Anime inspired Crochet with Tobi Opesan: How Personal Passions become Prosperous Projects

Tobi creates bespoke anime inspired crochet pieces and also tests crochet patterns. Before she facilitated our October YKWU club, we had been mutuals on Instagram for a few years. I have seen her wondrous progression as an artist and have shared community with Tobi, and I personally was excited to have her host a YKWU session!

During the session, we were provided with a heart pattern to crochet — it’s much easier than you’d think to make! Besides facilitating, Tobi also provided some of her previous works and answered questions about how to crochet as carefully and as vibrantly as she does. It was a fun and immersive experience overall, arguably one of our best sessions. You can even see it on my face right here! 

A few weeks later, I conducted a Zoom interview with Tobi. In this interview, we explore Tobi’s passion surrounding crochet and what it means for her to create in this current climate. 

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When and why did you start crocheting? And have you ever picked up knitting?

T: I started crocheting about 12 years ago: I was in boarding school in Nigeria, and there wasn’t a lot to do because we weren’t allowed any electrical gadgets or anything. So most of the time, people just read books, or played. Then suddenly everyone started crocheting. I’m not entirely sure who started it. I was like, “this looks interesting. I could get into this!” So I had one of my friends teach me. It was initially very hard for me because I learnt how to do the first row but I’d go into the second row by pulling the yarn. Using the hook took me about three months to get! It was something I had to continuously practise. Once I was able to pass that stage, everything followed naturally. It was really easy to continue. I guess I started it out of boredom, really. I crocheted on and off until 2020, when we had to quarantine. There wasn’t much to do because you had to be home, so I picked it up again, out of boredom — I was like, “Oh, I know how to do this! I should continue it,” and I could use it to make garments for myself. I wouldn’t have to buy things because I could just buy yarn and make things myself. 

In terms of knitting: I’ve picked up knitting about three different times, I kind of got the hang of it, then once I get past a few hours, I end up stopping, and then I forget how to do it! I have to watch a YouTube video every and I think to myself: “Oh, I’ve forgotten how to do this. I should pick it up again.” I am so used to crocheting, and it’s harder to switch between the two as I already have everything I need to crochet like hooks and other equipment. I don’t have as many knitting needles. I haven’t made the time to learn it from scratch and keep up with it. 

Fair enough. I think it’s like another meticulous craft that can take a while to get to grips with, especially if you don’t have the appropriate material. That makes a lot of sense.

Describe to us your experience facilitating the YKWU workshop. What was enjoyable about it? What were the detriments?

Tobi: Initially I was nervous to facilitate the workshop because it was the first workshop I had ever taught. I remember speaking to the members [of Coléchi] who were already setting up the place for the workshop, and they reassured me that they’re going to be there with me. I did not expect there to be so many people. It was really nice being able to share my passion. And because some of the Coléchi team could crochet as well, they would also help in terms of explaining different stitches. I did have a lot of fun as well, it was a wonderful experience.

Yeah, I can understand feeling very anxious at the start, especially with hosting such a big group. At the beginning of the You Can Knit with Us club, there were only a few people coming in, but by the time you facilitated it, there were more people… I can’t imagine having to teach that many people to crochet! But I’m glad you enjoyed doing so. 

So you draw your inspiration from anime, which is really interesting. So tell us more about where that comes from? What was the first item that you made? And how long did it take?

T: I started watching anime in 2016 or 2017. I was doing my A Levels. One of my friends was watching anime on the computer , and I was like, “Oh, that looks kind of interesting!”  It was one of the fight scenes. I was like, “Oh, that looks like it’s really good. I want to get into that.” So she recommended Tokyo Ghoul, which was the first anime show that I started with. So I watched it, and I thought it was absolutely incredible. I watched more. I remember that summer, I just binged lots and lots of different anime shows. I didn’t start to link anime to crochet until early last year, when I was rewatching Naruto… I can’t remember why I was rewatching it? I think because there was something [surrounding Naruto] going on, and I decided to watch it from the start. When I was rewatching it, I [noticed and] really liked the Naruto jacket. I felt like I could crochet it. This was the first anime piece I had ever crocheted. 

I remember being so excited to make it, but also scared, because I worried about it not working out, or if I finished making it and it just didn’t look right. When I started to make it, I had to remake some of the parts to make it look better. By the time it was completed, I was like, “I know what I want to do with my life. This is it.” As I was making the jacket, I was still watching Naruto at the time because it has so many episodes. The great thing about anime is when you’re watching the episodes, you can take screenshots and you can see the piece from every angle. It was also very interesting to be able to combine two things I loved so much. So even when I am working on pieces or commissions, it doesn’t really feel like work. If a customer wants a Tokyo Revengers jacket, for example, as I have never watched it, then watching it becomes part of the research!

I’ve also always wanted to get into cosplaying but I never really had the money to continuously buy different pieces, especially when buying the pieces and they’re not of quality; they tear or rip after a few wears. So by crocheting them, I’m able to make sure that they are quality, that they are going to last, and they’re going to be the perfect fit for me or for whoever I am making them for because they are custom made. That was why I decided to bring both of my passions together.

That’s really beautiful. So how do you personally think we can triumph over the reign of fast fashion and overconsumption through knitting? If it’s possible?

T: I think by knitting your own clothes or even with crochet it takes such a long time, it’s something you have to dedicate yourself to because of how slowly it works, how much time it takes whenever you do make a crocheted or a knitted piece of clothing. 

It is something that you’re making because you want to wear it — there is an intention in terms of wearing it for a long time, not just wearing it once and then discarding it. You’ve put so much time, and effort into it, and money in terms of buying yarn. Even if you use something cheap, let’s say, acrylic, for example: if you’re making a sweater, you’re still going to spend quite a bit because of how many balls of yarn you would use. You wouldn’t just make loads of knitted pieces to then discard them. On the other hand, if you buy loads of pieces from Shein or somewhere else cheap, it’s much easier to discard those pieces because you did not spend much on them. You may not have the intention to wear these pieces for a long time. In that sense, knitting or crocheting can help [with the issue of] fast fashion.

I think so too. Brilliant answer! So where do you find the time to crochet? Your Instagram is full of personal projects, but you also commission people too. Tell us more about that.

T: See, that is a very, very good question. Because I don’t know either! I’m usually always doing a lot — I actually can’t sit still, it’s kinda really funny. Usually it depends if I have periods of time to do so. For example, before I was working full time at a different job, and also studying at a jewellery School, which was about one day a week. I would usually crochet during my breaks at work. I worked from home [so] it was slightly easier. If I didn’t have a call or anything, I would just crochet a bit, also during weekends. I’m at home because of work — even after work, I’m usually still at home. I don’t go out a lot. So most of the time, I would continuously crochet the entire day. Now that I do go out for work — I work at a place that sells jewellery, materials and tools — I have to go out Monday to Friday to work so it’s harder to crochet now. On my way to work in the morning I’m usually crocheting on the train or crocheting while I’m waiting for the train. I’m crocheting during my break, after I eat lunch, I’m crocheting on the way home. When I get home, I’m crocheting. I find the little time that I do have to crochet when I’m not making jewellery for jewellery school or working, although now, I crochet much less than I did when I worked from home.

It’s good that it’s not too much of a time consuming craft. You really can just do it on public transport and it’s not too fussy, you know?

T: Yeah, no, defsnitely, it is a lot of fun! Another thing I really like about crochet is that it feels very therapeutic for me. If I’m anxious about going outside or being on a train, I have my music, and I’m crocheting. It calms me down and relieves my anxiety. I guess I don’t notice that I am crocheting; it’s more of a therapeutic action that is helping me. It doesn’t seem like I’m constantly doing it.

That sounds healthy. Do you have a crocheting community? Where do you go for inspiration or to pick up new skills? And is this available within your direct community?

T: Yeah, I have a crochet community on Instagram. I created my account sometime last early last year, I think, just before I made the Naruto jacket. When I started crocheting in 2020, I followed a few crochet artists on my personal account. One of the big crochet artists I followed — I think they had like about 20,000 followers then — were doing a pattern test for one of their cardigans. I applied. I didn’t expect to get it, but I was like, “I’m not doing much, it would be interesting to see how this goes.” She actually picked me! I remember being so excited, I was like, “This is unbelievable, what is even going on right now?!” Then I made the cardigan. I had to make it in a one week period, so I was constantly crocheting for about nine hours a day while working. It was an insane time, but it was a lot of fun.

 I think with every pattern test that I have done I’ve picked up a new skill, whether it be a new stitch, a new way to join a specific crochet garment together, or a new style of joining things together using different methods. So I guess in terms of picking up new skills, I’ve applied for pattern tests, making different pieces for other crocheters, making sure that their pattern is sellable, that there are no mistakes in them, which has also been quite fun. I am helping the community and the community is helping me back. I’ve made lots of friends by creating my own crochet account, posting on it, seeing other people’s works, helping them with their patterns as well through the pattern tests. I’ve definitely been able to get help from the community.

Amazing. Yeah, I’m very glad that you have that community because it’s very rewarding to crochet with so many people. That’s what I love the most about crocheting with others. Do you think that there is a misconception about who takes up crocheting? And what are your thoughts about it?

T: Yeah, no, I definitely think that there is a misconception. I do think that whenever people see knitting or crochet, there’s still the stigma that it’s usually only old people. Even though I do know that there has been a kind of boom in people crocheting and crochet pieces being available, especially after the quarantine period, I do still think there is that stigma. For example, sometimes when I’m crocheting on public transport, I look up and see people looking at you weirdly. I’m not sure if it is more crocheting than knitting [that has the stigma] but I do know that even when I am crocheting, people still think I am knitting, so I don’t even think there is much of a difference in that sense. [to them] They’re like, there’s yarn and there’s hooks.

I hope that more people like you can bring it to the masses because there has been a recent boom, and I like how young people have taken up the craft. I think that’s a good thing.

T: Yeah, no, definitely, there has been a boom. Whenever people think [about] crochet, the first thing that comes to mind is a blanket, sometimes sweaters, that kind of thing. But even in my crochet community and some of the practice that I’ve done, I’ve learnt so much in terms of making crochet clothes that look more like something a young person would wear, something more stylish. That has also made it more available to younger people and made them more interested too — to make their own cute top, or a cute skirt. My anime pieces, that’s also another niche example of making [crochet] more accessible and making more people interested. Using crochet to make an item from your favourite shows can get people interested.

Last question: what’s next for you? Where do you want crocheting to take you? Do you have an end goal that you’re aiming for?

T: My end goal is to make anime inspired crochet items that people can use to cosplay as the specific characters and patterns for each of the items. People who crochet can also make the items for themselves and gift it to people: a slightly cheaper way of getting gifts — patterns are usually much cheaper than buying the finished pieces. Because I’m in jewellery school as well, I plan to make anime themed jewellery. Some of them would be pieces that the characters are wearing, some of them would be pieces just inspired by certain characters. The main reason why I am doing this form of crochet and jewellery making is because I know for most people, at least, whenever they tell people they watch anime, sometimes it’s seen as something weird that they have this passion. By making these pieces, it’s reminding others that it’s okay to like what you like. You shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed. It shouldn’t have to be this big thing, and even if you don’t watch anime, the pieces still look really cool. I remember with my Tokyo Revengers jacket: when I showed people who had never watched an anime episode in their life, they were still like, “this is really sick, I would 100 percent wear this!” It can also introduce more people to anime, which is never really a bad thing. That’s the end goal. I would like for both of the businesses — the crocheting and the jewellery — to take off. It would be very nice to do something I’m passionate about and be able to live off of it so that it wouldn’t really seem like working since I’m doing something I love so much. 

You can find Tobi’s creations on her Etsy and donate to her Ko-fi.

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