World War I Crafting and their Reflections During the Covid-19 Pandemic in America

The future seems out of our grasp. Well, to be fair, many things in America seem right outside of our grasp: universal health care, a COVID-19 vaccine, a day without masks. The daily news scroll is consistently dreadful and our lives now exist predominantly through a screen. There seems to be no end in sight. But on a day-to-day basis, it is the ennui of quarantine that is suffocating. Since there is little a singular person can do to end a pandemic (except staying home and wearing a mask) people feel like they have no agency over their lives. COVID-19, climate change, financial collapse, these are not tangible things, yet they are ruling our lives right now.

To regain control and agency, Americans turned to crafting. In a world filled with existential death and despair, if you can make something physical, real, and creative, then you might just feel a little better about it all. Just scroll through Instagram and notice the array of talents from embroidery to gardening to baking; tactile hobbies are everywhere as the world quarantines. The ability to create something, however small and however futile, creates a graspable beauty that people are so desperate for. Being able to create art, physically with your hands, not only takes your mind off of the chaos of the world, but also allows time for reflection and a space to create something new and delightful.

The tactile hobby movement of the COVID-19 pandemic is extraordinary, but it isn’t necessarily new. During and after World War I, soldiers and domestic workers used crafting as a way to reflect on the horrors they experienced, to process trauma and to learn tactile skills that helped them integrate back into American domestic society. The reflections of pandemic crafting and wartime crafting are in every craft, as are elements of sexism and classism. There is comfort in the history of crafting translating in today’s society; as if saying no matter what, we can hold onto something.

Rosa Inocencio Smith stated in her article “Getting Through a Pandemic With Old-Fashioned Crafts” states:

I’ve turned to old-fashioned crafts in recent weeks to calm my anxieties, to hold something tangible in my hands and my thoughts while uncertainty swirls around me. I don’t know how long the pandemic will last; whether the food I’ve stocked is too much or too little; whether I’ll help my community more by stepping up or by simply staying home. In the long chain of actions and accidents that can lead to a stranger’s life or death, I don’t know where I fit or whether I’m doing the right thing. But I know how to do this; I know how to link one loop of thread into another. I know I can unravel my work and start over if I do it wrong (Smith, 2020).

An American Red Cross poster stating "You can help" as a woman sews a textile in the name of the war effort.
An American Red Cross Poster from World War I

This poignant observation encompasses the rise in hobbying over the COVID-19 pandemic. The chaos of the world is incomprehensible in times like these especially. However, a simple outlet to calm our fears is right at our fingertips.

World War I Therapeutic Crafting

Extremely traumatized and emotionally broken, many soldiers came back from World War I unable to process the horrors they faced overseas. Domestic programs for retired soldiers popped up across the country where men could work through their trauma in a controlled environment, processing the horrors of war, as well as physically improving movement in their bodies. Author Kristen Hartog states “since WW1, occupational therapy has proved to be very helpful, having a positive effect on patients’ health and well-being, often by creating structure and organizing time. Out of medical environments, studies find that spending time on creative goals during the day is associated with positive mental effects.”

‘A kiss from your daddy.’ Silk Postcard from World War I
‘Greetings’ Silk Postcard from World War I

Tactile hobbies, whether femine or macsuline in nature, were extremely popular and therapeutic for soldiers. Pre-arranged pincushion sets were popular for soldiers to assemble, where all the fabric and beading was laid out, and the men could attach different designs and elements as they pleased. Soldiers, some even on the front lines at the time, stitched silk postcards explaining their situation to loved ones, or to simply create something beautiful in the chaos of war. Other examples of art made by soldiers include this necklace and flag embroidery made as therapeutic crafting from soldiers back from war. As author Kristen Denhartog states, “How brilliant to construct something as a means of healing from so much destruction – to stitch, string, mould, weave, paint, paste, and knit in order to put things together again after such a painful time in history”. 

Pincushion from World War I
Aluminum rings made during World War I
Necklace crafted by a World War I Veteran

It goes deeper than simply hobbies though. The social duties of using simple skills to impact the greater public happened during war efforts and are reflected today. Back in the 1910s, people worked to create Victory Gardens for the war effort. Gardening, a tactile hobby that has picked back up today, is skill with community-based impact. The more produce was grown, the stronger the soldiers overseas would be. Today, there is a similar effort for mask-making, where people see the community-based impact of making masks for those on the front lines of the pandemic, the essential workers in medical fields. The ability to have a hand in fixing an insurmountable problem is therapeutic for those growing the vegetables or sewing the masks, and sincerely helps the effort. Produce were vital to the soldiers and masks were vital to the first responders. It’s a win-win. The problem is still there, but an individual impact made a difference, and that’s the greatest reward.

Mask-making promotion from Hendrick Health System
Victory Gardens poster from World War I

Hobbies Clubs, like the one featured below, created a sense of community for soldiers returning from war. People were able to show off each other’s hobbies to form bonds and create connections after a time lacking in human bonds. Today, with social gatherings prohibited, social media has taken the place of clubs when showcasing hobby work as a way to share and connect with others. When group restrictions are lifted nationwide, tactile hobby clubs may increase after the pandemic more than they were before, as people learned new skills and now value the company of others in new ways.

Hobbies Club from World War I

Pandemic Crafting

If you were on social media at all during quarantine, and I know you were, then you saw people sharing their crafting creations on social media. With uber downtime for crafting and creating art today, this historical similarity is poignant. People are even pursuing the same types of tactile pastimes: bread-making, embroidery, sewing, gardening, puzzling, tie-dying, music production, and painting. The diversity in these hobbies proves the wide-spread phenomenon of hobbies, and yet every hobby is based on tactile creation.

Mashable video of “weird hobbies” during quarantine
Lakesha Clark caring for her plants in quarantine

Breadmaking was one of the most pervasive hobbies that was picked up over quarantine. Bread is a simple yet filling food that takes a lot of time, but not a lot of skill to make. It tastes good, it can be eaten at any meal, and any toppings or extras can be added. Emily VanDerWerff wrote an article on the rise in bread making (haha get it?). “For me, baking bread is a way to create nostalgia for the future,” she wrote, “to believe that the world will not just come back to life but will somehow become better.” Bread has gotten people through hard times before, and the historical significance was not lost on people. Smithsonian curator of education Lora Vogt wrote, “While the COVID-19 and World War I/1918 flu pandemic are fundamentally different situations, they have both resulted in shortages of essential supplies, including food.”.This Spring there was a national yeast shortage because so many people were baking bread and hoarding yeast in their homes (VanDerWerff). “It’s not surprising that people are turning toward baking bread as a release,” Journalist Grace Z Li noted. “Baking bread—especially on a weekday—requires time and energy, and it engenders an idyllic and reassuring feeling of domestic control.” This sense of control is psychologically important for dealing with traumatic experiences as well. Something as simple as baking a loaf of bread can be so therapeutic for someone’s mental health, that it can become a national phenomenon. Louise Mirrer, president of the New York Historical Society, expressed similar sentiments, “I never really baked very much before, but there’s something therapeutic, I think, about doing things with your hands.” The ability to connect to our collective roots, baking bread and feeding one another, is rewarding as much as it is restorative. 

Bread-making during Covid-19

Vocabulary Differences from World War I to Covid-19

It is important to mention the shifting of vocabulary from WWI to now. Before WWI hobbies such as sewing and embroidery were labeled as “women’s work” and deemed less essential or important than other activities that were considered less feminine. These “girly” activities were considered lesser, and therefore given little academic and social importance. Only after soldiers came back from war and had engaged with “women’s work”, were the skills and activities known as “hobbies” and considered “material culture” for social purposes.

That being said, it is a privilege to be able to explore these hobbies. To have the free time to explore talents instead of focusing on food or housing insecurity is a privilege, especially during the pandemic.  As journalist Molly Oswaks argues, while some Americans are turning to television,  “others are cutting down on screen time by pursuing old-timey crafts of a bygone era: namely the Victorian times of 19th-century England. When greater wealth and industrialization afforded the privileged upper class more idle time to hang out at home. The new leisure class filled their down time with activities like fern collecting, flower pressing, scrapbooking, board games and playing chamber music on their own instruments.” Several of these hobbies require expensive equipment that working class people may not be able to afford. Still, the rise of this hobby is apparent for middle class and upper middle class people in American who have the privilege to pass the time of the pandemic through tactile hobbies. That does not mean that only upper middle class Americans are the only people to pick up tactile hobbies, nor does it mean that all of these Americans picked up hobbies. The relationship with hobbies and livelihood are different between the working class and the upper class. For common hobbies like sewing and baking are considered hobbies for upper middle class Americans, while they are considered necessities for working class Americans.

Science Behind the Phenomenon

Although Word War I and the Covid-19 pandemic hold many similarities, there is a modern factor leading to an increase in tactile hobbies: screen time is all the time. Technology and internet journalist Nellie Bowles referenced this in her article titled “Coronavirus Ended the Screen-Time Debate. Screens Won.” Although we have achieved incredible levels of communication with loved ones, learned new digital skills, and been able to access COVID-19 updates quickly, upper middle class Americans were desperate to put the screen down. As Bowels states “My television is on. My computer is open. My phone is unlocked, glittering. I want to be covered in screens. If I had a virtual reality headset nearby, I would strap it on.. The urge to unplug was colossal mere weeks into March 2020’s quarantine (which is when most people started crafting). The impact on our health from red eyes to severe back problems, to the mental health problems from knowing every global problem in the world during a pandemic, is taxing. And the only thing an individual can do to combat this is stay inside and wash your hands. This constant stress is dangerous. So, the most accessible outlet for that, is hands-on hobbies in the home. 

The Miami Herald reported that the most popular hobby for Americans is watching TV, a hobby that includes sitting and watching, not working with your hands. So why specifically tactile hobbies? According to a study done by Antonio Wong and Winton Au of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, the “tactile experience is critical to enhancing mood and psychological well-being.”Americans are experiencing the collective stress of the pandemic, and are grieving loved ones, landmark life plans, significant events, and so much more. There is scientific validity  in using tactile hobbies to process the traumatic experiences upper middle class people are facing, and using tactile hobbies to create beautiful works of art in spite of their psychological discomfort.

One one level, nurses during World War I saw the positive effects of tactical hobbies, but now we understand scientifically how working with your hands can make a difference. Whether it be surviving a Covid-19 hospital wing, or staying alive while artillery rains down, psychically surviving is only half the battle. Without healthy outlets to process trauma, humans psychologically suffer. But simple things can help. Bake a loaf of bread. Sew a mask. Grow a garden. The solutions are, and always have been, right at our fingertips.

Works Cited

Antonio Ngok Tung Wong & Wing Tung Au (2019) Effects of Tactile Experience During Clay Work Creation in Improving Psychological Well-Being, Art Therapy, 36:4, 192-199, DOI:10.1080/07421656.2019.1645501.

Ben Bengtson, How People at Home are Passing the Time During COVID-19, North Shore News, April 1, 2020. https://www.nsnews.com/community/how-people-at-home-are-passing-the-time-during-covid-19-1.24110743.

Dennis, Ben, “A Hobby Turned Into A Helping Hand: Mask-making Group Aids Those Responding To Pandemic”, ABC 8 News, March 28th, 2020. https://www.wric.com/8news-digital-exclusives/a-hobby-turned-into-a-helping-hand-mask-making-group-aids-those-responding-to-pandemic/

Emiene Wright, Plants Are The Next Quarantine Hobby In Charlotte: Move Over, Puzzles And Sourdough, August 13, 2020. https://www.charlotteobserver.com/charlottefive/c5-things-to-do/article244847812.html.

Fox, Alex, “Cook These Quarantine-Friendly World War I Recipes”, Smithsonian Magazine, April 16, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/recipes-world-war-i-help-conserve-foods-flew-shelves-amid-pandemic-stockpiling-180974679/.

Hartog, Kristen “The Power of Craft: Occupational Therapy in WW1” The Cowkeeper’s Wish, September 6, 2020.

https://thecowkeeperswish.com/2018/09/06/the-power-of-craft-occupational-therapy-in-ww1/.

Jackson, Saraj, “From Your Soldier Boy: Silk Postcards Of The First World War”, Museum Crush, May 4th, 2020. https://museumcrush.org/from-your-soldier-boy-silk-postcards-of-the-first-world-war/.

“LEARN WITH LILY: WW1 SWEETHEART PINCUSHIONS . . .”, Lily in the Labyrinth, January 17, 2013. http://www.lilyinthelabyrinth.co.uk/2013/01/learn-with-lily-ww1-sweetheart.html

Mak, Aaron, “The Yeast Supply Chain Can’t Just Activate Itself” Slate, April 15, 2020, https://slate.com/business/2020/04/yeast-shortage-supermarkets-coronavirus.html.

Molly Oswaks, People Have Gone Full 1800s, The New York Times, April 30, 2020.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/30/style/victorian-era-crafts-coronavirus.html.

Nellie Bowles, Coronavirus Ended the Screen-Time Debate. Screens Won, The New York Times, March 31, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/31/technology/coronavirus-screen-time.html.

Ogle, Connie, “We found out how you’re passing the time in quarantine. We’re not judging anybody” Miami Herald, April 7, 2020.

https://www.miamiherald.com/miami-com/miami-com-news/article241802901.html.

Photograph in Negative,  Imperial War Museum, Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205451357

Rosa Inocencio Smith, The Atlantic, How Crafting Can Help Ease Pandemic Anxiety, April 1, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/04/crafts-coronavirus-quarantine-stress-relief/609187/.

Royal Air Force Official Photographer, “”HOBBIES” CLUB AT AN R.A.F. STATION” 1944, Swearingen, Jake, “12 Fantastic Victory Garden Posters”, Modern Farmer, May 13, 2013. https://modernfarmer.com/2013/05/12-fantastic-victory-garden-posters/.

Sykes, Amy, Crafting In World War 1, Bodmin Keep, April 27th, 2020. Https://Bodminkeep.Org/Crafting-in-world-war-1/.

Theresa Machemer, The World’s Oldest Leavened Bread Is Rising Again, the Smithsonian, April 6, 2020.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/worlds-oldest-leavened-bread-rising-again-180974605/.

VanDerWerff, Emily, “How To Bake Bread: On The Existential Comforts Of Coaxing Yeast Out Of Air, Kneading, Proofing, Baking, And Sharing, Vox, May 19, 2020,https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2020/5/19/21221008/how-to-bake-bread-pandemic-yeast-flour-baking-ken-forkish-claire-saffitz.

New History

4 years: Let us happily assume this pandemic ends within the next year. Writing that sentence filled me with such joy and such dread but I’m going with that prediction according to medical pundits and health experts observations. I think my paper will age in a bubble, rather than an indicator. I don’t think this paper will lead to more people taking up hobbies across the country, or a trend in hobbying instead of therapy, but maybe there will be increased wants for hand-made textiles and manufacturing, or maybe more people will go to therapy. This one is the hardest to say because it seems so soon and I feel like we, as a nation and as a world, are not prepared to reflect on our trauma just yet. I say that as I am still in the trauma.

30 years: I have been thinking about how fast entertainment technology has evolved in my lifetime (I was born in 2001) and I am constantly thinking: “how we will one-up this?” Living in the COVID-19 hellscape, I hope our medical technology and medical understandings improve in the next 30 years to the point when quarantining will take much less time, and we can have a vaccine much faster. The way we look back on 1918 and think “I can’t believe these idiots didn’t have germ theory” we will think “I can’t believe me idiots didn’t have automated vaccines” and the way we deal with pandemics will change drastically. I want an up-haul of the medical technology industry the way that the digital media industry was up-hauled in my lifetime. If this happens, I think my paper can be dated in the fact that no one needed to quarantine for long enough to learn a new hobby, but it is as important to understand why we learn new skills for the sake of understanding and dealing with trauma.

100 years: Odds are, there will be another pandemic at around this time. Both 1918 and 2020 have proven distinct similarities in political, medical, and social actions that relate to how the world deals with pandemics. So, in the next 100 years, I predict there will be another uptake in hobbys, or hands-on experiences during times of trauma and despair. People want graspable beauty that distracts them from the horrible world we live in. The need to defy the horribleness of the world is a passionate human sentiment. Hobbys especially, are art, and partaking in that is a human experience that will outlive me and this paper. I hope people look to Ww1 and COVID-19 to understand why they are picking up hobbys during traumatic experiences and maybe go to therapy and get professional help. I hope in the next 100 years we have a stronger handle on mental health and it is less stigmatized to go to therapy and understand how our complex brains work. Or climate change will change that, who knows?!

Snobby Hobby

I turned to my topic choice out of personal experience. When quarantine first started, I knew I had time to dive into my hobbies and learn some new skills while in quarantine. However, when I reached out to my friends, they did not have hobbies or anything in mind to spend their days. Over time, they developed new skills and hobbies over quarantine, and they stated that they were calmer and more fulfilled after diving into their hobbies. With the days being so long, and the more overwhelming information we were receiving over the news, people needed an outlet to fill their freetime and process the changing world around them. I am a suburban white woman and my parents are teachers. This dynamic meant that my parents were working on their computers, and my brother and I were taking classes. When not working, my family had the privilege of free-time where we explored pastimes and other ways of enjoying ourselves while processing world events. Since we live in the ‘burbs, another privilege, my family would do a lot of outdoor exercise like jump roping and pickup basketball tricks where we created something new and through movement. My brother’s activities were more physical, while mine were more sewing and baking based. My mom did a lot of painting and organizing of the house. My father did a lot of puzzles and physical movement. Although all of these hobbies are different, they all align with creative hobbies that create fulfillment and lead to a healthy processing of trauma in our current world. 

I need a large disclaimer in my article, which I have written and read for my second paragraph, talking about the privileges implied with being able to have hobbies, including time, money, and space. This disclaimer will hopefully comment on the main. Also, some people have even more expensive ways to process trauma like therapy, but most middle-class people are focused on hobbying for processing trauma and for staying mentally healthy during quarantine.

“That being said, it is a privilege to be able to explore these hobbies. To have the free time to explore talents instead of focusing on food or housing insecurity is a privilege, especially during the pandemic. Being able to afford the tools and materials for a hobby is not a universal to less affluent people. Still, the rise of this hobby is apparent for middle class and upper middle class people in American who have the privilege to pass the time of the pandemic through tactile hobbies. I decided to focus on upper middle class Americans because it is a narrower scope. I also thought it was better to look into the historical significance of crafting through trauma, as well as the psychological significance of tactile hobbies.”

Like it Was Yesterday

I walked into the large auditorium and I remember I was running a little late because the class I had before this one was online, so I had to scoot from my apartment to the lecture hall. I was wearing a stripped t-shirt and green skirt because I wanted to look nice for class. I came in as class was just starting so I missed any before-class banter or conversation. I sat next to a kid with a tie dye shirt and army socks. I was on the bottom right-hand side of the room.

We talked about “what is history” and we put words up on the board. I remember not being satisfied with our answers as they seemed limiting and small in scope. We talked about confederate monuments and their place in modern times. We talked about the contention with them from people glorifying and validating history and the real historical implications of the statues.

We went over the syllabus with our midterm and final assignments. Our Professor told us she was a graduate student and was interested in making this class accessible and flexible fir students in class. This included assignments, but also for students commuting from campus to campus. We were told to make a blog and we would use the discussion board to comment on each other’s work

Closeted by Choice

An interesting way of viewing this dilemma would be from who the “outing” would benefit. In Western society, especially with the hyper-masculinity and heteronormality of wartime in America, being LGBTQ+ was not acceptable in really any element of society. This may lead people to believe that LGBTQ+ individuals did not exist during this time. If there are no records of them hiding or congregating together, who’s to say that being LGBTQ+ (this argument is used against transgender people specifically) is a new phase that is not a part of gender and sexuality as a spectrum?

Growing up as a history nerd who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community, I know I would have benefited by seeing people like me through history, and to know that the emotions I am experiencing are normal and have happened for years and years before me. Public school LGBTQ+ education is mainly Harvey Milk was assassinated and in since 2016 you can get married. It is important for people to be out for the benefit of generations after them. However, I do not think it was the historian’s role to out them. Being queer, if the author had simply stated that these women live together and have a shared bank account and have shared their each other’s company for decades, I don’t need someone else to jump to a conclusion. Living a simple life with your “wife” is representation in many ways on its own. You understand the love they share in friendship, and maybe more. There is recognition from fellow LGBTQ+ people is respect for privacy. Sometimes, you don’t need to push further, you can just admire what they are sharing. There is no corruption or danger in finding out if they are gay or not, but there is if you out them.

What I find unsettling about this, is these women still did not come out years later. The article states that they did not come out for fear of their careers. But now they are retired and happily living together. In some cases, they retracted their outings for protection. Does that mean that we, as a society, have not advanced enough for people to out themselves as gay? What societal norms are still enforced on these women that they still do not feel comfortable outing themselves? Is it internalized homophobia? It is the fear of hurting their legacy? Did these women, at some point, out themselves, only to receive a negative reaction in the past? I think these questions are important to ask after the fact.

Midterm

Question: What psychological and historical significance is there for the rise in tactile hobbies during Covid-19 as it relates to fulfillment and trauma processing for middle and upper-middle class Americans?

Project Description: 

I would like to structure my paper with psychology, history, and how they relate to the way we are dealing with modern day trauma. I would like to include visuals from both WW1 crafts, as well as modern day crafts to show the similarities between them. I would also like to show the scientific data that shows how tactical hobbies aid in psychological processing to barring validity to my paper. A couple other points I would like to address are the change in gender with “hobbies” and “women’s work” in relation of WW1 to now, as well as the distinction of what I am calling “dutiful hobbies” or hobbies where communities of people craft in order to help a larger effort.

The future seems just out of our grasp. Well, to be fair, many things in American seem right outside of our grasp: universal health care, a COVID:19 vaccine, a day without masks. There is very little to hold onto at the current moment, so people disregard the ennui by grasping onto something physical, real, and creative. The rise of tactile hobbies is apparent during the pandemic. Just scroll through Instagram and notice the array of talents from embroidery to gardening to baking. The ability to create something, however small and however futile, creates a grapable beauty that people are so desperate for. I would like to explore the tactile hobby movement in relation to COVID-19 and the current chaos of the world on a global level. The chaos of being alive and being tuned into current events can lead to existential dread, so being able to create art, with hands, not only takes your mind off of the chaos of the world, but also allows time for reflection and escapism to create something new and delightful.

That being said, it is a privilege to be able to explore these hobbies. To have the free time to explore talents instead of focusing on food or housing insecurity is a privilege, especially during the pandemic. Being able to afford the tools and materials for a hobby is not a universal to less affluent people. Still, the rise of this hobby is apparent for middle class and upper middle class people in American who have the privilege to pass the time of the pandemic through tactile hobbies. I decided to focus on upper middle class Americans because it is a narrower scope. I also thought it was better to look into the historical significance of crafting through trauma, as well as the psychological significance of tactile hobbies.

Format: Long form article with embedded content like social media posts and photos of historical tactiles. For a basic outline, I came up with this:

Intro

Who I am focusing on, specifically, and why

Psychological benefits of tactile hobbies (2 sources)

Modern hobbies, what people have picked up and what it means to them, historical context and how that relates

Material culture crafting collections/ archive

Ww1 crafts digital archive, historical context and how that relates

Importance of language and gender in correlation, “girly” hobbies “Material culture” vs “hobbies” vs “women’s work”

Analyze similarities and differences between this phenomenon (using sources, examined through several paragraphs)

The duty hobbies with bread making and victory gardens and how that relates to mask making

Conclusion

Secondary Sources:

Antonio Ngok Tung Wong & Wing Tung Au (2019) Effects of Tactile Experience During Clay Work Creation in Improving Psychological Well-Being, Art Therapy, 36:4, 192-199, DOI:10.1080/07421656.2019.1645501.

This source is essential to my paper because it brings scientific validity to the fact that tactile experiences can aid in mood enhancement and the time and minimal resources to process trauma. The conclusion of the study is the most important when it states “In conclusion, this study establishes that tactile experience is critical to enhancing mood and psychological well-being”. This will be key moving forward, and establishing this early in my piece creates a path where the rest of my historical connections can follow. 

Rosa Inocencio Smith, The Atlantic, How Crafting Can Help Ease Pandemic Anxiety, April 1, 2020.

https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/04/crafts-coronavirus-quarantine-stress-relief/609187/.

This is the most poignant article I found for the article I am going to write. Although this article does not touch much on the historical context that I hope to in my article, this paragraph sums up the need for tactile hobbies during the pandemic:

“I’ve turned to old-fashioned crafts in recent weeks to calm my anxieties, to hold something tangible in my hands and my thoughts while uncertainty swirls around me. I don’t know how long the pandemic will last; whether the food I’ve stocked is too much or too little; whether I’ll help my community more by stepping up or by simply staying home. In the long chain of actions and accidents that can lead to a stranger’s life or death, I don’t know where I fit or whether I’m doing the right thing. But I know how to do this; I know how to link one loop of thread into another. I know I can unravel my work and start over if I do it wrong.”

This paragraph, along with my medical study showing the psychological benefits of tactile hobbies, will prove the “why” of the phenomenon of tactile hobbies in COVID-19. I will use this article in the beginning and end of my paper as a framework for the psychological and personal reasons for this crafting.

Primary Sources:

Ben Bengtson, How People at Home are Passing the Time During COVID-19, North Shore News, April 1, 2020.

https://www.nsnews.com/community/how-people-at-home-are-passing-the-time-during-covid-19-1.24110743

I am using this article because it did the hard work of finding modern tactical hobbies that people have picked up during COVID-19. All of the examples in this article are tactile hobbies, and I hope to embed some of them into my article for a visual element.

Dennis, Ben, “A Hobby Turned Into A Helping Hand: Mask-making Group Aids Those Responding To Pandemic”, ABC 8 News, March 28th, 2020. https://www.wric.com/8news-digital-exclusives/a-hobby-turned-into-a-helping-hand-mask-making-group-aids-those-responding-to-pandemic/

I am using this source to show how mask making across the country is on the rise. Although this is a local source, the mask making initiative is happening all across the country. People are using this hobby to help others, and also to allow some authority over the chaos that is COVID-19.

Emiene Wright, Plants Are The Next Quarantine Hobby In Charlotte: Move Over, Puzzles And Sourdough, August 13, 2020.

https://www.charlotteobserver.com/charlottefive/c5-things-to-do/article244847812.html.

I am using this article as another tactile hobby example. Also, I am using this as a connection to modern day victory gardens where gardening feels fulfilling.

Fox, Alex, “Cook These Quarantine-Friendly World War I Recipes”, Smithsonian Magazine, April 16, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/recipes-world-war-i-help-conserve-foods-flew-shelves-amid-pandemic-stockpiling-180974679/.

I am using this source as another example of tactile hobbies that people interacted with. The neat part about this hobby is we have a direct link between this bread in WW1 and COVID-19 times. This quote at the end of the article is most poignant for my article:

“I never really baked very much before, but there’s something therapeutic, I think, about doing things with your hands,” Louise Mirrer, the organization’s president and chief executive, tells the New York Times’ Amelia Nierenberg. “It just seemed like this would be a really great opportunity to engage people who are at home, thinking about cooking and baking, with history.”

Jackson, Saraj, “From Your Soldier Boy: Silk Postcards Of The First World War”, Museum Crush, May 4th, 2020. https://museumcrush.org/from-your-soldier-boy-silk-postcards-of-the-first-world-war/.

I am using this source as a historical example of using tactile hobbies as a coping mechanism in times of stress. The article shows that some of the postcards dealt directly with the horrors they were facing, and others willfully ignored them. The men of the battlefield used embroidery to connect with others and process their trauma. All in all, this source has great images of the embroidered postcards that I am embedding into my article. 

“LEARN WITH LILY: WW1 SWEETHEART PINCUSHIONS . . .”, Lily in the Labyrinth, January 17, 2013. http://www.lilyinthelabyrinth.co.uk/2013/01/learn-with-lily-ww1-sweetheart.html

I am using this source as a historical example of tactile hobbies that soldiers used to process trauma after and during WW1. I hope to embed the examples of pin cushions in my article. This article analyzes the cushions with the poignant quote “despite the terror, tragedy and fear that war threw at these brave soldiers, every one of these intricate, delicate little hand-crafted hearts tells a story that has such love and hope in every stitch”.

Molly Oswaks, People Have Gone Full 1800s, The New York Times, April 30, 2020.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/30/style/victorian-era-crafts-coronavirus.html.

I am using this article as a resource for classical tactile hobbies that people have taken up. I will also be using this source for poignant quotes relating to my topic of upper-middle class hobbies with a tactile focus: 

“But others are cutting down on screen time by pursuing old-timey crafts of a bygone era: namely the Victorian times of 19th-century England, when greater wealth and industrialization afforded the privileged upper class more idle time to hang out at home. The new leisure class filled their down time with activities like fern collecting, flower pressing, scrapbooking, board games and playing chamber music on their own instruments”. 

This article also touches on trauma slightly, in quotes like “it can be empowering to experience improvement, in any small or large area of life, especially in a period when many are feeling stuck both physically and emotionally” relating to fulfillment which I will talk about in my paper. One quote from a new hobbyist at the very end of the article was “We can only control what we can control, and right now that’s our own selves” which I will mention in the article. 

Nellie Bowles, Coronavirus Ended the Screen-Time Debate. Screens Won, The New York Times, March 31, 2020.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/31/technology/coronavirus-screen-time.html.

I am using this article to show how overwhelmed the average middle to upper-class American is in relation to screen time. I wanted to show that COVID-19 has shifted our lives onto screens, and how tactile hobbies create a release from that daily digital grind.

Royal Air Force Official Photographer, “”HOBBIES” CLUB AT AN R.A.F. STATION” 1944, Photograph in Negative,  Imperial War Museum, Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205451357

I am using this source as a historical example of hobbies that emerged from WW1 Americans and how the use of this grew to community-centered events which helped people process their trauma. These toys were made by domestic citizens intended for the children of militants overseas. I will also tie this back to the duties narrative of hobbies.

Swearingen, Jake, “12 Fantastic Victory Garden Posters”, Modern Farmer, May 13, 2013. https://modernfarmer.com/2013/05/12-fantastic-victory-garden-posters/.

I am using this source to show the importance and magnitude of victory gardening in America during WW1 and WW2. Being able to contribute to the war effort, however small, allowed domestic Americans to have some semblance of authority in the war effort. I will relate this back to mask-making as a duty hobby.

Sykes, Amy, Crafting In World War 1, Bodmin Keep, April 27th, 2020. Https://Bodminkeep.Org/Crafting-in-world-war-1/

I am using this example for historical examples of tactile hobbies during WW1. Specifically in this article, I am focused on the necklace, which is an artifact not common in archives I had looked through. I will be embedding that into my article. This article also frames tactile hobbies are a form of occupational therapy, as it states:

“Since WW1, occupational therapy has proved to be very helpful, having a positive effect on patients’ health and well-being, often by creating structure and organising time. Out of medical environments, studies find that spending time on creative goals during the day is associated with positive mental effects (Conner, DeYoung and Silvia 2018)”. 

Theresa Machemer, The World’s Oldest Leavened Bread Is Rising Again, the Smithsonian, April 6, 2020.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/worlds-oldest-leavened-bread-rising-again-180974605/.

I am using this article as another tactile hobby example. This article also has a historical edge that relates to another one of my sources, and I want to show this tactile connection is fulfilling, and maybe embed one of their sources into my paper.

God, I love a good PSA

In high school, I fell in love with analyzing propaganda posters and PSA posters for different wars, social norms, and patriotic allegiances. They are all hilarious, and all of them now, seem ridiculous. The primary source from class, however, is haunting. Uncle Sam, The Yellowkid, even Rosie the Riveter seem jokingly goofy and made-up; these characters could never be real and their messages seem so outdated in post-war times. However, seeing a devil as the embodiment of disease as it forces an unfazed man to shield is face is still extremely relevant.

This poster is the most effective because it gives a visual to an invisible enemy. I know for a fact that people today would respond tremendously if we could physically see COVID_19 being spread. Maybe not in the embodiment of the devil, but this poster totally understood the idea of an enemy you can see.

What else is haunting about this poster is the seemingly uninterested man not even noticing the devil right behind him. This is far too relevant for now, where people are living their lives, mask off, with no regard for their safety or the safety of anyone else. Although he is taking precautions by spitting into his handkerchief instead of the street, we know now how that’s not enough to stop a disease from spreading. Just like today, where we know a mask won’t totally stop COVID-19 from spreading, but it is our most logical, and most low maintenance option for the greater good. I wonder if history will look back on our efforts and see the foolishness in our actions as well.

Heat of the Moment Sources

I have MANY sources that I found on this topic, all of which are in my blog post from September 10th. However, I think two of the coolest sources I found are from the Smithsonian, and from the New York Times.

A key quote from this article that touches on EXACTLY what I want to talk about is this:

“But others are cutting down on screen time by pursuing old-timey crafts of a bygone era: namely the Victorian times of 19th-century England, when greater wealth and industrialization afforded the privileged upper class more idle time to hang out at home. The new leisure class filled their down time with activities like fern collecting, flower pressing, scrapbooking, board games and playing chamber music on their own instruments.”

The tactile, hands-on hobbies of the past are now our reality. For so long, we have focused on technological advancements and looking towards the future of more digital and more expensive hobbies, that this change in trajectory is fascinating to me. Of the hobbies listed above, none of them are digital. Heck, none of them were invented this century! People are falling back on the graspable, both figuratively and literally, to ground themselves within a pandemic. This article also touches on lines like:

“Unlike the goal-oriented activity of creating a vision board to manifest one’s heart’s desire, collage has no purpose other than creative release.”

and

“Even in less extreme situations, it can be empowering to experience improvement, in any small or large area of life, especially in a period when many are feeling stuck both physically and emotionally.”

This was the fulfillment element I was interested in. People want to feel grounded right now, but they also want to feel fulfilled. It’s the mindset of “the world is ending, but at least this bread I made tastes good”. I wonder if bringing a Victorian-Era perspective into our lives right-now is a coping mechanism for the horrors that globalism opens us to. Knowing all of the pain and horrors of the world makes it difficult to be optimistic, especially when we are all stuck inside. Being able to make something small, and beautiful, without external interference, might just be the way people are feeling grounded and fulfilled right now.

This article touches on the psycological aspects of learingn and tending to a hobby when it states:

“In the 19th century, intellectuals like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and others started to expand on the positive psychological benefits associated with a concept now known as mastery: practicing an activity at which you have no previous level of expertise, and experiencing gradual improvement over time.”

I like this addition to the article, though I wish they went more in depth about HOW this affects the brain and cognitive processing of the events unfolding in our society.

However, they do mention the phrase

‘That is sort of like play for me,’ he said.”

Which I think may have some cognitive reasoning that may be interesting to explore.

The article ends with an all encompassing quote:

“I know that when this ends, I’m going to feel good about the way I’ve used my time,” she said. “We can only control what we can control, and right now that’s our own selves.”

Which I think reflects the time we live in very well. I hope to explore this growing crafting phenomenon in more specific, psychological, and historical detail.

The second source I found relates specifically to the surge in crafting during our quarantine time.

This article touches (pun-intended) on the growing surge in hands-on activies over screen-time only hobbies.

“hands-on hobbies like crocheting, flower pressing and baking have gained traction as relaxing alternatives to screen-heavy activities.”

All of these hobbies involve touch; creating things with your hands can be a very fulfilling and grounding experience for people. Crafting stores have proven this trend through their economic resurgence, as this article states with quotes like:

“The country’s biggest craft supplier, Hobbycraft, has seen a significant jump in online searches for sewing, scrapbooking and knitting tutorials, as well as a 300 percent uptick in page visits to its “Ideas” hubs, reports Zoe Wood for the Guardian.”

This economic element does not interest me much, but I think it is a qualitative way to show the scale of how many people are picking up tacticle hobbies. This article also touches on an element of tactile hobbies that I had not considered: community.

As the article stated:

“Museums are also getting involved in the arts and crafts renaissance. The National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, for example, has moved its bimonthly knitting circle online. The event, titled “Mrs. Wilson’s Knitting Circle,” is inspired by Edith Wilson’s wartime crafting drive; according to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, the first lady knitted trench helmets and sewed pajamas, pillowcases and blankets for soldiers during World War I. On the West Coast, the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco offers do-it-yourself tutorials detailing how to create salt-based clay and paper flower crowns for Mother’s Day.”

This historical community may be something I can touch on, with the “hands-on” aspect both to the people we must stay 6 feet apart from, as well as the “hands-on” of the crafting.

Overall, these are just two of the many resources I found, that I hyperlinked in my previous post. Very excited to learn more and to write more.

Can’t Touch This

Although the CNN photos did not show the side of the pandemic that interests me the most, social media seemed to be plentiful in proving what I was looking for: the wave of hobbies that people have taken up in quarantine. The rise of tactile hobbies has fascinated me since the start of quarantine, mainly due to its physiological significance for the times. Personally, I took up sewing, candle making, painting, and gardening over the pandemic as a way to avoid a screen and avoid people while still feeling productive and fulfilled. Through social media, I found I was not alone in exploring these hobbies. People from all over the world use social media to display the work they created with pride. I found a short article by the Smithsonian tackling this crafting phenomenon, but I would like to focus specifically on the tactile element of being able to touch the thing you are making. From bread making to mask sewing to pillow embroidery to pressing flowers, there’s a craft for everyone in this pandemic. This article by the New York Times does a great job examining the phenomenon and how we’ve almost regressed back to our primal selves of creation. I would like to examine what exactly is so appealing about this phenomenon, and I am curious to see the future of crafting and having hobbies. I wonder if these new skills will translate after the pandemic, and if so, we will have an increase in hand-made manufacturing and a newfound emphasis on tactical-based free time. Check out the links to the photos below, cool crafts should be supported!