Women’s and Gender Studies students continue long-held traditions in Fiber Arts and Culture class

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Women’s and Gender Studies students continue long-held traditions in Fiber Arts and Culture class

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For the past several years, Mercer has offered a unique course that is unknown to many. Hidden within the Women’s and Gender Studies department, the fiber arts and culture class allows students to understand the history and importance of the art form. 

Created over ten years ago by Mary Anne Drake, the fiber arts and culture course sought to teach students about the history behind fiber arts while also helping them see the significance of what they were learning. The course is led by biology professors and teaches practical skills of weaving, knitting and crocheting. Students also discuss the origin of these skills and how women in the past built their lives around them. 

Students in the course learn how to weave, knit and crochet. They also experiment with dyes and learn about different fibers and their ability to take in colors. 

Senior Emma Johnston took the fiber arts course in the fall of 2018. 

“The course revolves around the history and impact of fiber arts and culture, which has existed both as a household necessity and an artform from the beginning of time,” Johnston said.

Johnston said she enjoyed the class and loved that the course was dedicated to feminine history. 

“This is such a unique opportunity that Mercer offers,” Johnston said. “You will learn so much and build really strong relationships with others in the class as you all learn together.”

The class has been taught on a rotating schedule by biology professors Linda Hensel and Virginia Young. This year, Young is leading a class of eight students in Godsey Science Center. 

“Rather than just talking about the fiber arts and just teaching students how to knit and crochet, we are able to do more things like dyeing yarn … it is nice to be able to take advantage of some lab space to be able to get our hands dirty,” Young said. 

Having a biology professor teach the course allows students to not only understand the mechanics of how to knit, crochet and dye, but also shows students how to look at fiber arts on a more microscopic level.

Young said that everyone’s favorite part of the course this year has been playing with the dyes. It is an exercise that allows the students to be really creative with their projects.  

“Everybody loves color. It’s always a popular activity to play with the color and think about how the fibers take color differently,” said Young. 

Fiber arts have been a large part of women’s history, but have been largely overlooked and misunderstood. Young seeks to help students understand the significance and impact of it.

Over the course of the semester, students read texts on the history of the fiber arts and completed projects such as dyeing yarn and creating looms. 

“The biggest emphasis is thinking about women’s work, how it’s been valued or not valued throughout time … This is not a valued type of art. And that’s because it’s largely women’s work,” Young said. 

The fiber arts and culture course has been imperative in teaching students at Mercer something that has never really been understood before.

“Students are going around campus knitting and crocheting all the time, and they have conversations with people,” Young said. “And they’re like ‘why are you doing that, isn’t that for old women? Isn’t that a granny activity?’” 

Students in the course have a unique opportunity to learn new things and erase the misconceptions surrounding fiber arts. For thousands of years women have been perfecting this craft through several types of mediums, and even in an age where you can buy clothes online, these students are able to continue that tradition.

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