co-owner of Gotham Quilts in Midtown Manhattan, described a frenzy at the start of the pandemic in which her store’s normal sewing machine sales tripled. The swell wasn’t just meant to occupy inactive hands, she said. It is a reflection of the way people rethink their lives during isolation.

“We see low paid workers not wanting to go back to their jobs. They realize, “I’m more important than that and I want to do something more useful,” Ms. Deal said. “To be able to create something yourself, to be creative and to produce something useful, whether for yourself or for someone else, I think there is enormous satisfaction. to that.”

However, as stress and uncertainty about the future begin to abate, even a little – largely due to the availability of vaccines and the lifting of pandemic restrictions – it is unclear what role the craft will continue to play. to play in the lives of those who adopted it as a stress relief measure during an extraordinarily trying year.

Rita Bobry, who owned Downtown Yarns for 17 years before retiring and handing over the store to Ms. Ruiz, remembers a similar time of post-traumatic craftsmanship well in the city. In 2001, when her store had just opened, she welcomed anxious New Yorkers who turned to knitting to calm down after the 9/11 attacks. That day, the air outside the yarn store was laden with dust. but Mrs. Bobry decided that the store would remain open. Lighting candles to put in the window, she opened her door to passers-by.

“I think people stayed at home more, they wanted to be in a group, in community; a lot of people have also lost their jobs, ”Ms. Bobry said. “When you’re not working, you knit more. When you are a little afraid to go out, you knit more.

The yarn store has become a kind of gathering place. “People who felt lost just came in,” Ms. Bobry said.

Craft stores have not been able to serve as physical gathering places during much of the pandemic. Beginner artisans in search of convenience have turned to the digital options offered by various online stores. Purl Soho, a yarn store that opened shortly after September 11, saw its website traffic increase during the pandemic as customers searched the store’s online repository of free tutorials and templates.

But the online experience cannot replicate the tactile pleasures of hands-on crafting or learning in person with other artisans. Purl Soho emphasizes the natural fibers, colors and textures in the materials they sell, a perspective informed by the fine art experience of store co-owner Joelle Hoverson. Crafts are a way to take advantage of these materials and connect with a common past.

“Over the past 20 years, the number of articles that have been written like ‘This is not your grandmother’s knitting’ – Google this phrase, you will find 100 articles written with this title,” said Mrs. Hoverson. “And everyone in our industry is rolling their eyes and saying, ‘Yeah. We know. ‘ We are not doing what our grandmothers did. However, I think it is in part: we are do what our grandmothers did, you know?

Jennifer Way, art historian and professor at the University of North Texas, has studied the use of crafts in times of crisis. She’s discovered that the craft itself – quilts, scarves, needlepoint pillows – is less important than the calming manufacturing process that creates them. Crafting has a “haptic quality,” she explained, which, by touching and working with craft materials, connects to ideas of mindfulness and well-being.

“The craft seems, in some ways, with its repetitive gestures and sometimes repeated projects, to offer this opportunity to remake a body-mind connection,” said Professor Way. “The craft practice itself offers an opportunity to connect the mind and the body to approach healing, stress, all kinds of things.”

Quilt Emporium in Los Angeles has hosted a Zoom Quilting Course over the past year with over 60 participants. Lisa Hanson, the store owner, says many of her pandemic customers are interested in in-person quilting – but not all, which she says is a natural consequence of the restrictions being lifted. Crafts, after all, are something people typically do in their spare time, many of which have had unusually plentiful supply over the past year or so. Those days may be over.

“I don’t know about you, but my life has gotten a little more complicated since things opened up more,” Ms. Hanson said.

An investigation by Premier Needle Arts, a holding company that operates several quilting craft brands space, found that the number of new quilters increased by 12% in 2020 and that 51% of existing quilters spent more time quilting than in previous years. Ms. Hanson maintains her faith in recent converts. “So far, a lot of people still have a certain dedication to their new profession,” she said.

Annie & Company Needlepoint and Knitting on the Upper East Side of Manhattan recently held their first in-person classes since the start of the pandemic. For their Saturday afternoon sewing course for beginners, four of the eight places were filled.

“You like it or you don’t,” said Annie Goodman, the store owner, “and those who attend can find it very relaxing and meditative. And I think they stick to it.

Those who attended the Saturday class represented an intergenerational group of new artisans who sat around a circular table while wearing masks, exchanging television recommendations while learning the stitches of continental and basket weaving.

I watched as the group facilitator helped a participant correct a mistake in a neat row of green thread. Watching the closeness of the interaction – the two one-on-one on the same mass of wire and canvas, hands almost touching, trying to figure out what was wrong – it seemed impossible to me that you could never learn to craft in any other way.

Ms. Ruiz of Downtown Yarns is confident that online artisans will show up in person, just as her repeat customers returned when she first reopened her store last year. “It started with people from the neighborhood stopping right at the door and I was showing them wires,” she said. “It was like, oh, wow, we were a little village. We are a community. And all is fine.

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