Plant parenting: Plant care grows in popularity during the pandemic

Plant parenting: Plant care grows in popularity during the pandemic

Emma Terrell first launched the Urban Botanist in Ottawa to help others engage with nature at home.

“I started fresh out of university with the idea and intent of encouraging my community and encouraging others to engage with nature in an urban setting,” the 31-year-old said. “I was teaching people about plants and inspiring people to grow their green thumbs and learn more about terrariums and gardening.”

At Carleton, Terrell had studied biology with a focus on insects. “I would say from my earliest memories, I have just been completely enamoured and obsessed with all things living and growing and green.”

Her business, started in 2017, includes an online plant and accessory shop, facilitating virtual workshops, and designing living walls for people’s homes, businesses or events. 

Since the pandemic, Terrell has noticed an increase in demand for house plants and more engagement with her social media. 

“We’ve seen a real jump in the general interest of millennials and Gen Z’s… wanting to get more into the hobby of horticulture, the hobby of indoor plants,” Terrell said.  

Emma Terrell, the Urban Botanist, talks winter plant care and things to avoid. Recorded and produced by Aly McCabe

Terrell is among a handful of plant sellers in Ottawa who said sales have been on the rise since March 2020. Amid pandemic lockdowns, they said, Ottawans flocked to open garden centres to fill their homes with nature.

Now, over a year and a half into the pandemic, the demand for house plants and tropicals remains high. 

The popularity of house plants stems from a need to care for something. In the pandemic, houseplants became a way to boost wellbeing. 

“One of the things in order for us to keep well during the pandemic, particularly when we can’t engage in our normal activities, or hobbies, or maybe have reduced social contact with others is to find things that make us feel well,” said Crystal Holly, a psychologist at Balance Psychology and Wellness in Ottawa. 

For Holly, “Caring for things and kind of getting back to those simpler activities contributes to emotional well-being and overall well-being.”

Flower to the People employee Krista Evans said she saw an increase in demand at their ByWard Market plant shop in March 2020.

“It’s also just really nice to be around aesthetically pleasing things,” Holly said, “As people grow plants at home and kind of beautify and green up their spaces, they’re also feeling better.”

The snake plant Laurentii, one of the many verities of snake plants Krista Evan loves. Photo taken by Kara Eades. Accessed from

 “We were pretty busy with plants before the pandemic too, but it definitely increased,” she said.

She said she noticed even grocery stores and big box stores jumped on the trend, offering bigger house plant selections since the pandemic.

Evans is an avid plant collector herself.

 “I find it quite meditative,” she said, “I get a lot of satisfaction out of taking care of something.” 

Sansevarias – or snake plants – are Evans’s favourites, and she said she has 60 different varieties in her home.

More demand, more popularity

The Plante family has been a part of the Ottawa plant and garden scene since 1981, when they started selling in the ByWard Market. In 2001, they opened Robert Plante Greenhouses in Navan, Ont. 

Spokesperson Colin Matassa said they had never seen the kind of demand brought on by the pandemic.

“March 2020 is when the demand went through the roof,” he said. 

The greenhouse always carried house plants, Matassa added, but they have never been so popular.

The brand-new 2,700-square-metre greenhouse is filled with houseplants and accessories. “There’s always something for everyone,” Matassa said.

On a sunny afternoon in November, greenhouse customers said they were reaping the benefits of the wide house plant selection.

“I’ve collected house plants off and on for years,” Kim White said as she browsed the greenery at the greenhouse. “It’s gotten worse since I found this place.” 

White was shopping with her friend Krista Gower, a new plant mom whose collection began in February 2021.

“It’s almost like self-care for me to take the time to care for my plants,” Gower said. “It’s fun to watch them grow.”

Erik Watt-Sorensen and Elena Ienzi were also shopping for new houseplants and accessories.

Ienzi said her plant collection started when the pandemic started.

“It’s a hobby,” she said. “I used to travel all the time but not anymore because of COVID.”

Plants “definitely bring some joy and happiness,” Watt-Sorensen said. “It’s really nice on your days off because you always have something to do.” 

Taking care of nature, taking care of ourselves

Full shelves at Plant & Curio on Preston St, Ottawa, Ont. Photo by Aly McCabe

To Emma Terrell, the growing interest in plants stems from a greater need for people to take care of themselves.

“I think that more people were looking for something to do, not only to fill up their time … but also looking for alternative ways to sort of give their mental health a break,” she said.

There’s a science to plants and their benefits, Terrell said. 

“They actually work to clean our air and remove negative ions from our space, and ultimately boost your mood,” Terrell explained. 

She continued, “We as human beings have an innate need to be close to nature.” 

Being away from nature, Terrell said, can lead to “lacking creativity, lacking productivity, maybe feeling chronic fatigue or anxiety.” 

Terrell said house plants help bring nature indoors, especially in urban places where big outdoor gardens are not always accessible. 

“Plants literally breath more life into your space,” she said. “Just adding that lush greenery is a beautiful pop of colour and liveliness.” 

Women on top: Carleton University students excited about Adele’s ’30’

Women on top: Carleton University students excited about Adele’s ’30’

Adele’s 30 hit the shelves at Vertigo Records on Bank Street in Ottawa on Nov. 19. Photo by Aly Mccabe.

Giuseppe Ivan Sestini stayed up until 12 a.m. to see the release of Adele’s 30–the British pop star’s first album in six years. 

“I feel like it’s the masterpiece, like that’s the word,” said Sestini. He said he listened to the whole album shortly after midnight.

At Carleton University, some students are rediscovering Adele’s music and celebrating her use of lyricism to describe her personal experiences. Her newest album is all about divorce, family and self-discovery.The album opens up conversations about women and the criticism they experience in the music industry as well as explores topics of divorce, family and self-discovery.

Earlier this year, Adele reappeared on the music scene with her hit single “Easy on Me,” which    blew up on social media platforms such as TikTok, getting listeners excited for the reemergence of the singer’s powerhouse vocals. 

Other Adele fans at Carleton University shared Sestini’s excitement over the release of the 33-year-old’s newest work. 

Emma Pettigrew, a dance teacher and a student at Carleton University described the music as “really powerful,” while another student, Miranda Jordens, said Adele’s lyrics showed  “strength and independence.” 

Beyond her personal journey, the British singer’s fourth studio album is a powerful expression of grief, heartache and joy. 

“She’s expressing pain and joy in such an artistic way that I’ve never seen in any artist,” said Sestini. 

Beyond her music, Adele’s new album adds commentary on the flawed representation of women in pop music. 

“I feel like they can’t really talk about relationships without being called psycho or crazy,” Jordens said, describing the misinterpretation of female pop artists who are vocal about their opinions. 

The release of 30 and of Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) on Nov. 12have ignited a conversation about misogyny in the music business. 

Swift is best known for her ballads on heartbreak and singing about the nitty gritty details of her breakups and all the emotions that come with it. This has led Swift to fall under harsh criticism for addressing her exes through her artistry.  

“These albums are the way that they are telling their truth,” Sestini said. “Unfortunately, not many women are allowed to do [this] in a system that basically tells them that their opinion is not valid.”

Yearning for nostalgia, authenticity at a midnight Pokémon launch

Yearning for nostalgia, authenticity at a midnight Pokémon launch

Ben Mungham is ready for the Pokémon launch at GameStop in Ottawa on Thursday night, sporting Pokéballs and a Lucario on his shoulder. Picture by Jaimie Nackan.

The air buzzed with excitement Thursday evening as the sound of Pokémon music greeted people at the door of GameStop inside the Billings Bridge Shopping Centre for the midnight launch of the video games Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl.

The original versions of these games were released 15 years ago back in 2006 for the handheld Nintendo DS console. This year also marks the 25 anniversary of the Pokémon franchise.  

One attendee, Alexis Fee, sat just outside the store shuffling through a stack of Pokémon cards, each carefully wrapped in their own protective sleeve. Fee said that not only was Diamond their introduction to Pokémon, but it was also their first-ever video game, and they were looking forward to reliving it.

“I come to the store every one to two days. I come here often enough and thought it would be fun to come and get excited about the game,” Fee said. As they never got to attend the first launch, Fee thought it would be fitting to come and celebrate the game that got them into Pokémon in the first place.

Diamond and Pearl were the first Pokémon games released for the Nintendo DS. The games utilized new features for the time, like Wi-Fi connection which allowed for online multiplayer gaming. This provided players with an easier and more accessible way to trade Pokémon with friends or battle with other players across the world.

The community aspect inherent to the games was seen again on launch night, Thursday, as people sat outside casually trading Pokémon cards with each other while waiting for midnight to strike.

Eager players circled the store, wearing their favourite Pokémon attire. Some highlights included a Pikachu inspired Christmas sweater, a Jigglypuff hat, and a Lugia plushie attached to one individual’s hood.

Amanda Tessier, the GameStop store manager, said it is usually older people who show more excitement for game releases like these.

“People are picking up Diamond and Pearl because they’re nostalgic. They’re like, ‘I played that game when I was five, when I was six, and I can’t wait to play it again with better graphics,’” Tessier said.

According to Michael Iantorno, a PhD candidate in communication studies at Concordia University, the emphasis on nostalgia is something that comes up a lot in Nintendo remakes.

Iantorno explores what happens to games after their original commercial lifespan in his research.

He drew on the similarities between the newer Pokémon games released on Thursday and the recent remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. “It had a very similar rhetoric around where it’s like an old game brought to new hardware, which is still authentic to the old, but it’s still gifted with new features and new graphics and things that set it apart from the old version,” Iantorno said.

Both games have a new “chibi” style of artwork, a style characterized by overexaggerated, short and cute figures, which Iantorno said may help to mimic the older sprite style artwork. These upgrades bring a fresh feel to the graphics without making it unrecognizable, which helps to retain the sentimental feel of the old 2D pixel art style.

Some fans place a high level of importance on preserving the look and feel of old games as new ones are released. After the 2019 release of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, fans were disappointed that old Pokémon were left out of these games, so they found ways to hack them in.

“That was really intriguing to me, because there was a sort of idea of what a Pokémon game should be. And since it didn’t abide by that idea, a lot of fans took it into their own hands,” Iantorno said.

According to Iantorno, while the remakes are not a one-to-one conversion, they act as something emblematic of the entire Pokémon series. “It takes the old experience of the original title, and then makes it match the experience of the newer Pokémon games and finds this authenticity, as a sort of pastiche.”

As Thursday night wore on, the line in front of the GameStop continued to grow. One of the first people there was a man with a Pokémon tattoo sleeve who brought along his young child who was carrying a Nintendo Switch Lite.

To kill time before the launch, the boy went into the store to play some Pokémon games. After catching a Bidoof inside the store, he named it GameStop and proudly showed it to Tessier. 

Is polyamory the new marriage?

Is polyamory the new marriage?

Photo Illustration of Paige McKenny by Constantina Varlokostas and Natalia Weichsel

Twenty-somethings are ditching traditional relationship customs in place of polyamory, according to 28-year-old Paige McKenny, but no one is talking about it.

McKenny took up non-monogamy in their mid-20s after grappling with a series of relationships they would describe as non-functional and emotionally abusive.

But the idea of an open approach to love didn’t begin to brew until a conversation with a partner in 2015 that helped McKenny understand what non-monogamy really meant.

“When we started seeing each other, we both knew we wanted certain things in life that were going to lead us on divergent paths. And so when we began our relationship, we had a really frank discussion about what we wanted, and what we needed,” McKenny said.

The couple ultimately decided to have an open relationship with no expectations for the future.

“We were really interested in spending time together and cultivating a relationship, knowing that there was an end point to it.”

For twenty-somethings like McKenny, ditching traditional relationship customs such as marriage in place of polyamory has a growing appeal. From self-help books on becoming an ethical slut to the BBC series Trigonometry to 2019’s very public break-up of Hollywood triad Tana Mongeau, Bella Thorne and rapper Mod Sun, polyamory is having a moment. Even if the idea of having multiple concurrent partners may be taboo among some older generations, one in five Canadians have been involved in a consensual non-monogamous relationship, according to one study.

Experts and everyday explorers of non-monogamy all agree honesty, open communication and trust offer the best chance of success.

the polyamory flag
Found at a local Ottawa shop, Venus Envy, the polyamorous flag symbolizes openness and honesty through its blue stripes, love and passion with the colour red, and solidarity through black. It also features the Greek letter π (pi), as it’s an irrational number with infinite decimal places.

Polyamory, polygamy are different ends of the spectrum

What is polyamory? Some may confuse the term with polygamy, however, according to Noémie Kyryluk, they are two very different ends of the spectrum. Kyryluk, a registered psychotherapist and certified sex therapist, likes to describe polyamory as having different people to fill different needs whereas polygamy involves one man with multiple wives.

“A way that I like to think about it is as friendships, you have multiple friendships. Rarely does one person have one friend that you expect to do everything with you,” Kyryluk said. “Different people meet different needs, and you expect that, it’s just the norm. Polyamory is kind of the same concept.”

She explained that overall, polyamory is an umbrella term to describe when a person can’t have all of their needs met by a single partner so they have multiple partners where each person brings in a different dynamic, whether romantically, sexually or platonically.

According to the educational, sex positive website Sex and Psychology, Justin Lehmiller reported that approximately one in five Canadians have been involved in a consensual non-monogamous relationship. In his study, Lehmiller concluded younger adults were more experienced than older adults with open relationships and suggested there may be generational differences in openness to non-monogamy.

Kyryluk offered a similar perspective.

“I think the younger generations are just a little bit more open. They’re more open to the possibilities of all these different relationship styles, different types of sexuality, to talking about mental health and therapy,” she said. “Whereas with older generations, I find that there’s a lot of shame. They’re not sure if what they’ve done is okay, or whether it’s still taboo.”

Open relationships need open communication

For some young adults like Cynthia Pham, what brought her to polyamory was the emotional tyranny she experienced in her previous monogamous relationships.

Pham, a 23-year-old student at McMaster University, said the emotional barriers between herself and her partners led to unhealthy monogamous relationships in the past. With her latest partner, the possibility of pursuing an open relationship came up when they realized they would soon be a long-distance couple. It ended up creating the healthiest connection for them both, she said.

“I think another important thing in open relationships is that if anything changes in the relationship, because things are fluid, you always have to be open to communicating it with your partner,” Pham said.

Being in an open relationship with a man that had a deeper understanding of himself forced her to feel comfortable communicating her emotions.

Raphaella Valeri, a young professional, also believes communication is a big part of the process when exploring non-monogamy, especially when navigating it with her current partner.

“What helped us both become comfortable with this was just the fact that our relationship is so strong and healthy and that we are already really good at communicating,” she said.

Valeri described her five-year long relationship with her boyfriend as strong, trusting and something she sees going long term. Her interest in polyamory sparked a couple years back by speaking with her therapist and friends involved in open relationships. She researched the topic with her boyfriend by reading Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy’s book The Ethical Slut and by discussing relevant passages together.

By the end of this process, Valeri says she felt as if they built a strong enough foundation to handle an open relationship. She said this move was necessary for herself to grow and step outside of her comfort zone as her current partner was her only experience in dating.

Positive feelings of freedom are common among individuals who practice ethical non-monogamy. For Valeri, the term polyamory means independence, maturity and the ability to get to know other people and develop new relationships.

Similarly, McKenny described it as “the ability to be an individual.”

photo of mckenny
McKenny, 28, has been working at Venus Envy, an education-oriented sex shop located in Ottawa for two months, offering customers an inclusive and safe environment.

“I think it’s a great tool for introspection and being really self-aware and self-sufficient,” McKenny said. “Which is funny because you think with more people in the mix, you have less self-sufficiency or you have more people to fill your needs, which is true, but this means you need to know what those needs are, which requires a lot of introspection.”

According to Kyryluk, it’s important to note the differences between non-monogamy and infidelity. “Some people will say non-monogamy is synonymous to infidelity, which it is not, because the most damaging part in infidelity is really the betrayal and broken trust – all of the emotional stuff that surrounds it,” she explained.

“Ethical non-monogamy really focuses on that transparency, like, ‘Yeah, okay, we might be sleeping with other people, but we know it and we have boundaries and limits.’”

‘Love is important, but it’s tough’

When it comes to relationship styles, non-monogamy isn’t the only conversation buzzing among young people – marriage nears the top of the list.

This generation has seen it all throughout their childhood – from dysfunctional families to infidelity. As divorce rates increase, some young people don’t see marriage as an end goal.

Although Seager Wakil, a 23-year-old student, cannot see himself practising non-monogamy, he is also unconvinced that being legally bound to a partner is necessary due to being a child of divorce.

“I shake my head at people who rush into marriage early. I think there are so many real things that need to be addressed and you need to be so practical,” Wakil said. “Love is important, but it’s tough. Love can’t save financial issues or different communication styles.”

The desire for a life partner is attractive to the younger generation but without the paperwork.

“I have strong yearnings for a nesting partnership or an anchor partnership, something that feels like we’re walking a life path together,” McKenny said. “I think at the moment, [my partner] and I have expressed a mutual interest and that sort of trajectory to our relationship. I don’t think that there’s any reason for our relationship to have strong domestic poles towards each other,” they said.

books at a local ottawa sex shop
A positive place to learn about non-monogamy is through books and educational sources such as those pictured here, found at Venus Envy in the Centertown neighbourhood of Ottawa.

Kyryluk’s advice for people interested in exploring non-monogamy is to invest in educational resources such as therapy, books and workshops.

“The best advice I can give people is to really take a proactive approach, and to talk about all of your expectations. If you don’t talk about your expectations, your wants, your needs, your limits, your boundaries, it probably won’t be super successful.”

Resources to learn more about non-monogamy and sex education:

Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy By: Jessica Fern

More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory By: Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships By: Tristan Taormino

Venus Envy – Shop

Good For Her – Shop

Luna Matatas – Educator

Fans flocking back to mid-sized concert halls a welcome sight for artists, owners

Fans flocking back to mid-sized concert halls a welcome sight for artists, owners

Sonia Bustos, one of the dancers for the Juno-nominated Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra, strikes a pose after an energetic set Nov. 12 at the Bronson Centre Music Theatre. Photo by Sam Konnert.

Frontman and circus ringmaster Sebastian Mejia burst through the back door, making his presence felt to the fans at Bronson Centre Music Theatre. Dancers, brass, strings, percussion and an accordion followed him into the theatre to create the melodic chaos of the Juno-nominated Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra.

Colombian artists Carmen Ruiz and Sebastian Mejia started the Montreal-based orchestra some 10 years ago. The circus-themed band mixes Colombian and Romani rhythms, and is one of the many unique acts to grace the Bronson Centre stage.

“The thing that was amazing about the show is that, for the first time in so long, we were able to make people stand up from their seats and actually come together and move,” Ruiz said.

Scenes of dancing and world music Nov. 12 at the Bronson Centre. Video by Sam Konnert.

The almost 1,000 seat theatre is in an old high school tucked between Ottawa’s Chinatown and Centretown neighbourhoods. The tired walls and bare bulletin boards contrast with the energy-filled hall behind the heavy black doors.

These mid-sized, 800 to 1,500-seat venues provide genre-bending shows by up-and-coming and established artists alike.

They are, however, a struggling segment of a battered business. A 2020 report by the Canadian Live Music Association found that in Toronto alone, 11 venues that hosted an estimated 5,000 concerts a year and employed at least 190 individuals shut their doors forever.

The report says these hardships are not unique to Toronto, as owners like Lisa Zbitnew are also feeling the pressure.

Zbitnew owns the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto and the Bronson Centre in Ottawa. She is also the former president of Sony Music Canada and BMG Music Canada.

With a bit of help, she said, she believes it won’t be long before fans can ride the rail in the front row.

Critical space in music ecosystem

Mid-sized venues are a critical space in the music ecosystem, explained Zbitnew, since artists use them to climb the industry ladder. “It’s the right size for a band that are at a point in their career where they’re still excited about touring and growing, and want a connection with an audience,” she said.

Accomplished artists looking for a more intimate setting also flock to these venues. The Rolling Stones played the Phoenix in 2005 and Bob Dylan performed there in 2004.

She pays $45,000 in monthly rent for The Phoenix on top of other costs, such as insurance, which she said have risen dramatically over the past year. “We’re into six figures for insurance annually. These costs really start to cut into our ability to have enough margin to operate,” she said.

“I’ve had to piece together three different policies just to operate,” Zbitnew said.

Concert organizer and industry veteran Yasmina Proveyer also understands the importance of margins. Proveyer co-founded Axé Worldfest, a non-profit that hopes to educate audiences about world music by organizing concerts in Ottawa.

They received a grant from the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR) to present the Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra show.

The show cost nearly $20,000 with stage plots, cleaning fees, security, technicians, logistics, paying the talent and providing accommodation all being things to consider.

“The funding was a relief since you can put on a good show in a nice venue and at the same time make it affordable and accessible to the public,” Proveyer said.

The genre-bending, circus-themed band mesmerizes the crowd at the Bronson Centre Nov. 12. Photo by Sam Konnert.

Venues facing concert backlog

Pandemic-related border closures also cut off international artists that mid-sized venues depend on to fill their calendars. “When you get to a certain size, there are not enough Canadian acts that can fill our venues,” Zbitnew said.

Larger venues like stadiums were able to cover costs through sporting events while local bars were able to feature Canadian talent to fill their lineups, she explained.

“I by no means want to suggest that small venues weren’t hit as hard as us,” Zbitnew said. “For them, the tough part is digging out of a hole when you can only accommodate 50 to 100 people.”

Another problem her venues are facing is a backlog of concerts. With so many shows being cancelled, the next year is jam packed.

This is not a good thing, according to Zbitnew. “Shows just aren’t performing as well, because fans are having to pick and choose which concerts to see. We have to recognize that the most difficult time period hasn’t even hit us. The cost of booking shows, training new staff and other barriers will rise as we start ramping back up.”

Zbitnew said she feels her sector was an afterthought for the provincial government during the pandemic. The Oct. 8 decision to allow music at bars and fill stadiums with 20,000 people, while her venues were restricted, made no sense to her.

“What’s exactly at the core of this decision making, other than big business can lobby the province more effectively than small business?,” she said.

Lobbying the federal government, however, has proven an important tool for Zbitnew. With the help of the Canadian Live Music Association, discussions are ongoing surrounding wage and rent subsidy support through May of next year.

“I have nothing but good things to say about the federal government in terms of showing ongoing support for small businesses in our sector,” Zbitnew said.

Despite the recent troubles, she’s hopeful for the decade ahead. “Live music since Mozart has drawn people, once we go from a drought of no shows to the first six or eight months of too many shows, that stuff is all going to correct itself.”

Proveyer said she is also excited for the world music scene in the coming years. “You can tell from the audience reaction [at the show], there is an appetite for it.”

Connecting with audiences

Tickets to Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra were priced between $15 and $25, which attracted new fans like Nathalie Regan, who went to the show despite not knowing of the group.

dancer, circus, music
Frontman Sebastian Mejia poses and catches his breath after a particularly lively song. Photo by Sam Konnert.

She said the venue was perfect. “The shared experience of a show like this doesn’t translate well to a larger crowd,” she said.

“At Bluesfest, you’re squished in like sardines, it’s hustle and bustle. You’re having a good time but you’re so focused on the person backing into you and stepping all over you,” she said.

Carmen Ruiz is just grateful to be dancing again with Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra.

“We can connect with the audiences, make them dance, make them laugh, make them not be afraid to lose themselves,” she said.

That’s what she appreciated about the venue. “The stage is big, but you’re not that far away that you feel a big fourth wall between the audience and us,” Ruiz said.

“It’s the most important at the end of it,” she continued. “More than how good the music, or how good the choreography, is how the energy goes through in the show.”

GKO Bronson-2
Fans eager to make their way into the venue queue outside the converted high school.
GKO Bronson-3
Carmen Ruiz dances her way down to the stage to start the show, followed by the band.
GKO Bronson-6
Carmen Ruiz twirls as Sebastian Mejia plays at the crescendo of a song.
GKO Bronson-7
The group finishes the show by playing within the crowd.
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In with the new: How young people are leading the fibre art revolution

In with the new: How young people are leading the fibre art revolution

A crochet cartoon character sweater made by Ella Milloy and inspired by @artbykaraleez. Photo taken by Ella Milloy.

When the COVID-19 pandemic moved life inside, students started looking for new ways to stay engaged while adjusting to online lectures and tutorials.

Emma Charpentier, a second-year economics student at Carleton University, knew she needed to find a way to stay focused while sitting in front of her computer screen for hours attending her classes.

Through Reddit, Charpentier discovered Carleton’s Yarn for Change club, a member-based knitting and crochet group that actively recruits young people to attend meetings, learn new skills and create textile projects for donation.

“I started learning,” Charpentier said. “I didn’t get very far, but I did learn and it was pretty easy.” 

She soon picked up a pair of knitting needles and started her first project. Working with her hands to create a lime green square allowed Charpentier to shift her focus without missing any important information in class. She enjoyed the simplicity of the activity and felt accomplished upon completing her first project.

“For a couple of weeks, I would just sit in class and I would knit while I was watching lectures. It lets you do something with your hands,” Charpentier said.

The pandemic provided many young people with the time and resources to discover and pursue new hobbies. Knitting and crocheting, two activities generally associated with an older generation, became the source of many viral trends and provided much needed relief from the stress of the pandemic. As a result, social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram quickly turned into hubs of creativity. 

Not only were young people using these platforms to share videos of their creations, but they were also using them to start conversations about fast fashion and establish their own small businesses. 

Over the course of the pandemic, 21-year-old American slow fashion designer Kara Lee used her growing TikTok and Instagram followings to pursue her passion for knitting and crocheting to sell her cartoon character cardigan design, establishing @artbykaraleez in September 2020.

The #accentchallenge is a popular TikTok trend where the creator shows a variety of images or videos of art getting progressively worse. In this case, Ella Milloy chose to show her crochet creation get progressively better. TikTok made by Ella Milloy.

TikTok became a space where many creative trends gained traction during quarantine and have lasted beyond the long months of isolation. 

Videos of young creators crocheting giant bumblebees and knitting the famous J.W. Anderson cardigan sported by Harry Styles at a rehearsal for The Today Show in February 2020 filled users’ “for you” pages. More recently, British Olympic diver Tom Daley caused a stir online as fans related to his knitting as a way of dealing with his stress and pre-competition nerves.

Club offers space to connect outside virtual classes

In Ottawa, Carleton University’s Yarn for Change club welcomes growing interest in knitting and crocheting. The group charges a $5 membership fee to provide yarn for its members and make the student club more accessible. Members are encouraged to create projects such as dishcloths, mittens, hats and blankets for donation.

Like Charpentier, thirdyear Carleton health science student Malak Al Daraawi found the Yarn for Change club online. After coming across one of the club’s Reddit posts she decided to join, despite not having much experience with knitting.

“I didn’t have any experience, but the club is made up of so many different skill levels,” Al Daraawi said. “They gave me so many instructions and videos that could be useful. I wanted to get away from studying and because everything was online, [the club] was one of the only ways I could reach out to people and interact with them outside of lectures.”

Al Daraawi also noted that she grew closer to her mother and sister after learning about her mother’s ability to knit. Discovering this family time helped Al Daraawi manage the pressures of online school.

“[Knitting] really helped me because I got to sit down with my mother and I found out that she also knows how to knit and crochet,” Al Daraawi said. “I talked with my sister and had her learn with me. I’ve been able to find time I never thought I had to actually learn how to do it.”

Thousands of knitters and crocheters created the J.W. Anderson cardigan worn by Harry Styles in 2020. This wool cardigan was made by Ella Milloy
The beginning of Emma Charpentier’s first project. The finished square still hasn’t been removed from the original needles. Photo taken by Emma Charpentier.
A crochet scarf made by Ella Milloy using the moss stitch technique and wool. Photo taken by Ella Milloy.

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This program was put on hold during the pandemic, but as public health restrictions continue to ease and a new executive team steps in, the Yarn for Change club plans to restart its donations, including for ways to give directly to homeless shelters or community organizations.

Working with a group and giving back to those in need helps build a sense of purpose, said Dean Verger, a professor in the psychology department at Carleton University. Verger explained how creative outlets like knitting and crocheting can help balance out feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

“Having a goal of any sort that channels our thinking allows us to focus on something positive,” Verger said. “Even if you’re following a pattern, that means you’re counting stitches and all that processing is filling the space available for thinking, so that there’s no space left for worrying.”

In addition to alleviating feelings of stress and anxiety, knitting and crocheting also provide numerous other mental health benefits.

“There is a product that comes out of this activity that is tangible,” Verger explained. “They’re then going to give the finished product to somebody for a good cause. There are so many practical, mental and social benefits and the whole idea of doing something for someone else and doing something as a group for someone else is what makes us human.”

‘It feels good to give back’

At Carleton, the Yarn for Change club provides a space for young artists and designers to come together to socialize, create and give back to the local community. On a larger scale, the Ottawa Knitting Guild established a similar space for knitters across the National Capital Region in 1994.

The knitting guild sees the participation of up to 200 knitters every year. The guild’s community knitting group creates a variety of items to donate to local organizations such as the Mission, Shepherds of Good Hope and Warm Hands Network. 

Jean Grundy, the guild’s current president, hopes more young people get into knitting and crocheting. Grundy sees an opportunity for collaboration and knowledge sharing between members as more young people get involved in the organization.

“The guild wants to serve Ottawa knitters,” Grundy said. “We are a community of Ottawa knitters and if we are not involving all groups, and that includes students, then we are not representative or inclusive. We want to bring in new ideas and new techniques. We want to pass on this knowledge.”

After learning how to knit as a child, Grundy picked the hobby back up when she attended Concordia University in Montreal and has continued to knit ever since. 

Similar to Charpentier, Grundy uses knitting to relax and to keep her hands busy during work meetings.

“Your mind is free when you’re knitting and yet you have to be present in the moment because of what you’re doing.” Grundy said. “Ultimately, it feels good to give back to people.”