It started with Harry Styles’s sweater.
After seeing the pop star wear his JW Anderson patchwork cardigan (which retails for $1,890) during a performance on the “Today Show” last year, 15-year-old Ally Thornton decided to make her own version—never mind that she didn’t know how to knit.
The Chevy Chase teen was not alone in her desire to recreate Styles’s look. His outfit that day appears to have inspired a whole bunch of young people to take up a hobby that used to be associated more with retirement homes than high schools. The hashtag #harrystylessweater has more than 56 million views on TikTok, with thousands of teenagers sharing their own versions of the garment. The District’s newest knitwear ambassador, Ella Emhoff, has also racked up millions of views on the app, with many celebrating her knitted bucket hats, bralettes, and bags.
But yarn-loving celebs are just one facet of a larger movement that has only gained momentum during the pandemic: Gen Z’s embrace of knitting and crocheting.
Jessica Boudreau Hardin, owner of Dupont Circle’s Looped Yarn Works, says that although sales are down due to Covid-19, the number of first-time knitters and crocheters visiting her store is up. “We did have a lot of younger people who saw the Harry Styles sweater and were like ‘oh my God, could we make something like this?'” But British heartthrobs aside, she says younger knitters are drawn to the sustainable aspect of the craft, too. She says her Gen Z clientele often embrace the slow fashion movement—which discourages consumption of mass-produced clothing from chains like H&M and Zara, and promotes buying (or creating) ethically made clothing instead.
During a global health crisis that has sidelined social lives, there’s also the simple fact that knitting is a way to stay busy. For Chevy Chase’s Thornton, the Styles sweater was her first project, but not her last. She made her brother a pair of mittens for Christmas and is currently learning how to crochet. “It’s just a relaxing thing to do,” she says. “It’s something to do with my hands while I’m in class or on Zoom calls or whatever. It’s good. I can pay attention in class and not be distracted by my phone and that sort of thing.”
Arielle Popovsky, an 18-year-old dancer who lives in Shaw, started knitting as a way to make her own leg warmers for rehearsals. She says it allows her to connect with her creative side—which has been especially meaningful during Covid-19. While her peers sit on their computers all day, Popovsky says she’s used the pandemic as an opportunity to further her hobby. “Why not use that time to try something new or get a little creative with arts and crafts?” she says.
In November, Popovsky opened her own Etsy shop. “I’ve gotten a few orders so far,” she says. Other young knitters in the District are doing the same. Jessica Zhao, 18, a first-year student at George Washington University, launched her online shop after spending months making knitted goods for friends. Her most popular request at the moment: Hats for the chilly weather.
Zhao says she often recreates things she sees while shopping that are too expensive to buy. “I’ll look for patterns for a very long time and [find] the best one,” she says. “I love being able to wear [my creations] around. …It’s just really fun.”