Tag Archives: crafts

The Sweater Curse

Background: The sweater curse is a superstition commonly held in knitting communities. My informant is a 28 year old knitter from California who has friends who have claimed they experienced this phenomenon. 

Me: I’m more of a crochet kind of girl, but I dabble in knitting. I’ve definitely heard of the sweater curse on the internet. I actually first found out about it like, right after I had the thought I should make one for my boyfriend. It was spooky! But anyway, what’s it all about?

A: Yeah, the sweater curse. Brutal stuff… Basically, the sweater curse affects girls [or boys, nonbinary people] who are knitting a sweater for their boyfriend [or partner, assume all characters can be genderswapped or gender neutral], and says that they will break up. Probably before the sweater is finished. It’s only supposed to affect unmarried couples, so it’s not that everyone who knits their partner a sweater is doomed. But yeah, knit your boyfriend a sweater too soon and you will pay the price. 

Me: Geez yeah, why do you think this happens? Because anecdotally, this is totally true. Do you believe it?

A: I mean… yeah, I think there’s something to it. It happened to a close friend of mine a few years back. she was 25 and her boyfriend was the same age, and they’d been dating for like, 8 months maybe. She started working on this sweater for him as a Christmas present, like, back in the summer. Knitters can get so involved in their projects, you know that. I think probably even more so when you’re making it for someone special, so she was knitting ferociously and was putting a lot of her time into this, like, fairly complex sweater. Anyway, they broke up sometime around thanksgiving, which is kind of a thing of its own, y’know, breaking up before you have to meet parents… Family is stressful, being close to someone is stressful, and I think that’s why the sweater curse has merit to it. So much effort and love goes into making a sweater, it can be too much for some people. I think my friend’s boyfriend found out about the sweater around the time they broke up, and I don’t know too much about how it went down, but I think he might have been a little… off put. The sweater can signify a lot of commitment…

Me: Yeah, especially if that commitment is one-sided… I feel like girls who knit are pretty dedicated people. 

A: You have to be if you tackle those big projects! If you date a guy who just isn’t reciprocating that energy, it’s probably not going to work out. You should save your sweater for someone you’ve uh, vetted better *laughter*

My thoughts: This superstition sounds silly at first, but there are a lot of reasons why a large, personal gift like a sweater can cause a reevaluation of the relationship, especially if the relationship is relatively new. I don’t think that anything handmade is a bad gift idea, but a sweater represents commitment to a degree that people are understandably uncomfortable with. The sweater itself can represent strangulation quite literally if it’s poor-fitting. It can also be very possessive, wanting to clothe someone in your work. I don’t think the intention is usually so negative, but the reception is what matters.

For more information on the sweater curse, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweater_curse

Secrets of the Lanyard

Main Piece:

Informant: I know how to start a lanyard– I was the girl everyone went to.

Collector (Me): Could you explain how to start a lanyard?

Informant: Okay. So it’s so simple you just get the two pieces of string and you lay them in like, a cross, like, so like the middles intersect, and then you more or less just do the normal lanyard pattern, like over the little cross where they intersect. And then when you pull it you’ve started the lanyard and you can just keep going. 

Collector: That’s so inspirational. 

Informant: (laughing) I was a hero at my summer camp.


My informant is one of my friends, a sophomore at USC. She went to summer camps when she was a child, and a popular craft activity there would be making box stitch lanyards out of colorful plastic strings. Usually most girls at the camp would know how to weave the strings together into a lanyard, but the difficult part was knowing how to start it. Another girl would be the one to start it. My informant, however, did know how to begin a lanyard, and as a result she was the one that other girls went to when they needed help working on lanyards at summer camp, and in the eyes of her peers, was seen as higher status.


This piece came up when my informant, another participant, and I were talking about the various activities we used to do during summer camps. We discussed jump rope games and songs, then moved onto crafts— specifically lanyards, and if anyone knew how they were started in the first place.

My thoughts: 

I liked this piece because it reminded me of my own memories of summer camp when I was a child and also struggled to start lanyards. I remember having to find someone who knew how to start them, but what struck me as I listened to my informant was that while I knew of people who could start lanyards, the instructions were always kept secret. In fact, the notion of secrets plays a significant role in children’s folklore. For children, who should be seen as their own cultural group (a repressed minority) when being studied, secrets are akin to obtaining status and power. Secrets solidify groups within the larger peer group of children, and withholding knowledge from others can elevate a child’s status in the hierarchy. This is seen through what my informant told me: by knowing how to start a lanyard, she was viewed with high esteem by the other girls at summer camp. She also mentioned the same status applied if you knew how to do a variation of the lanyard pattern, meaning that the skills of making lanyards were also valued in the peer group. 

Homemade Anti-Viral Mask


The informant (MS) is a San Franciscan in her twenties who lives in a small apartment in Bernal Heights. She made these masks for my parents and I for use during the COVID-19 pandemic. California legislators issued an order to shelter in place and leave home only for essential errands. The government has recommended the use of protective masks in order to lessen the likelihood of respiratory transmission. She taught herself to sew the masks by reverse-engineering a homemade mask given to her by a neighbor and by watching several instructional you-tube videos. She made them because “it feels more personalized and cute rather than wearing the medical store bought masks.” She told me that it was “a fun project to occupy my time.”



This is but one example of the many folkloric responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early stages of the pandemic, authorities told us that masks would not help to protect us, a statement which intended to prevent surgical mask hoarding and mask shortages for healthcare workers. The CDC now recommends the use of cloth face coverings and has instructions published on their website on how to construct cloth masks from various household items such as t-shirts, bits of extra cloth, bandanas, and elastic. The construction of these homemade masks, owing to the difficulty of obtaining factory-made surgical masks, has proliferated as a form of expressive material culture in its own right. This mask, with its floral design, improvised folds, and double-sided fabrics is an example of one of these expressive, fashionable, yet practical coronavirus masks. For my informant, who has been unemployed due to the virus, the home project of creating these masks has helped to pass the time while in quarantine. It is also a means of helping out her family and friends. The colorful design expresses an indomitable playfulness and aesthetic concern invested even in the practical, state-mandated, and utilitarian cloth mask. It seems to express hope during the pandemic, or at least a care for preserving creativity and self-expression through what one wears. These masks have had their own fashion lives in the US, changing and responding to changes of style. People have been adapting their masks to express their own identities and even political beliefs. They have become a visual symbol for life in the time of coronavirus and a platform for self-expression and stylization throughout the suppressive necessities of social distancing.

Friendship Bracelets

The informant is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is twenty years old. She is also the Jr. Helenes chair for the USC Helenes, which means she works closely with the girls at 32nd Street School and other Helenes to create a mentoring system.

The informant let me interview her about a friendship bracelet making activity that took place between the Jr. Helenes and the USC Helenes:

“Some Helenes and Jr. Helenes were at our regular meeting place, at 32nd Street School. I taught them how to make the bracelets. It’s fun to teach other people to make the bracelets and it’s just a good way to bond. I don’t know why friendship bracelets are popular but they’re symbolic and meaningful. And simply making the bracelet together is a good bonding experience…For me, it’s my way of showing someone that they’re important to me—but it’s not like everyone who’s important to me has a bracelet; it just depends who I have that tradition with. I guess I also like the idea that other people can see them and ask who it’s from. With the Jr. Helenes, it’s nice to have a sort of bonding exercise so we can become really close. That way we’re more than mentors—we’re friends. I got started with friendship bracelets when I went on a month long trip to Hawaii during high school. We were making so many new friends, it was a good way to celebrate that, I guess. I ended the trip with like 7 bracelets. I also like giving them to people because they know I care about them. I like to let them choose the colors and have them hold on to the end while I make it so that it’s a process we’re doing together, and the finished product is something that will make them think of our friendship whenever they see it. I also am kind of superstitious, and I like to have them make a wish on the bracelet, because supposedly the wish comes true when the bracelet falls off.”

I agree with most of what the informant says about friendship bracelets. They are definitely symbolic of a friendship and a way to celebrate that relationship. She also made a good point about the process of making the bracelet serving as a time of bonding. What really struck me about my informant’s experience with friendship bracelets was the superstition tied to them. This was new to me, but it really adds another element to the bracelets, making them even more of a shared experience between two people.


Friendship bracelets can be found in the movie Napoleon Dynamite (2004). In this movie, one character goes door to door selling the bracelets and later, Napoleon and his friend Pedro hand them out when Pedro is running for class president. Instead of being made from thread, these bracelets are made from plastic.

Napoleon Dynamite. Dir. Jared Hess. Perf. Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, and Jon Gries. Fox Searchlight, 2004. Film.