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People are turning to traditional hobbies such as pottery to relax and reduce their screen time.

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On a gloomy Wednesday last month in Toronto, a group of writers and editors were invited to a “wellness morning,” where we partook in a guided meditation before leaning into the hottest new craze: knitting. We were taught to make chunky, earth-tone snoods by a pair of wispy-haired Spaniards while snacking on homemade granola. The event was run by We Are Knitters, a Madrid-based company that is modernizing the hobby through its DIY knitting kits featuring Peruvian wool and eco-friendly packaging. Its kits are sold at a variety of ultratrendy boutiques around the world and the brand has just expanded into Canada. “There’s something about the weather and the coziness that seemed perfect for knitting here,” co-founder Alberto Bravo says.

Sure, the weather has something to do with the desire for a couch-friendly activity, but knitting’s resurgence is part of a larger move towards digital detoxing as the negative effects of screen time become more widely examined. A recent study conducted by the British-based charity Knit for Peace claimed the activity is as relaxing as yoga, with the ability to distract from chronic pain and lower blood pressure in its 15,000 volunteers. Pair this with the newfound popularity of pastimes such as quilting and skating (the latter of which is so blissfully illustrated by Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness recent proclivity for performing amateur skating routines to the tunes of Destiny’s Child and Cher on Instagram), and hobbies could prove to be self-care’s new frontier.

Toronto-based art therapist Or Har-Gil says social media is a frequent concern for patients. “It’s so pervasive that whatever other problems people have, that’s something that’s running in the background,” she says. A 2016 study published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health cited the reduction of cortisol levels with just 20 minutes of art making and physical activity. “When you’re doing a lot with your body, it helps you connect to your body and other parts of our brain – our subconscious and our emotional side, and not just immediate racing thoughts,” she says. Har-Gil uses everything from clay to watercolour in her workshops, which she says attributes to a “free-flow” state rarely accessible today. “Your brain can be processing things in the background, which is so important for problem solving and we don’t have that in our day to day lives,” she says.

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Jessica Hotson, a creative director by day, has started weaving tapestry art in her spare time. “My career as involves a lot of time spent in front of a computer screen and I'm very grateful that I've found something that takes me away from that for a few hours a day. It feels like a reset,” she says. It’s something she discovered after searching for pieces to hang in her home on Instagram. “In front of the loom, my mind is able to process things from my day and is given time to wander. It also brings a different form of creativity into my life.”

Similarly, Iwona Aldomar originally started experimenting with pottery as a means of quelling anxieties that come along with frequently using social media, specifically Instagram. “The best thing about doing pottery is getting your hands dirty so that you can’t touch your phone while you’re doing it,” she says. “It’s a meditative experience in that you’re creating something from literal mud, which is the most satisfying thing in the world.” Aldomar’s ceramics, which she makes under the name Odd Pot, are anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables wearing quirky facial expressions.

The release is similar for writer Renée Tse, who was trained as a competitive skater in her youth, and recently returned to it as a hobby in her spare time. “It’s such a nice escape from my full-time job as a freelancer,” she says. “I guess it’s the way I was trained when I was a competitive athlete, but when I step into the rink, I leave everything at the door. It’s just me and the ice.”

At Toronto ceramics studio The Shop, owner Michelle Organ has noticed an uptick in class registration, with many students “wanting to experience something more tactile, to move away from the screen.” Others express an increasing interest in making by hand some of the crafty decor items popularized on platforms such as Pinterest (think crochet blankets and minimalist pottery), which has led Organ to feature occasional workshops for fabric dyeing, leather working and even script lettering. Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, a long-time incubator of makers and craftspeople, has also ramped up its classes to include trending crafts such as pottery and ceramic jewellery making. “In pottery we can’t seem to offer enough classes to meet the demand,” says Robyn Wilcox, the centre’s craft and design coordinator. “I’d say there’s also an aesthetic trend toward simple and imperfect that dovetails well with introductory-level classes.”

“I think people are searching for something to do with their hands, that they have something to show for at the end of the day,” Hotson says. “Building and making is something that a lot of people at this time in society don’t have the opportunity to do often.”

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