Posted inVisual Arts

Needles, Werther’s Originals, and Me

Illustration by Ruta Ashworth

I know what you are all probably wondering: what on God’s earth do these things have in common? Well, there is a long answer and a short answer.

Short answer: grannies. In my heart of hearts, I am an old woman and always have been. My joints creak, I spend half of my free time watching game shows, and – as I will go on to explain – I love to sew and (badly) knit. Also, Werther’s sweets are the only hard candies that do not hurt my teeth.

So, let’s start at the beginning and go all the way back to lockdown one, many months into my excessive over-consumption of hard toffee. Left alone, living with my girlfriend and my own thoughts, I was in dire need of some escapism. The ever-so reliable For You Page on Tik Tok had been showing me more and more at home crafts: crocheted cardigans, embroidered jean patches, even a life-sized cuddly Thanos.

Feeling inspired, I initially turned to my girlfriend’s grandmother to learn how to knit. Since we could not see anybody in person, it was almost impossible for me to learn it this way. I am too much of a practical learner; I need somebody at my side, so that I can see things up close and ask for different explanations of what is happening. Online videos and phone calls make this incredibly difficult to achieve. I was becoming frustrated at my inability to cast-on and my expected clumsy method to knitting. The internet was not much more help.

In fact, I have always been awful at knitting. My aunt tried to teach me at nine, and after many unsuccessful attempts I threw the needles down in frustration. In school, I refused to sew together felt puppets in Year Seven because it required more dexterity than my fingers could handle. It all felt quite hopeless and futile. That was until I came across a goldmine.

Pusheen children’s kits. I know, I know. A grown adult using a child’s set to learn how to cross-stitch a rather fat grey cat after giving up on knitting is kinda embarrassing. But something clicked when I read the instructions and got into the flow of it – suddenly I could cross-stitch, do basic embroidery, and mend clothes. Whilst I still struggled to knit and crochet (and desperately want to learn), I managed to learn faster than I ever have to create with threads and stitches.

Before coming to Oxford, I joined a crafting group chat which had a few meet-ups that I unfortunately never managed to attend because of the pandemic. This small community was encouraging and welcoming, and definitely something that I would be interested in becoming involved in once more now that things are looking safer. It was a real source of comfort when I was unsure of what exactly I would be walking into as an undergraduate, and showed me just how popular crafting has become amongst young people. It was not uncommon for people to send pictures of their creations and was a space that gave judgement free advice. This was truly a demonstration of how calming and kind spaces for learning such skills can be.

By Halloween of last year, I had made my first semi-original design – still Pusheen, but with stars in the sky and a small pumpkin in her hands. It is definitely not a masterpiece, but it sits on a tiny easel on my desk, rather flimsy and always falling over. But it is a symbol of pride, a creation I had not ever thought myself capable of making from a craft I always found incredibly difficult.

Halloween Pusheen

Now, about a year and a half after starting out, I am looking around for a sewing machine to start making clothes and tiny stuffed frogs by hand, and am part of the way through smaller stitching projects. In fact, what started as a small internet trend seems to have not only spread but remained popular amongst young people. These so-called ‘granny crafts’ are encouraging productive hobbies and are part of the movement away from fast fashion. I have since branched into painting and flower pressing. Whilst I am not a perfect artist, these arts have been kind to me; they have helped me learn to express myself in different ways and channel myself into productive outcomes. I will continue to sit in armchairs, eat my Werther’s, and knit chains longer than my arm until I can finally move on to the next row without dropping the stitches.