WRITER | TRACY DONOHUE
Grandma knew what she was doing when she picked up her knitting needles, canned a batch of tomatoes, or baked a loaf of crusty bread. Not only are these activities from simpler times known to reduce stress and provide comfort, they are also gratifying as they yield something created with your own hands.
With people spending more time at home due to the ongoing pandemic, cultivating new or reviving old talents and hobbies has taken on a more important role in everyday life. When it comes to today’s hip DIY hobbies, what’s old is new again as “old-fashioned” handwork skills passed down from mothers and grandmothers have made a comeback and are inspiring creativity in younger generations. These nostalgic pastimes provide not only enjoyment and challenge but also a much-needed distraction from the tumultuous outside world.
While needlework, yarn arts, and baking haven’t been the trendiest of pastimes in recent decades, a resurgence in these activities has been fueled by flourishing online communities on Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and other social media platforms. These feature enticing photos, instructive how-to videos, and seemingly simple recipes by everyday people who make it all seem so doable ― even for the novice.
Knitting, crocheting, and needlepoint are handcrafts with storied histories that have experienced a revival in popularity. Beverly Hills, Michigan resident Laura McGowan Fry learned knitting and needlepoint skills from her mother and grandmother as a child. Since the start of the pandemic, she has spent more time on these creative handwork activities.
“It’s my form of meditation. I’m a Type A personality, and I’ve tried meditation and yoga. It doesn’t work for me. Needlepoint allows me to clear my mind and focus,” says McGowan Fry. “I carry a project with me wherever I go, and it keeps me off my phone. I can always remember where I was when I worked on a project – whether on a vacation, a train, or a car ride. It still triggers the memories for me.”
McGowan Fry enjoys giving and receiving handcrafted, personalized gifts. She has many cherished handmade items in her home that have been given to her over the years by friends and family members. She often knits baby hats and has made countless needlepoint items, including a personalized belt for her husband. “There’s something very special about the time, effort, and thoughtfulness that goes into a handmade gift. It’s so nice to see the renewed interest and know that these talents aren’t dying out.”
Many have recently put their underused kitchen utensils to work by baking – especially bread, which seems to be a favorite choice for those who “knead” to relax. Bakers often find that mixing ingredients is calming, and the repetitive action of kneading or rolling dough is meditative. It’s also hard to compete with the feel-good endorphins from the incredible aromas and happiness baked goods bring to others.
Oakland County resident Stacey DuFord, a writer and TV weather forecaster, has increased the amount of baking she’s done over the past few stressful years. “It’s definitely relaxing, and it’s good to take a break and do something else. With baking, you see the results immediately, which you may never see as a fiction writer. Baking is a way for me to scrub my brain and work creatively in a different way.”
DuFord explains an additional motivation, “My husband and son like sweets. If I make it, I know what’s in it and can make it as healthy as possible.”
One of DuFord’s favorite treats to make is shortbread. She uses a recipe that has been passed down from her late great-grandmother, who brought the recipe with her when she emigrated from Scotland. DuFord bakes her shortbread in a decorative mold and experiments with variations on the recipe, such as adding chocolate. However, she always returns to the original handed-down recipe, which everyone seems to enjoy most.
After all, grandma knew what she was doing.