Putting things in jars is a surprisingly therapeutic activity. | Photo by William Poor / The Verge
If you’re anything like us, over the past couple of months you’ve probably finished every “must watch” TV series on Netflix, cleaned your apartment from top to bottom, and completed every video game in your backlog. We get it: social distancing can get pretty boring.
So if you’re finding yourself with a lot of time to kill, why not spend it on learning something completely new? With some basic supplies and online resources, it’s possible to learn a lot of cool and sometimes downright useful skills, like knitting, calligraphy, or even taking care of a bicycle.
We’re a tech site (obviously) so we’re not claiming to be experts in all of the hobbies we’re recommending below. But what we are good at is locating a lot of very specific and nerdy information online, so where possible we’ve tried to include links to the online resources that we’ve found to be the most helpful. If there are any hobbies you’ve recently picked up, or which you just think are super interesting, then let us know down in the comments.
I’ve been a bike commuter for years, but until recently I’ve never put too much thought into what I actually rode. I inherited a bike from an old family friend, and only thought about maintenance when its tires got punctured or its chain literally stopped turning.
Unsurprisingly, that’s not the best way to take care of your bike. So while I’ve been stuck at home, I’ve decided to start learning how to do basic bike maintenance like fixing tire punctures, cleaning and lubricating my chain, indexing my gears, and (soon) even replacing my bike’s chain entirely.
Depending on the tools you have available at home, there could be a bit of an upfront cost, but if you stick with it then you could end up saving money in the long run by not having to pay a professional mechanic to do basic work. Not to mention the time you’ll save by being able to repair your own puncture the next time you get one while out on a ride.
If you want to get started, I’ve found Park Tool’s YouTube channel to be incredibly helpful. Their videos are well-produced and pretty exhaustive, but be warned that the videos inevitably encourage you to buy and use a lot of Park Tool’s own equipment. If you do a bit more research, you should get a good idea of which items you can do without. — Jon Porter, international news writer
I learned how to knit from my stepmom’s mom more than 20 years ago. I still have a beautiful afghan on my bed that she knitted. (Hi, Suzie!) During times of stress, I find knitting soothing.
I don’t do anything difficult. No lacework, no intarsia, just a little bit of cabling when I’m feeling fancy. The idea is that I should be able to just bang out row after row while watching something else; I am most likely to knit during a Zoom meeting, for instance. So that leaves me with the basics: garter stitch, stockinette, ribbing, moss stitch. The things you can do on autopilot.
Which is probably why I’m knitting so much — it’s nice to fidget while my brain is focused on somewhere else. Zoom meetings tire me; it’s difficult to figure out when to speak without interrupting someone else, and unless there’s a clear structure or an obvious reason to speak, I mostly keep my mouth shut. (During a friend’s birthday party, her sister asked if I was on the call. I was knitting in silence. I unmuted to say hello, re-muted, then went back to knitting.)
Lately, I have been knitting a surprise for a friend’s one-year-old son. It would be cheaper — and definitely easier — for me to purchase a machine-made version of what I’m making. I am essentially paying extra money to create something that won’t be as “perfect,” but what I am really buying is relaxation.
To get started knitting — it is not difficult — you can check out this tutorial from Purl Soho, which will show you how to cast on. Then, you can start knitting. If you want, you can learn the other major stitch, the purl for which the shop is named, and just go to town. Purl Soho also has excellent free patterns if you’re looking for a project. If you want to cast a wider net, Ravelry, which has a comforting Old Internet feel, is an enormous archive of knitting projects. There are also forums if you need help.
You will need materials. You can, if you like, order these online. You could also see if there’s a local crafts store or yarn store that you can support. Good yarn is expensive; for your first project, it’s probably best to use the cheap stuff. — Liz Lopatto, deputy editor
I had a friend — hi, Caitlin! — teach me knitting last year so I’d stop playing Dead Cells while I was watching TV. (Yes, it was that strangely specific.) I love it because it’s so forgiving — if you screw up, you can unravel the yarn and start over. My biggest early challenge was actually buying needles. I had no idea just how many there are for different kinds of projects, and I didn’t want to waste lots of space and money on a new hobby or get stuck knitting flat rectangles for the rest of my life.
The best strategy for me has been working up a difficulty curve. Start with simple scarves, which use two classic single-pointed needles. (You can buy cheap bamboo multi-packs to have a few sizes on hand.) After that, get some double-pointed needles for knitting small round things like fingerless mitts and gloves. I bought a cool swappable circular needle set for larger projects under quarantine, but there’s no reason to jump on a huge kit right away.
Ravelry is incredibly helpful here. It’s basically a knitter’s clearinghouse where you can search by needle size and yarn weight to find projects you can actually make. It also keeps a good updated list of local yarn stores that are still shipping during the pandemic. If you order slightly more expensive yarn, just make sure to ask the shop to wind it for you — it’s often sold in skeins that you can’t knit from directly, and if you’re like me and forget this step, a bad DIY effort can become a nightmarish yarn tangle. — Adi Robertson, senior reporter
I’m not a talented singer by any stretch, but I’m also a bit of a diva and have no qualms about inflicting my warbling baritone on anyone unfortunate enough to be within range. In early March, when it looked like this lockdown was going to last for a while, I made the prescient decision to drop a couple bills on a Samson Expedition Express portable PA system with microphone. Since then, it’s been karaoke night in my living room every week — much to my neighbors’ chagrin, I’m sure.
After consulting with a friend who’s a wedding DJ, I settled on the Samson Expedition as my jam machine of choice. It has great sound, Bluetooth pairing, and comes in a variety of sizes, depending on how hard you want to rock. I also realized that all of the “official” portable karaoke machines on Amazon were (a) ugly as hell and (b) rather pointless. YouTube is replete with bootleg karaoke tracks, and there is really no reason to buy into some “walled garden” karaoke experience — especially when many of them require a monthly subscription for the good stuff.
It’s a pretty flexible setup: you can either run the YouTube audio through the speaker or just use the TV’s own audio (if it’s loud enough) and leave the PA system for vocals only. Paired with a cheap disco light, you can almost pretend you’re in a smoky K-town karaoke room with a plate of pickled daikon and some cold soju in front of you, while your friends wail to “Kiss From a Rose.” One day I’m sure we’ll all be back there for real. But in the meantime, a soft couch, some home-baked bread, and “Let It Go” as sung by a four-year-old in an Elsa dress will have to suffice. — Andrew J. Hawkins, senior reporter
Terrariums (and other stuff in jars)
A few weeks ago I started going for walks, collecting things, and putting them in jars. Pebbles, twigs, bits of moss, creek water, you name it. I don’t really know why — I think it had something to do with being stuck at home and wanting to sneak a little bit of the outside world back in with me. Whatever the cause, I basically backed my way into making a terrarium.
A moss terrarium is dead simple to make and maintain. There are plenty of how-to articles to get you started, but all you really need is a glass jar, a bit of moss, a substrate for the moss to grow on, and a spray bottle for moisture. You can always get fancier by adding charcoal for filtration or by leveling up to more finicky plants. But start simply, and in 30 minutes you’ll have a mossy little greenhouse adorning your desk.
In theory, the goal is to create a sealed, self-sufficient ecosystem that needs no attention. For me, though, the fun is in the attention: fussing with the aesthetics of the rocks and sticks; giving it a spritz and watching the cycle of humidity that follows; auditioning new varieties of moss that I find between sidewalk cracks. It’s a therapeutic mix of arts, crafts, and observation. My life is at a standstill right now, so it’s comforting to watch small changes unfold in a controlled environment.
Meanwhile, the things-in-containers situation on my desk has gotten steadily weirder. Right now, I’m regrowing a scallion bulb in a shot glass, watching a piece of seaweed decompose in a jam jar, and testing how long it takes for bits of driftwood to become waterlogged and sink. For science. Or something. — William Poor, science producer
I have objectively abysmal handwriting, as I’ve been told by any number of teachers throughout my years of schooling. But when it became apparent that my time indoors was going to last a while, I decided that I would try to change that by learning calligraphy.
The reason was simple: I wanted a hobby that would let me make something, and even more importantly, after spending all my work and recreation time staring at one screen or another, I really wanted something that would get me away from the differently sized glowing rectangles. Calligraphy turned out to be the perfect solution.
As I’ve learned over the past few weeks, calligraphy is very much an easy-to-start, hard-to-master sort of thing. If you’re looking to dive in, Reddit’s Calligraphy subreddit is a great place to start, or you can just do a YouTube search — there are tons of guides and resources out there.
Getting started only really requires a stack of paper and a pen (I’ve been using Pilot Parallel pens, which are easy to use and don’t require learning how the whole “dip pen into a jar of ink” system works). There’s definitely a learning curve — you’re effectively learning a whole new way of writing, so the angle and direction that you hold your pen in become much more important.
But it’s incredibly relaxing to do. The work, while repetitive (especially when drilling basic pen strokes or learning the letters for the first time), has a soothing nature, and the mix of structure (in the letter forms) and creativity (in choosing layout, colors, and personal flourishes) really helps me unwind at the end of the day. And all it takes is a pen, some paper, and some time. — Chaim Gartenberg, news editor