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With the launch of her highly anticipated new book, The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, Michelle Obama knits together powerful stories from her life as a mother, daughter, spouse, first lady and advocate for causes related to youth, health and education. She offers advice on how to stay centered and strong in times of crisis and to build connections that fortify us and those around us.
But Obama admits that, time and again, she has had to dig deep to find her own strength, courage and steadiness during the challenges and societal shifts of the last few years.
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One way she’s found calm in the chaos is by knitting, a hobby she took up on a whim in the early weeks of the COVID-19 lockdowns. She had never tried it before. Obama tells AARP that she was raised to be “a sock purchaser rather than a sock mender.”
But when the pandemic hit, life slowed down, she says. “And I just happened [to order] some yarn and two needles and thought, Let me give this a shot.”
She picked up skills from YouTube how-to videos, she notes, and — admitting she’s a bit of an overachiever — “I finished my first blanket in probably less than a week.” She’s hardly stopped since. She now knits while talking to her mom on the phone, during office Zoom meetings and while hanging out with friends.
Among other projects, she’s made “an itty-bitty green hat” that she brought to a baby shower, a soft crewneck sweater for her husband, former President Barack Obama, and an alpaca halter top for her youngest daughter, Sasha.
The appeal of her new hobby, she explains in the book, is that it allowed her to narrow her focus, which “detoured me away from my anxiety, just enough to provide some relief. … My mind felt a little splash of ease.”
Knitting’s growth in popularity across generations
Crafty activities like knitting are big these days, according to Ariel Horton, analyst for the global market research firm Mintel. In a 2021 trend report on American hobbyists, she notes that “during this time of high stress, both emotional and financial, consumers will look to arts and crafts for a fun, affordable leisure activity that helps them feel both relaxed and purposeful.”
Knitting and knitwear, in particular, have been given a cool-points boost from young influencers like Ella Emhoff and style-makers like Harry Styles. “Granny core” knitted apparel is a fall and winter fashion staple. Celebrity knitters include Meryl Streep, Kate Middleton, Uma Thurman, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe.