gifts they'll want in a pandemic

Making Friendship Bracelets Kept Me Occupied (and Productive) During Lockdown

Photo: Karen Adelson

I was a late adopter to the whole quarantine craft thing. While friends were posting pictures of their sourdough loaves and hand-knit sweaters in the spring, I was still catching up on Tiger King and Selling Sunset. This was partly due to denial: I wasn’t ready to admit that things wouldn’t be going back to normal anytime soon. But also, I just didn’t feel inspired by any of the popular hobbies. Finally, late in the summer, my quarantine craft found me when I stumbled upon the brightly colored friendship bracelets on the craft brand Neon Tea Party’s Instagram.

Looking back, my newfound hobby makes sense. Since the start of summer, I was leaning in hard on the camp counselor aesthetic, living nearly full time in my aptly named Madewell Camp shorts, tie-dye T-shirts, and Birkenstocks. And since this wasn’t my first brush with friendship-bracelet-making — that was during my own camp days — I was pretty confident I could still make the basic knots.

It turns out that making friendship bracelets is a bit like riding a bicycle because the knots from my childhood were ingrained in my muscle memory. Although I knew how to make only two simple patterns (the chevron and candy stripe), the internet quickly broadened my horizons. The first helpful resource I discovered was Bracelet Book, an online community full of user-posted patterns and photos of finished bracelets. I made an account and scrolled through the photos, adding dozens of fun-looking ones to my “to-do” list on the site. As for learning how to actually make those patterns, I turned to YouTube where I watched tutorials from experienced knotters.

Once I got started, I was hooked. While my previous quarantine life was a steady diet of screens — from work computer, to “fun computer,” to Netflix — I liked that I had a manual, offline habit to keep my hands busy. After running out of room on my own wrists and ankles, I made bracelets for everyone in my quarantine pod, from my 2-year-old nephew to my mother-in-law, and then made some more for friends that I’ll hopefully be able to see in person again soon.

Making friendship bracelets is the ideal quarantine hobby: Following patterns is a bit challenging, but not so difficult that it’s frustrating, and it’s easy to get into a rhythm that’s both relaxing and stimulating. Plus, you end up with a finished product you can wear or give away, and the process is a soothing break from real-world anxiety. And in the time that you’re weaving, you can’t be Googling COVID-positivity rates or FiveThirtyEight election predictions — but you can passively listen to Below Deck on the TV. So if there’s someone you know with creative energy to burn, consider giving them a bunch of colorful embroidery floss to keep them busy. Here are some of my favorites:

The Prism floss above is an affordable line from DMC, the French textile brand known for making some of the best yarn and thread for crafters. I went on to order some floss from the main DMC line, mainly because they have hundreds of amazing colors, but I ultimately think, for my purposes at least, that the Prism floss is just as durable and easy to work with. The only difference is that DMC yarn will set you back around a dollar per skein (an eight-yard bundle of floss) while Prism costs about half of that.

You can also find lots of DMC floss on Etsy, like in this seller’s curated sets of complementary colors.

Loops & Threads, the in-house brand at Michaels, is another good choice for affordable floss. They have their own color packs, like this neon one and this set with a wide range of colors. The more bracelets I made, I realized I went through white floss pretty quickly, so I also like that they sell this budget pack of 36 white skeins.

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Making Friendship Bracelets Kept Me Occupied During Lockdown