Elevating crocheted granny squares to couture (and captivating her TikTok followers in the process) is something of a natural instinct for Liv Huffman.
The 22-year-old Los Angeles social media influencer, who is known for her futuristic makeup videos and exotic eyebrow tutorials, took inspiration from British fashion label JW Anderson when creating a knockoff version of what's being dubbed the “Harry Styles cardigan," a relaxed color-blocked patchwork sweater with a wide collar. Her effort became a viral crochet challenge on the video-sharing app in June after Styles wore the cardigan during a rehearsal for his appearance on the "Today" show.
A longtime fan of the British pop star and the fashion brand's designer, Huffman decided to re-create the luxury sweater, which retails for $1,890, as a pandemic craft challenge despite having "mediocre crochet skills” and no experience in sewing or tailoring.
“I wanted the Harry Styles sweater but I couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I thought it was so fun that granny squares have become cool again. I decided to try and make it myself.”
While staying in her bedroom during the pandemic, Huffman, who goes by @lilbittylivie on TikTok, re-created the sweater without a pattern and documented the two-week process for her more than 840,000 followers.
“I used a cardigan that I already had that I liked and fit well," she said. "I deconstructed it and made the pieces the same size. It was a little trial and error and math and measuring, but I figured it out.” (Designer Jonathan Anderson, JW Anderson's creative director, was so humbled by the viral response that he released the pattern for free on his website as well as a step-by-step YouTube tutorial.) Where the original sweater is knitted and textured, Huffman's knockoff is a simple composition made of basic crochet squares sourced from Michaels craft store.
When she was finished, Huffman posted the video of making the sweater on TikTok where it exploded with nearly 4 million views and more than 1 million likes.
“That’s what started it all,” Huffman said. “I stumbled into a crochet crafting community. That’s where the majority of my crafty crochet followers came from.”
Taking cues from designer Stella McCartney and brands La Réunion Studio, Roksanda and Psychic Outlaw who offer crochet handbags, patchwork dresses, colorful knitted coats and custom quilt clothing, Huffman is one of a growing number of people who are sharing DIY fashions on TikTok as a way to cope with sheltering in place.
“I got into crocheting at the beginning of the pandemic,” Huffman said. “It became the perfect quarantine activity. I spend hours a day crocheting in my free time. I’m trying to learn new designs for future sweaters and patterns.”
Charlotte Casey, senior strategy of knitwear at trend-forecasting firm WGSN, said the resurgence in home-based craft taps into of-the-moment concerns like "sustainability, authenticity and longevity."
"It's about making heirloom pieces that are made to last, upcycling, re-purposing and thriftiness," Casey said. "Fashion crafting has always been about a desire to have pieces that are handmade and unique, and now with the rise of social media crafters, it's also about something more collective in spirit, that binds people together and creates a sense of connection. TikTok is a community that is all about that connection and celebrating the unique so it's not surprising that it should find a synergy on the platform.”
A little over a month ago, Huffman decided to take her crochet hobby a step further. She invited her social media followers to participate in a crowdsourced "international Harry Styles-inspired TikTok cardigan."
She rented a post office box and asked her fellow crocheters and knitters to send her a square of their choice. The squares could be any size hook, yarn, color or pattern as long as they measured 4-by-4 inches.
“It was just a random idea,” she said. “I’ve done things like this before. I made a pair of Crocs that I gave away. It’s one of my favorite things about TikTok. It can be interactive, and you can connect with a lot of people.”
A week after making the request, Huffman was shocked to find her P.O. box jam-packed and full of packages of hand-crocheted and knitted squares. "I thought I was going to have to crochet a lot of the squares myself," said Huffman, who received more than 500 squares from around the world including the Middle East, Asia and Europe.
With its outrageous color combinations — pink, blue, purple and green — and varied textures and themes including Hello Kitty, pocket pets, peace signs and hearts, Huffman’s finished cardigan is a joyful semblance of normality at odds with a very bad year.
Huffman is still receiving squares and has completed a pair of pants and a tote bag for her mini collection. She has enough squares to make another sweater, but don't expect her to produce a line of handcrafted sweaters anytime soon. “People ask me all the time to make them a cardigan, but I don’t think they realize the amount of work that goes into creating something," she said. "It’s hard work.”
She sees parallels between high-end fashion and DIY crafting but says she doesn’t have any interest in becoming a fashion designer. For her, the crochet project was a way to connect with her followers while being stuck at home.
“When it comes to crocheting, I like that I get to do it," she said. "If I made it into a brand and gave up the brand, I wouldn’t be as excited about it.”
On Nov. 20, the Victoria & Albert Museum announced that it would add the JW Anderson patchwork knit cardigan to its fashion collection. On Thursday, Jonathan Anderson asked Huffman to donate her sweater too, and she agreed. In exchange, JW Anderson will send her an original sweater as a replacement.
“It’s been incredible to be a part of this and watch it all unfold," Anderson said. "I am so grateful to all of the knitters with their craft and creativity and especially grateful to Liv for starting the trend and donating her cardigan to the V&A.”
Moving forward, Huffman is considering making another cardigan to give away to one of her followers. "Because this all happened so fast, I don’t know what I want to do with it yet," she said of her handmade sweater. "It exceeded my expectations. I’m going to cherish this sweater for the rest of my life.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.