‘Tom Daley effect’ spurs men to take up knitting amid home crafting boom

Tom Daley

The home knit is having a moment this winter as the “Tom Daley effect” sees more young men and women picking up knitting needles to create “slow” fashion.

Figures show that about 1 million people have taken up the hobby since the start of the pandemic, and the Olympic gold medal-winner turned supercrafter has launched a new range that could encourage yet more to take it up.

Since being seen knitting at the Tokyo Games, Daley has become a craft influencer whose dedicated Instagram page attracts 1.4m followers. He now has a collection of high-end knitting kits for sale on the website LoveCrafts.

The kits, aimed at beginners, include a £90 pullover with on-trend Varsity stripes and a £125 unisex jumper with a flamingo on the front. The hefty price tags in part reflect the cost of the thick merino wool, which, it says, is “ethically sourced” in the UK.

In 2020, newly locked-down Britons filled time at home baking banana bread and sourdough. But by 2021, with the realisation that they were in it for the long haul, the focus shifted to crafting as many sought to stave off home-working burnout.

The UK Hand Knitting Association (UKHKA) said about 1 million people have taken up knitting since the start of the pandemic. The figure, based on last year’s Craft Intelligence report, means the country now has around 7 million knitters.

The sight of Daley winning medals without dropping a stitch has encouraged more men to get involved, says UKHKA spokesperson Juliet Bernard. A quarter of the people using its site, which supports independent wool shops, were now men, she said, up from about 10% before the Olympic Games.

Daley’s national treasure status propelled needles and wool into the 2021 John Lewis retail report, which identified the major shopping trends.

Sales of yarn increased “ridiculously” during the pandemic, said Bernard, who suggested people had cottoned on to the “meditative quality” of knitting. Daley says the hobby helped him to his medal haul, describing knitting as his “secret weapon”.

During the pandemic, hobbies acted as a “safety valve for many Britons, offering solace and escape”, according to a recent report by market researchers Mintel.

However, when it comes to knitting and sewing, two in five people said they were doing it to save money, while a similar number cited environmental reasons. Described as “slow” fashion, this DIY approach is seen as an antidote to harmful high-street fast fashion.

Edward Griffith, the LoveCrafts chief executive, said sales at the company hit £66m last year.

The new Covid wave meant things were “busier again”, said Griffith, who describes crafting as a “winter sport”. In December, sales of knitting and crochet kits on the site were 225% up on 2019. While knitting’s traditional heartland was among women in their 40s or 50s, Daley was attracting younger customers as well as a male audience, he added.

Not everyone will be able to carry off Daley’s fashion-forward designs, which cost as much as buying the finished article, but Bernard said they would appeal to the Zoom generation.

“You’ve got on your PJ bottoms and this glorious, extravagant, jumper on top,” she said. “People are worn out by what’s happened over the last few years. They want cocooning, but they also want a bit of fun.”

The Covid “pet baby boom”, which has sent sales of animal lifestyle products into overdrive, means dogs as well as humans are being showered with luxurious knits. The crafting site Ravelry, for example, has more than 400 different patterns for dog coats.

While children’s knits can be bought on the high street for less than the balls of wool needed to make them, there is an enduring demand for patterns. “That is one way that people still seem to express their love,” said Bernard.