With the onset of the pandemic, lockdown and most of us working from home, it’s perhaps no surprise many people looked for a new hobby.
Some of us turned to existing hobbies and interests, pursuing them with renewed zeal, while others still looked for something new to occupy the increased time indoors – and to help assuage the fears that can develop in an unoccupied mind.
One such hobby – now cooler than a polar bear eating an ice cream – is quilting.
Not only quilting, but sewing and stitching too. And a driving force behind this growing trend in the UAE is a small store tucked away in Dubai, in a Jumeirah mall, Classic Quilts.
And no one is more surprised than the family team behind the store.
“When the pandemic hit, we saw a rush of people wanting to buy sewing machines, and materials for quilting,” explains store co-founder Shanker Ramakrishnan.
Together with his wife, Mala, a self-confessed quilting expert, and daughter Aish, Shanker turned the little store into a global online empire.
Shanker believes people sought out a gentle, relaxing hobby to help assuage their pandemic fears. “Sewing, stitching and quilting all have meditative qualities. When you are engaged in these hobbies, there’s no pressure, no competitive element, and the end product is often something that offers simple comfort, pleasure or contentment,” he says.
Having gone from running a small store to suddenly operating an international specialised webstore was quite a leap, but success came from the team’s tenacity, faith in the product and growing customer base.
“We were amazed by how it took off, and continues to grow. While we initially set up the online store for our loyal customers, we quickly saw people from all over the region – and internationally – making orders.”
Sewing and quilting, it seems, was the trending hobby for many in 2020.
Such was the success of the store, that many quilting fabrics ran out – especially given the pandemic supply-chain related issues. Many of the specialist quilting fabrics are imported from the USA and Asia, for example.
Many customers bought sewing machines for the first time, taking job loss as the chance to explore a new hobby that can also reap financial rewards – like mask making. The little store’s free downloadable mask pattern was last year’s biggest download.
“We saw a lot of younger people – including many of the airline crews which were sadly laid off as a result of the pandemic – buying sewing machines and engaging in our online classes.
“As well as being a peaceful, relaxing hobby, there’s no denying sewing hobbies fit well with modern ideas of sustainability, avoiding fast fashion, repair and re-use, for example, in that sense, we are ahead of the curve,” adds the shop keeper.
Classic Quilts took to hosting sewing classes online, and in the shop as soon as was legally possible, with appropriate social distancing measures in place. Both proved a huge hit in the community, allowing people to gain and share new skills, and enjoy rare moments of social interaction in a world where human contact has become difficult.
“It seems a little strange to say the pandemic has been good for us, but it has. We’ve learnt new skills, made new friends, and seen our little business thrive.
“As a way of helping to do our bit, we started by sharing the face mask instructions. Later, we decided to offer free shipping for our customer’s orders, so that people who would normally visit the store didn’t suffer from having to pay more, and to help new hobbyists and customers get started,” says the store owner.
While the world reels from the effects of COVID-19, it’s comforting to think a small Dubai store has helped hundreds of people get through the toughest of times across the UAE, with a satisfying, meditative hobby that also creates things of beauty with enduring appeal.