How Craftcore and a new generation of designers have brought grandma’s knits to the forefront of fashion
BY SAM CASS
After exhausting Pinterest of its recipe archives last spring, I dug through my closet until I came up with a crochet hook, some yarn, and then sat down with all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls and kept busy working away at a throw blanket. Crocheting a large rectangle felt like the easiest way to get back into the hobby that I’d kept up on and (more often) off since the third grade. I still remember my first knitting project, a swamp-green wool scarf with holes in it large enough to see through—not my best work. Without knowing it, I’d been engaging in something called craftcore.
A decade later, as a 20-year-old with a TikTok account and too much time on my hands, I was being reintroduced to all things craft, including the Spring 2020 JW Anderson colour-block knit cardigan that Harry Styles wore to a rehearsal for The Today Show last February. I scrolled past video upon video of fans keeping busy by working on their own DIY versions of the garment with the #HarryStyleCardigan challenge, something that trended so big on the app (it now sits at 54.4M views) that the brand even decided to join the party, by releasing the pattern as a free digital download on its website. “The cardigan resonated because in this time of reflection during the quarantine, people have reconnected with this idea of making things,” Anderson told Vogue Business.
Hot on the heels of cottagecore, craftcore (read: an extreme interest in all things crochet, knitting, quilting and the like) became fashion’s new subculture when quarantine freed us of the need to dress presentably from the waist-down. Homey, craft room aesthetics came to call, and since, have flooded my Instagram explore page with designers and artists whose work brings new life to this nostalgic pastime.
Hope MacCaulay is a 24-year-old fashion designer based in Northern Ireland, whose colourful namesake knitwear label has drawn the attention of Vogue, Vanity Fair and Elle. MacCaulay’s journey to craftcore knitting reminds me a lot of my own (attempting to adapt Barbie patterns into human size berets, shrugs and leg warmers). MacCaulay says that she too began learning the basics of knitting at a young age with the help of her grandmother, who oversaw the production of teddy bear sized jumpers. Fast forward a decade or so, and you’ve got MacCauley’s graduate collection from the University for the Creative Arts Rochester, which featured her show-stopping colossal knit jumpers and jackets handmade using 100% jumbo merino wool, and was featured at London Fashion Week. It’s since been worn by Gigi Hadid and Halsey. Family and knitting still intersect for MacCaulay, who works closely with her fashionable mother Lesley on the brand.
Rashelle Campbell is a photographer-turned-rug-tufter based on the Treaty 6 Indigenous territory of the Amiskwaciy-Wâskahikan in Alberta, Canada, who shares a love for hand-work with her NikawI (mother) and Kokum (grandmother). Before the pandemic hit, hand-work for Campbell meant a camera and high-pressure editorial environments, but these days, you’ll find her working away in the studio at her newfound skill while watching early 2000s rom-coms. “Being a photographer to me is like being a therapist,” she says, On the flip side, “rug tufting, where I am alone in my studio watching How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days and snacking in-between tufting rugs is a whole different vibe!”
Campbell describes her rugs as lovechildren of Austin Powers and Lizzie McGuire, lighting up homes with vibrant colours, textures and shapes that echo pure 90s and 2000s era camp. She’s inspired by nostalgia for her days as a pre-teen—think tamagotchis, butterfly clips, and hurrying to sit down in front of the television with a bowl of ichiban noodles to witness all of Miranda Sanchez’s best fashion moments. To pay it forward and uplift Indigenous voices that come after her, Campbell has collaborated with Cree streetwear brand Mobilize, and continues to use her work as a platform to advocate for the BIPOC community, donating 10% of profits to organizations like Water First and Vancouver Black Therapy and Advocacy Fund.
Alice Kelly is another first time craftcore tufter, who learned about tufting from Instagram a week before she invested in her own tufting gun and launching her line of playful tufted mirrors, Al’s Place. The British designer lives by the motto that rugs don’t only belong on the floor.
Kelly gets crafty using a technique of threading wool through a loop setting, typically at a medium pile height to tuft colourful loops of yarn. In something like the ‘70s shag carpet at your grandparents house, these loops would then be cut, but Kelly stops at this step, leaving her designs with a soft, pillowy surface texture. By using different textured yarns and pile heights, she’s able to patch together super-fun combos with lots of detail, like with her Wilma and Wendy rugs. Kelly launched her very own website where her pieces sell out in minutes—after all, who doesn’t want to look through a mirror framed by clouds of fuchsia and teal shag?
In between Zoom university and a series of internships, I’m still working away at my yarn stash project by project, learning new stitches to max out on the kitsch factor of whichever retro patterns I manage to dig up on online archives. My latest project? A pastel rainbow balaklava like the kind I once hated to wear as a pre-teen, now a trendy signifier of fashion’s current craftcore moment.
Read more like this: On Marie Antoinette and the origins of Cottagecore nostalgia