This month, British diver Tom Daley captured a lot of hearts – and not only for winning gold on the men’s synchronised 10-metre platform at the Tokyo Olympics.
Instead, it was his skills with needles and yarn that almost broke the internet. On August 1, the Olympic gold medallist was spotted knitting a pink and purple creation while on the spectator stands at the women’s three-metre springboard final.
It wasn’t long before the images went viral, with many speculating on what he was creating. In the weeks that followed, he spoke about how knitting has helped him through the Olympics, showed off a hand-made case for his medal and debuting an Olympics-themed cardigan for Team GB.
Daley even has an Instagram page called @madewithlovebytomdaley, which features his knitwork, that has amassed a following of 1.4 million. It’s all shone a spotlight on the craft that was previously limited to the elderly – and local knitting communities around the world are delighted.
Jocelyn Viernes, a member of the community the Knitting Amiras of the UAE, says it’s just more proof that knitting is for everyone, irrespective of gender and age.
“It’s seeing quite the resurgence," she tells The National. "The belief that it’s only for old people is completely false. I once went to a knitting festival in Edinburgh and the age of people who knit there ranged from the late teens to those in their sixties and seventies.
“Also, while our group is predominantly women, over the course of the past few years we’ve had men join in as well. There was a gentleman in Abu Dhabi who even knitted a cover for an engagement ring when he proposed to his girlfriend. There are a lot of male knitters out there, but they’re just not very visible.”
This is probably why seeing Daley knitting was so relatable. “Tom Daley is basically all of us," says Viernes. "It’s what we all do whenever we are sitting somewhere – a doctor’s appointment, watching television, waiting for a bus. People might stare, but that’s how we relax. And we love that he’s put knitting in the forefront, to an international audience.”
The UAE’s knitting community
Knitting Amiras of the UAE started about 13 years ago in Abu Dhabi, says Hala Ezzedine, who has been part of the group since its launch. What began as a meeting between a number of people with a common interest turned into a Facebook group, and bimonthly meet-ups in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
“There were members who would travel between the emirates so they could join both the meetings,” says Ezzedine. “But after a while it got difficult to travel so there were different Friday meet-ups.”
Members spend hours together sharing yarn, patterns, tips and encouragement. They even do projects together, such as knitting a cardigan or a pair of socks.
“It’s great to meet people who have the same interest as you. They don’t judge, just give guidance, cheer you on. I’ve found that they are very kind and generous."
Viernes, who is self-taught, says there are many benefits to knitting as a group. “A lot of our members are visual learners. And even if you come across a pattern that’s confusing you, you can tell the group and they will help.
“Moreover, there are so many friendships that have been created through the group between people who have met more than a decade ago. Even though some members have left the country since, we are still in touch.”
Mel Wilson, another member of the Knitting Amiras of the UAE, says there are more knitters in the country than you might think. “People just think that it’s really hot, so why even bother knitting? But most places have air conditioning anyway, and there’s so many different things you can make.
“It just amazes me that you can take a ball of yarn and needles, and make something out of it. The process is soothing and it keeps my hands occupied.”
For those interested in taking up the hobby, she advises joining Ravelry, a site for knitters and crocheters. “Or you can go to your local yarn store or find a group – whether it’s in person or online. Instagram is great for following fellow knitters and getting inspiration, too.”
Rise in numbers during the pandemic
On his Instagram page, Daley said he started knitting at the beginning of the pandemic and has been “obsessed ever since”. And he’s not alone. Members of the Knitting Amiras of the UAE say there has been a surge in new members over the past year, as people with more free time on their hands looked for soothing indoor hobbies.
UAE resident Meghna Lobo, 25, was among them. “Like many others during the pandemic, I was told that my [work] contract was terminated and that shook me. I was confused and lost, and struggled to keep up with day-to-day things, which is why one friend suggested giving crocheting a shot.”
Despite having no experience, she started to experiment – and now considers it to be akin to meditation. “Any time I feel low or need to calm myself, I grab the yarn. I have to do it every single day, even if it’s just for five to 10 minutes. It has brought me so much peace, stability and focus, and actually had a huge impact on my personal and professional life.”
She also gets to create products that are functional and make great gifts. “The first thing I knitted was a pair of socks. I’ve made blankets, shawls, mug cosies and bookmarks. I’m currently knitting a scarf.
“My family love them, and I even have someone close to the family who has taken it up and is inspiring me. It’s breaking barriers.”