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Crafting in NYC: The best classes to learn creative skills, from knitting to woodworking

NBC’s new show “Making It” leads creators through crafting challenges.

Crafting, including knitting, is not just for old

Crafting, including knitting, is not just for old women. Studios across New York City are offering classes on a daily basis for those who want to put their hands to work. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

You might’ve recently noticed a 20-something riding the subway with knitting needles, quietly working away at a scarf, or embroidering a colorful design inside a wooden hoop.

As one of those people, I am happy to inform you that there’s a movement among the young to put down the cellphone and make something with their own two hands.

Crafting, whether it takes the form of knitting, embroidering, jewelry-making, woodworking or something else, has usually been seen as something our grandmothers do, but it’s time to unravel that stereotype. For many, including myself, it’s fulfilling to create something beautiful and useful. Plus disconnecting from the world and focusing on a single project can be a rewarding pastime, a sentiment shared among many around the city.

We’re seeing an increased interest in crafting play out on television with the debut of NBCUniversal’s new show “Making It” (debuting July 31) with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, who lead talented creators through a series of tricky crafting challenges, and the company’s purchase of Bluprint (formerly Craftsy), a streaming service that delivers lessons from crafting experts and other professionals.

Bluprint is like YouTube in that it has a plethora of how-to videos, but it hones in on creating, making and crafting and features actual experts (some who are celebrities in their fields like stitching queen Angela Walters) when you subscribe.

NBCUniversal found that there’s a big opportunity in the market to cater to those who craft because people are increasingly looking for ways to express their creativity and add value to their lives, according to Dave Howe, the president of strategy and commercial growth at NBCUniversal.

“You realize there’s more to life than work,” he said. “Creativity and self-expression is something I think makes people whole and gives value to their leisure time. Millennials are looking for a learning experience that gets them creating something unique they can share with a loved one or friend. It’s terrific to see that happen.”

Also as humans, we have an innate need to create, according to Gretchen Fancher, the education director at Lion Brand Yarn Studio in Manhattan.

“There’s a deep thing in people — humans are makers,” she said. “I think as more of our work becomes digital, fewer people get to work and use their hands like they used to. Crafting is fulfilling the need to create something.”

Plus, New York City’s fast-paced environment seems to spur on this drive. A lot of crafts are portable, like knitting, so it fits into modern life, she said.

It’s also incredibly stress-reducing. From the beautiful, tactile materials to the feeling you get that’s like solving a puzzle, creating is a way to tune out the world for a little while, she said.

There is a significant relationship between knitting frequently and feeling calm and happy, according to a 2013 study by the British Journal of Occupational Therapy. Additionally, more frequent knitters reported higher cognitive functioning, the study states.

There is also something to be said for having a community of people with whom you share your interest about the same “weird stuff,” Fancher said.

So it’s no surprise then that there are dozens of crafting spaces across the city. Not only can you be with other like-minded individuals, you can get hands-on help.

“There’s no one to look at your work and to tell you where you went wrong,” Fancher said of YouTube tutorials. “People become frustrated and put their work down and never pick it back up again. We don’t want that to happen.”

To help, below is a listing of some of the best places to learn a new skill:

Brooklyn

Brooklyn Brainery, 190 Underhill Ave.: Whether it’s ice cream-making, soap crafting or tie dye classes, the Brooklyn Brainery is where you can stretch your creative muscle in a number of different ways. It doesn’t matter if you’re more art-inclined (there are watercolor and photography lessons), work better with your hands (from embroidery to cooking) or you want to learn a practical skill (from HTML to shorthand and fiction writing), a lot is going on here. Each month, the Brainery hosts free classes for those who need to save some money. Otherwise, classes range in price from $11 to about $100. They sell out quickly, so make sure you keep an eye on the website.

Makeville Studio, 119 Eighth St.: Calling all Ron Swanson wannabes — Makeville Studio offers woodworking classes, from boot camps that’ll get you introduced to the craft to lessons on turning, cutting board and learning how to use a table saw. The classes are weeks long and range from $385 to $495 plus the cost of materials, but once you know what you’re doing, you may not need to buy furniture ever again.

Brooklyn Craft Company, 165 Greenpoint Ave.: A craft store that doubles as a DIY workshop offers a lot of different ways to get crafting, including sewing, knitting, crochet, weaving, painting, dying, drawing, jewelry-making and more. Sometimes the shop throws craft parties. In the past, parties have included the Cat Lady Craft Night and craft camps. Ranging in price from about $45 to $95, some current classes cover activities like watercolor painting, needlepoint, macrame-making, calligraphy, embroidery and more. For those who just want to stop by for the knitting circle, it’s free, and its open sewing hours are $7.

Distill Creative, 68 Jay St., Suite 612: Stephanie Echeveste runs a creative retail store and studio, which both sells gifts, craft supplies and books and hosts craft workshops. You can learn how to do block printing, Shibori dyeing, millinery, embroidery, watercolor and weaving among other crafty things. There are also "Finish your craft" nights that are free. Workshops typically run about $45.

Manhattan

Lion Brand Yarn Studio, 34 W. 15th St.: This is the retail store and education center of the Lion Brand Yarn Company, which takes a particular interest in teaching people how to knit and crochet with more than 100 classes in those crafts plus weaving, felting, machine knitting and dyeing with many classes at $50 for two hours. With tons of yarn, knitting needles, crochet hooks and other tools, and 6,000 free patterns to pick from, there’s a lot you can do at this studio. Pick from weekly classes to drop-in classes (sweater school and drop-in help) and free special events, from charity crafting nights, a men’s night, a weaving club and fashion shows. There are also free crochet clinics on Tuesdays and free knitting clinics on Wednesdays, too.

CraftJam, 33 W. 17th St.: CraftJam promises it’s more than a craft hour but a place that gives you “top-notch know-how,” according to its website. Learn how to do watercolor brush lettering, calligraphy, glass etching, tapestry weaving and how to make an embroidered patch, a dreamcatcher, work leather, create a macramé wall hanging and on and on. Many classes allow you to BYOB, too, which is definitely a plus when crafting can get frustrating. Lessons range in price depending on the skill — some are $45 and others are as much as $250.

Queens

Cook’s Arts & Crafts Shoppe, 80-09 Myrtle Ave.: Cook’s is a family-owned shop that has been around Glendale since 1970, offering a number of crafting classes covering jewelry-making, wood burning, needlepoint, felting and more, as well as knit and crochet classes and a cake decorating course. The pricing depends upon the class, starting at about $12 and up.

Q.E.D., 27-16 23rd Ave.: As “a place to show and tell,” Q.E.D. is a one-stop shop for entertainment and learning. Known mostly for its comedy events and open mic nights, it also hosts a number of classes from swing dancing to crafting. While origami is the only crafting class on the calendar right now (it happens every first Friday of each month at 9:15 p.m. for $6), there have been beginner embroidery classes among other lessons.

Luludi Living Art, 2307 24th Ave.: For crafters who want to work with natural materials, Luludi Living Art gives you the chance to create planters, terrariums and Zen gardens using living plants. Its terrarium classes are held weekly and range in scope from “date nite,” brunch, individual and “Zen crystals” themed. Each class comes with the glass, soil, plants, mosses and small toys to work with and costs $55 and up.

Across the city

New York Public Library: Check out the library for crafting classes at no cost, from jewelry-making to Chinese calligraphy, quilting, knitting and crocheting, sewing and more.

YMCA: There is a visual arts program for adults at YMCA locations across the city, from classes on making beaded jewelry to clay sculpting, tile and slab work, glass fusing, hand building vessels, stained glassmaking and more.

Plant Nite NYC: Whether you’re in the East Village, midtown, Long Island City or somewhere in Brooklyn, Plant Nite hosts terrarium-building classes across the city many nights of the week at 7 p.m. Each class focuses on creating a unique terrarium and provides the materials. Most Plant Nites are held in bars and restaurants, which means there will be drinks to be had, as well.

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