‘Tom Daley Effect’ inspires men to get into knitting amid craft boom | Knitting

Home knitting is having a moment this winter as the ‘Tom Daley effect’ sees more and more young men and women picking up knitting needles to create ‘slow’ fashion.

Figures show around 1 million people have taken up the hobby since the pandemic began, and the Olympic gold medalist-turned-supercrafter has launched a new range that could encourage even more to take up the hobby.

Since being spotted knitting at the Tokyo Games, Daley has become a craft influencer whose dedication PageInstagram attracts 1.4 million followers. He now has a collection of high end knitting kits for sale on the LoveCrafts website.

The kits, aimed at beginners, include a £90 jumper with fashionable Varsity stripes and a £125 unisex jumper with a flamingo on the front. The high prices partly reflect the cost of chunky merino wool, which he says is “ethically sourced” in the UK.

Tom Daley’s Thread the Love blanket in his knitwear range

In 2020, newly locked down Britons spent time at home baking banana bread and sourdough. But in 2021, with the realization that they were here for the long haul, the focus shifted to craftsmanship as many sought to avoid burnout at home.

The UK Hand Knitting Association (UKHKA) said around 1 million people had started knitting since the start of the pandemic. This 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 point encouraged more men to get involved, said UKHKA spokeswoman Juliet Bernard. A quarter of people using her site, which supports independent yarn shops, are now men, she said, up from around 10% before the Olympics.

Daley’s national treasure status propelled needles and yarn into the John Lewis 2021 retail report, which identified key buying trends.

Yarn sales have increased “ridiculously” during the pandemic, said Bernard, who suggested people have understood the “meditative quality” of knitting. Daley says the hobby helped him earn his medal, describing knitting as his “secret weapon”.

Tom Daley knits his GB Olympic sweater while watching men's diving at the Tokyo Olympics.
Tom Daley knits his GB Olympic sweater while watching men’s diving at the Tokyo Olympics. Photography: Marko Đurica/Reuters

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

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

Edward Griffith, chief executive of LoveCrafts, said the company’s sales reached £66 million last year.

The new wave of Covid 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 increased by 225% compared to 2019. While the traditional heart of knitting was among women in their 40s and 50s, Daley was attracting a younger clientele as well than a male audience, he added.

Tom Daley with knitting patterns
Tom Daley’s knitting Instagram has 1.4 million followers

Not everyone will be able to take home Daley’s cutting-edge designs, which cost as much as buying the finished item, but Bernard said they will appeal to the Zoom generation.

“You have on your PJ bottom and this glorious, extravagant sweater on top,” she said. “People are exhausted by what has happened in recent years. They want cocooning, but they also want to have a little fun.

The Covid “pet baby boom”, which has sent sales of animal lifestyle products skyrocketing, means dogs as well as humans are covered in luxurious knitwear. Craft site Ravelry, for example, offers over 400 different dog coat designs.

While children’s knits can be purchased commercially for less than the balls of yarn needed to make them, there is a persistent demand for patterns. “It’s a way people still seem to express their love,” Bernard said.