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Jan. 8, 2004

Knitting for Interim

Interim at Calvin College is known for unusual course offerings. For three weeks Calvin students take just one class, a format that allows for a little more latitude than the regular semester. So it's no surprise to see a course at Calvin this January on knitting.

Diane VanderPol
Diane VanderPol

Okay, admits, course co-instructor Diane VanderPol, maybe it's a bit of a surprise. But, she says, the knitting offering, which attracted 32 students and began January 7, has more to it than meets the eye.

In fact, the official course title is "Knitting: Handcraft as a Window into Domestic Culture and Religious Practice" and the class will not only do some knitting (including making an afghan for charity), but also look at the distinctions between craft and art; the role of handcrafts in the building of community, especially among women; the connection between the practice of handcrafts and play or leisure; and the connection between the practice of handcrafts and contemplative practice.

The students will write three reflection papers and guest lecturers will be part of the program, including a woman who knits as a way of coping with a serious illness, the woman who runs a knitting program at Gilda's Club (a free support community of men, women and children with cancer and their family and friends), a man retired from the Calvin faculty who knits hats as a service project, and a woman who incorporates fiber arts into her teaching of mathematics.

VanderPol, a documents librarian at Calvin, will teach the course with professor of religion Laura Smit.

Laura Smit
Laura Smit

Both instructors say they want students to understand how this handcraft - that could easily be obsolete in an age of quick and inexpensive textiles - has seen a growing number of practitioners take up the art. They also want students to think more deeply about the connections between body and spirit that an art such as knitting can forge. And they hope students will, through the practice of knitting together as a class, learn the connections between people that a seemingly solitary exercise such as knitting can bring about.

As part of that fostering of community the class plans to spend a couple of afternoons at Raybrook Manor, knitting with seniors there and hearing their stories.

Knitting, notes VanderPol, is on the rise in the United States, especially on college campuses and even among high school students.

The Knitting Guild of America began in 1984 with 550 members and now numbers more than 10,000. Its annual convention draws every year a greater number of women in their 20s and 30s. Many local yarn shops teach knitting classes, and in August the Michigan Fiber Festival brings in both nationally known and local instructors for five days of workshops at the Allegan County Fairgrounds.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)