6 ‘Retro’ Hobbies Making a Comeback During COVID-19 Lockdown

Learn why the pandemic is inspiring more people to take up gardening, knitting, sewing and other nostalgic activities.

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Updated on April 7, 2020.

The majority of Americans are under “stay at home” orders in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, help “flatten the curve” and ultimately save lives. As a result—with the exceptions of healthcare professionals, grocery staff and other “essential” workers—most of us are spending a lot more time at home.

Many people are able to telecommute productively, but being mostly confined to the same four walls leaves a lot of time to dwell on the pandemic as well as the fear and economic uncertainty it has spawned.

This may help explain why a growing number of people are turning to some seemingly old-fashioned hobbies, including baking, gardening and sewing, to help them cope with this modern-day global health crisis, according to Mary Alvord, PhD, a psychologist practicing in Rockville and Chevy Chase, Maryland who is also an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.

During such a troubling time, people seek out things that provide some sense of control, says Alvord. That’s a core principle of resilience—or the skills, attributes and abilities that enable people to adapt to hardships, difficulties and challenges, she explains.

‘Old school’ hobbies provide an escape

As the pandemic grips the United States, students and workers who are now telecommuting are spending more time in front of computer screens. Meanwhile, the constant wave of worrisome COVID-19 headlines—along with the pressure to stay connected on social media—may be additional reasons seemingly “old school” pursuits are picking up steam among Americans.

Many people are simply trying to unplug. We’re looking for activities to do and share that get us away from technology, Alvord adds. Some hobbies that have recently surged in popularity:

Vegetable gardening. White House assurances that America’s food supply is “very strong” may be met with skepticism among Americans who are confronted by empty aisles at their local grocery stores. In fact, the surge in demand for groceries and resulting limited supplies have reportedly contributed to a growing movement to plant World War I and II-era “victory gardens.” Back then, Americans were urged to plant vegetables on every available space—backyards, rooftops and empty lots—to fight wartime food shortages.

Besides helping people feel more in control, Alvord notes that gardening gets people outside and physically working, which can help improve their moods.  

Gardening can connect you with others, too. Organize a club in your community. Work with your neighbors to plant and maintain the garden and share the harvest—with a nod to social distancing, Alvord suggests. Search YouTube or Facebook groups for tips on how to start a victory garden.

Canning and preserving. Americans are buying more “how to” books on preserving and canning in addition to other DIY guides, according to NPD BookScan, a company that tracks book sales among all major retailers. Books on canning and preserving grew 17 percent over the previous year, as of March 14, 2020, NPD reported. These are other traditional ways to maintain food security during times of uncertainty.

Canning involves preserving fresh fruits and vegetables in sealed, airtight containers without the need for refrigeration. Foods that are canned properly and safely have a long shelf life, though they should be used within about a year as their nutritional value and quality decline over time, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP).

As a general rule, be sure to:

  • Wash produce in clean water to remove dirt.
  • Use mason-style jars with two-piece self-sealing lids.
  • Store foods in a cool, dark pantry or cabinet to preserve food quality. Ideally, canned or jarred foods should be stored at temperatures of between 50- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit.

Be sure to follow all proper canning guidance from the USDA before you attempt to preserve any foods. It’s essential to take precautions to prevent the growth of bacteria, which can spoil food or cause a potentially deadly food poisoning called botulism. 

Making bread. In addition to toilet paper, there are two grocery items that are nearly impossible to find right now in many parts of the country: yeast and flour. All you have to do is check out #quarantinebaking and #homemadebread or #quarantinebreadfail on Instagram to see why.

But why has making bread emerged as a trendy quarantine pastime? For some, making bread can be soothing and comforting because it engages all your senses, Alvord says. Bakers feel the texture of the dough, watch it change shape as it bakes and enjoy the smell as it fills the house with delicious aroma. Finally, there’s the fresh-baked taste.

Baking is a great DIY homeschool activity, too, adds Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, a culinary nutritionist and educator in Los Angeles. “Baking requires precise chemistry and that’s why measuring ingredients accurately is so important. Having your children measure the ingredients is a great math lesson,” Begun says, noting that asking kids to double or halve the recipe is a great way to step up the challenge.

Sewing. In a last-ditch effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19, U.S. and state health officials have advised Americans who are not under quarantine and do not have symptoms to wear nonmedical coverings, such as scarves or cloth masks, over their noses and mouths when going out in public to perform essential tasks. Otherwise healthy people are not being called to wear medical masks, which are in short supply and reserved for the healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

Like a rising tide, a growing number of Americans are answering the call by sewing and sharing homemade face masks so as to not compete with hospitals for medical masks.

“Helping others increases our own resilience,” Alvord says, adding that “taking action to improve the situation counters feelings of helplessness.”

Knitting. Knitting is also making a comeback. We Are Knitters, a Madrid-based knitting supply retailer, has seen its U.S. sales jump 270 percent in March 2020, the company’s co-founder and creative director, Alberto Bravo, told Vogue Business.

Parisian knitting coach Solène Le Roux is not surprised. Le Roux helps women use knitting to cope with crises, such as cancer and chronic illness.

“Knitting is like a form of moving meditation where you focus your attention on the stitches and the present moment,” she says. It allows people to “reconnect with themselves and find a sense of peace.” Le Roux adds that knitting is also a powerful form of self-expression, which may be sorely needed during challenging times.

“It’s a technique that allows constant progress and reward each time your master a new skill,” she says. “And you can benefit by wearing your new scarf or sweater.” Look for knitting tutorials for beginners on YouTube.

Doing jigsaw puzzles. Demand for another family-friendly activity that peaked during the Great Depression is also soaring: jigsaw puzzles. Germany-based puzzle maker Ravensburger has reportedly seen its U.S. puzzle sales spike 370 percent from last year, as of the last two weeks of March 2020. Sales on March 25 were 10 times higher than the same day in 2019.

During the early 1930s, jigsaw puzzle mania captured the nation, resulting in peak sales of some ten million per week. At the time, puzzles provided cheap and widely available family distraction from troubled economic times, and they appear to be offering a similar distraction to Americans under stay-at-home orders today, Alvord says.

People who live alone can use puzzles to pass the time, she notes, or entire families can pitch in to transform a random pile of pieces into a picture.

Article sources open article sources

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Home Canning Safety Tips.”
Institute of Agriculture at The University of Tennessee. “Family and Consumer Sciences: Canning.”
Instagram: #quarantinebaking, #homemadebread.
The NPD Group, Inc. “Home Life and Educational Books on the Rise as Americans Shelter at Home, The NPD Group Says.”
Michigan State University. “How long does home-preserved food last?”
National Center for Home Food Preservation. “USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015 revision.”
The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. “Canning.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19.”
Christina Binkley. “Customers are spending on comfort as Covid-19 pandemic presses on.” Vogue Business. April 3, 2020.
The FDR Presidential Library. “FDR Day by Day; December 1933: U.S. and World Events.”

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