Jonah Larson is an ordinary seventh-grader. Just one who loves to crochet.
In fact, he’s a wizard with yarn and hook, masterfully and speedily whipping out beanie hats, dish towels and doilies, even designing an afghan pattern that landed in the pages of Crochet World magazine.
For the 11-year-old boy from La Crosse, Wis., crochet isn’t a hobby, it’s a life-changer: The craft first helped Jonah, who has attention-deficit disorder, to focus. Then it brought him viral fame.
During the past year, he’s taught talk show host Kelly Clarkson to crochet, made a bracelet for actress Drew Barrymore, thrown out the first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game and published his first book (co-authored with his mom, Jennifer).
As Jonah sees it, he’s doing more than playing with yarn.
“I really love to spread my messages of inclusivity, including everyone, and just bringing the world together in a positive manner that’s helping kids find a way to focus and kind of have their outlet to do something productive,” he said.
Jonah will be in Minneapolis this weekend to read from his book, a photo-heavy memoir called “Hello, Crochet Friends! Making Art, Being Mindful, Giving Back: Do What Makes You Happy.” He’ll also lead friendship bracelet workshops from noon to 3 p.m. at the Textile Center on Saturday and at 1 p.m. at Wild Rumpus bookstore on Sunday.
Jonah was 5 when he happened to find a crochet hook in a bag of craft supplies that his aunt left at his house. He brought it to his mom and asked what it was.
“It was quite the fluke,” he said. “She told me it was a crochet hook, and then went on YouTube and found me a tutorial for a dishcloth.”
An hour and a “perfect dishcloth” later, he was hooked.
“I just fell in love with crocheting right at that first stitch, because I loved the repetitive motion,” he said. “The other part that I loved was seeing my finished dishcloth.”
Finding a focus
While his skills with setting a gauge and tension, chaining and double crocheting were improving, Jonah was having trouble in school. Though he was clearly smart, he started acting up in the classroom, even making his teacher cry.
That changed when his fifth-grade teacher suggested he bring his crocheting to school and work on it whenever he was having trouble staying focused or was feeling disruptive.
Despite his older brother’s fears that kids would make fun of a boy crocheting, it worked.
After that, Jonah barely put down his crochet hook. He started entering — and winning prizes — at the county fair. Eventually, he started his own business, called Jonah’s Hands, with an Instagram account run by his mom.
Initially, he sold things he made. But as his media profile grew (he was called a “crochet prodigy” by the La Crosse Tribune) requests for interviews and appearances poured in from around the country. Suddenly, thousands of people wanted to buy his handicrafts.
“Some people [who had put in orders] were angry, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ He’s got two little hands. It takes a long time, each stitch,” said Jennifer. “He’s not a machine.”
A good yarn
Jennifer helped her son reframe his business. Now, he doesn’t sell his work directly. Instead, he designs patterns and creates tutorials for places like Yarnspirations.com. He also sells merchandise with his favorite crochet catchphrases. That leaves Jonah time to do his school work and spend time with his family, all of whom help with his business.
His little sister, Mercy, helps him wind his yarn from an unwieldy skein into a tidy ball, his older brother, Leif, helps him create YouTube videos, his mom helps him run his business and his dad, Christopher, regularly drives him to the yarn store. Oh, and Dad also models hats that Jonah designed.
While he’s smitten with crocheting, he also sees it as a means to an end: He hopes to be a surgeon someday and considers crocheting a way to build his dexterity.
With the proceeds from his business, he’s saving some, investing some, spending some — and giving a lot, his mom said.
Jonah, who was adopted from Ethiopia when he was 6 months old, is raising money for the village where he was born by auctioning off his creations.
“He’s actually raised enough money where he’s building a library,” said Jennifer. “He’s really doing a lot of great work.”