When the Covid-19 pandemic started, I was in my last year of law school, trying my best to finish my thesis so I could graduate. It was March 2020 when the Indonesian government announced the first official case of local infection and soon after, my university announced that online learning will be enforced. It was the start of my ongoing self-quarantine with the hope that I wouldn’t catch the virus until a safe, reliable vaccine will be available in my country.
I wasn’t exactly prepared for a global pandemic when 2020 started (then again, neither is anyone), and I especially didn’t expect that I would dive into my creative and crafty side to cope with the quarantine.
It started when I was still working on my thesis, I abandoned playing video games because using my laptop had been associated with working, but then I also felt the same dread when I played on my phone or on my Nintendo Switch. I tried to play but I couldn’t bear it because my thesis was always in the back of my mind. I couldn’t abandon the thought, so I would save my progress, close the game, and open the word document again. I pushed myself to work at it for hours yet the result was still… not what I wanted and the cycle would repeat and I’d lose sleep over it.
Video games had always been my source of comfort for my whole life. It started with a memory of my grandfather who loved to play Spyro the Dragon on the old, first generation Playstation. I still remember watching the purple dragon gliding across the screen, collecting gems, and fighting the mean goons with the cheerful and iconic soundtrack. There’s always comfort in losing yourself to the world of video games, but I was quite distraught when the weight of stress plus being in a cabin fever could prevent me from thoroughly enjoying the experience.
At some point in the pandemic, I played video games just to maintain a sense of normalcy. This is it, I’m coping! I’ll be fine and refreshed in no time! I thought to myself, even though I didn’t find it enjoyable or relaxing at all. I believed it was better to do something that I knew had helped me cope than not doing anything at all to deal with the stress. I could no longer find farming in Stardew Valley pleasant, playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons relaxing, or exploring the vast wasteland in Fallout 4 fun. Even playing The Sims 4 started to grate on my nerves and that game had always been the ultimate cure for any situation for me. I stopped playing video games at all sometime around April because something I loved so dearly had turned into a chore.
Surprisingly, I found better ways to cope when I stripped video games from my daily activity. I could focus on unwinding in other ways and actually finding it enjoyable and worth my time in between working on my thesis. I learned that methods to cope are not 100% fail proof, no matter how many times it has comforted and helped me in the past; no matter how many years I’d been doing it.
Somehow I found comfort in crochet, something that’s not entirely alien to me since my aunt once taught me when I was eight. I didn’t find it interesting at all. I didn’t think it was fun at the time because she taught me how to crochet lace with a super fine yarn (I struggled to grasp it with the hook, thus gave me a massive frustration) and a delicate, super thin crochet hook. It was HARD and I didn’t understand how to weave the yarn together at all or the beauty of creating laces.
The only thing I remembered was how I always ended up tangled in a yarn that I couldn’t get out of, forcing me to cut all of my hard work. Eventually, my aunt made her peace that her niece had zero interest in the art of crochet, and with that my knowledge of crochet evaporated. I was eight after all, I didn’t know how to enjoy the art of needlework¹ with that kind of starter lesson. But it sure looked pretty.
My newfound love for crochet wasn’t instantaneous though. From all forms of needlework, I got into knitting and cross-stitching first. I had internalized crochet as boring after what my aunt put me through, so in 2017 I taught myself how to knit after watching some self-care videos that suggested needlework as a method to soothe the mind. I was going through a bad time in my personal life that deeply affected my wellbeing and I was struggling to manage my anxiety and stress, so I tried knitting to avert myself turning to my unhealthy coping mechanism that I worked very hard not to repeat.
It worked wonders! It soothed my mind, I focused on the present and immersed myself in my knitting needles and yarn. It’s a constructive coping mechanism, you get to learn a skill and instead of wallowing in being destructive in order to cope, you get to create something. But the thing with knitting was, I had internalized it as a way to cope under the pressure of debilitating stress, I just knit mindlessly to escape and I never actually made something from it. I seeked tranquility from the sound of needles colliding, from the feel of cotton yarn grazing my fingertips. I gave myself the permission not to be a crafty genius, I made peace with my perfectionist mind to ignore the technique and the sloppy way I knit every stitch. I used knitting to focus on something so I won’t be destructive, so my mind won’t wander aimlessly to fuel my raging anxiety.
Eventually, time passed and life got better, and I slowly ditched knitting. I think I never picked it up again because I no longer found myself under such pressure that I faced back in 2017. My interest in needlework didn’t fade away though, in 2019, my new year’s resolution was to pick a new hobby, so I decided to start cross-stitching. And I had tons of fun doing it! I definitely didn’t regret any moment I spent with my needle and colorful threads.
I think that was the first time I took up something related to needlework where I didn’t associate it as something that I have to do when I’m crushed under stress. I was very committed to cross-stitch since I finished my first beginner kit, and it gave me courage to tackle bigger projects where I designed my own pattern. I made a medium-sized cross-stitch of the album art of Sunbather, an album by Deafheaven as a graduation gift for my boyfriend. It was by far the largest project that I designed all by myself, completing it was quite an achievement and a milestone on my journey in needlework.
At my core I’ve always wanted to create something with my own two hands, and cross-stitching gave me that satisfaction. Maybe it had something to do with my lackluster skill in drawing and painting too, because in cross-stitch you stitch colorful threads together to create a picture. The thing with cross-stitch was, it took a lot of time to complete. It could be boring to do the same repetitive motion of stabbing a cloth to create a formation of colors, and if your project is rather complex it could take more than a year to complete; you won’t see the result right away.
I still do cross-stitch until this day, but I wanted to try something new amidst the burnout of the current project that I was working on. After a sleepless night of watching random YouTube videos, I discovered a video where a lady made a comparison between crocheting and knitting. It’s not that bad, huh? I remember how my perspective shifted when she displayed her crafts; there was a pastel-colored crocheted basket she made for her daughter, a blanket with elaborate design spread on her sofa, and the cardigan that she wore was made by her own hands too! Apparently, crochet is not only creating laces like what my aunt introduced years ago, and I discovered a whole new world of crafting in needlework through crochet that night.
I browsed for crochet supplies online the next morning. I looked for crochet hooks (this time I took notes to search the larger ones) and a ball of yarn for starters. I was excited to start a new hobby and deconstructing what my mind had enforced about crochet. After all, it’s still needlework, and you know I already have a profound love for it since it literally saved me when I hit rock bottom.
I didn’t have a hard time warming up to crochet because I had understood the basics of knitting. Sure some terminologies were new and I had to get used to reading the pattern that looked like a math formula, but I didn’t struggle. It almost came naturally to me after watching some videos of the basics to crochet. I’d like to think that I still have the muscle memory from crocheting lace years ago. This gave me confidence to crochet my first project, but no, I didn’t start with crocheting scarves or bandanas. I started with an amigurumi², and made a little black bear.
That doll now accompanies me on my desk! I even made a little witch hat for it in October to celebrate the spirit of Halloween. I posted it on my Instagram and one of my friends requested that I make one for her too with a color that she picked. I felt happy that someone liked my craft so much, they wanted me to make one for them. Then I made an amigurumi of a dog to celebrate eight years of friendship with my best friend, he loved it, and I was happy to gift something with my own personal touch. I find it precious to share a part of myself to my loved ones.
Crocheting helped me so much with the stuffy feeling of being in a constant cabin fever due to quarantine. I parted with the ideals of having a hobby or performing self-care as a means to cope and found real relaxation and peace in crochet where I actually crafted something out of interest. Crochet was way more forgiving than knitting (in my opinion) and that played a big part in me continuously tackling new projects, to the point that I could write my own patterns and create something out of it.
When I crochet, I find myself in a state of mindfulness. My therapist years ago suggested that I practice mindfulness to deal with my anxiety. I had difficulty meditating where I had to force my mind to be quiet, so I made crochet my way to meditate. Every time I crochet, I feel my mind adjust naturally to a calmer state, I can process my thoughts in order and rationalize any fear I have, as I focus on the thing I’m creating.
I am immersed in the present. I watch the blueprint in my head become real between my fingertips as my mind is having a calm, collected discussion about what bothers me. This is called fear, it’s not real. Anxiety amplified it. This too shall pass, it won’t be easy but I have to be brave and not treat it as something that will eat me alive. I have a grip on this situation.
I contemplated what me and many people my age struggled with; the difficulty to find a job in the middle of a global pandemic. It made me feel helpless at times when I wasn’t in my best spirit, but at least I got the mindset that I could assert myself and take control through creating. I invested in my happiness when things went awry, and I was kind to myself when everything felt like it was about to fall apart, then in the end I found myself nurtured with what I was working on.
Being in touch with my creative side helped me unlock the best part of myself, I learned to breathe in the moment, endured what I felt; be it positive or negative, while I crochet and recycle the energy into my very own craft. I was in touch with myself, and I gained a new habit of writing down the moments of clarity I found after each crochet session too. It’s pleasant to read my breakthroughs on the bad days. It keeps me grounded and stable.
I started out 2020 feeling uncreative and stale, I even temporarily lost my lifelong coping mechanism, but my newfound love of crochet helped me keep my spirits up. I ended the year with a new way to tackle stress and I too was reunited with video games! I’ve come to realize that when what used to work no longer work as well, then it has to do with balance. In a year with so much imbalance and uncertainty, my new interest gave me a sense of resilience and clarity. As long as I thread carefully in these difficult times and consistently put effort, I will be fine.
What did you discover in quarantine, purplings?
1. Needlework is decorative sewing and textile arts handicrafts. Anything that uses a needle for construction can be called needlework. Needlework may include related textile crafts such as crochet or knitting.
2. Amigurumi is a type of crochet. The word is a portmanteau of two Japanese terms: ami, which means crocheted or knitted; and nuigurumi, a stuffed doll.