Preschool teacher Pooja Hathiramani had time on her hands during the past 22 months, so she put them to good use. She learned to crochet, a hobby that’s surged in popularity in recent months.
"We were all sitting at home, not doing much," says the 34-year-old who lives with her husband and their two daughters in Seaford. "I didn’t have an ounce of experience, but crocheting always intrigued me. So, I grabbed some yarn and a hook to see what I could do."
She could do plenty. Guided by YouTube tutorials and a desire to learn, she progressed from basic granny squares to tricky little flowers ("It took me like a million tries to finally get it," she says) to cute and complex yarn creatures known as amigurumi. A favorite early project: A navy blue Yip Yip alien catchall that holds her husband’s winter gloves and hats.
"Crocheting was originally just a way to relax," says Hathiramani, who, like others, was attracted to the meditative and calming perks. Now, it’s her side hustle: She sells creations on Facebook and Instagram as Genie Crafts & Crochet.
Along the way, she threaded herself into a growing crochet community that is, well, hooked. There are 5.4 billion TikTok views at #crochet and 39.3 million posts on Instagram. Crochet crafts on view run the gamut from adorable critters and characters (hi, Spider-Man) to crop-tops showing that crochet isn’t for grannies — and really never was.
Craig Liebl, 42, is the brains and skeins behind Fiber Spider, an entertaining and educational crochet-driven YouTube channel with 268,000 subscribers ("yarnivores," as he says). Has seen an uptick in appreciation for a craft he’s done for two decades.
"A lot of people have written in and said that I’ve been a help to them through the pandemic," says Liebl who lives in Ridge and works in a local library when he’s not crocheting items for sale on Etsy. "It’s given them something to look forward to, something to learn, and something to do during the pandemic."
Stony Brook University student Shivani Shastri, 19, dabbled in crochet as a kid but dropped it several years ago. "I started again a few months ago," she says.
"The repetitive motions are meditative, but it’s not mindless," says Shastri who weaves crochet projects between mechanical engineering courses whenever she can. "It’s a de-stressor for me since it’s different from what I study."
Perky pastel socks for a friend’s cat and stuffed toys are recent projects. "I’ve been branching out," she says. "I tried to make a mushroom. It’s getting there."
And when things don’t turn out exactly as planned, that’s OK. "I was making a bookmark and made a mistake in the pattern," she says. "I went along with it and liked it better than how I originally wanted it to go."
Janice Rizzi, 47, works in customer service for Farmingdale-based D’Addario & Company, which makes guitar strings and music accessories, and has crocheted for five years.
"It’s very detail-oriented and it feeds right into my self-diagnosed OCD," says the Bay Shore resident with a laugh. She sells her crochet crafts including cozy hats, popular Yip Yips hanging baskets and cute dinosaurs on Etsy and Facebook as Birdhouse Studios 222.
Crocheting, unlike knitting, uses one hook. "I tried knitting. I don’t have the finger dexterity to handle two needles," says Rizzi. "With crochet, it’s just one hook and the yarn. It’s a little bit of a faster return on investment of time with crochet."
If you get bored or annoyed with hours of repetitive work, it may not be your thing, she says. "You have to be really emotionally invested in it to finish a project.
Hathiramani agrees. She "feels a little sad" when she parts with favorite creations. That includes a warm-and-fuzzy warren of nine stuffed bunnies, inspired by Bubbles, the family’s pet rabbit. They were big sellers last Easter.
Along the way she created more than huggable toys. She crafted priceless self-delight. "This is a self-taught skill, and people like what I’m making," she says. "I am super, super proud of myself."
Crochet Tips: Keep yourself in stitches
Materials: Michael’s, Joann Fabrics and Crafts, Hobby Lobby and Walmart are reliable and affordable sources for yarns. Hathiramani says her “husband hates it” when she crochet shops. “He knows I won’t be coming out for a long time.”
How-tos: Some Long Island public libraries, including East Meadow and Freeport Memorial, regularly offer free virtual crochet classes. EMPL instructor April Diane, 42, learned the craft from her aunt at age 11. Fingerless gloves were the focus of a recent class. “People want to keep their hands warm,” Diane says. “But they still want to be able to text.”