(Posted October 6, 2008)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Most folks would assume college kids don't have a moment to spare, what with classes, homework, study time and other commitments, but a group of students at Juniata College have found time to spin yarn(s), needle each other and create clothing where none existed before. That's right, they're knitting.

Every Monday at 6 p.m., 10 to 20 Juniata students, all members of the Juniata Knitting Club, drop by the home of Prudence Ingerman, senior instructor in the Intensive English Program and adviser for the group, to knit, to talk, to relax, and to create knitwear ranging from simple hats and scarves to shawls, shopping bags and blankets.

"It's definitely relaxing and a great stress reliever. Students are pretty busy but you can knit while you're doing other things, like watching movies or talking with friends."

Shannon Smith, Wexford, Pa., president of the Knitting Club

In addition to creating handmade clothing for themselves or family members, the club also takes on two service projects a year. This semester, club members are knitting 10 to 15 hats and scarves for Huntingdon House, a counseling center and shelter for women and families. The members will deliver the knitwear to the agency in November.

Last spring, the club donated 10 caps and scarves to The Red Scarf Project, an initiative founded by the Orphan Foundation of America that gives handmade red scarves to college-bound orphans and foster youth. The group gave away 15,000 scarves last year.

"It's definitely relaxing and a great stress reliever," says Shannon Smith, a junior from Wexford, Pa. and president of the knitting club. "Students are pretty busy but you can knit while you're doing other things, like watching movies or talking with friends."

The image of knitting in general has morphed from a grandmother crocheting an afghan in retirement to groups of women (and more and more men) forming clubs, meetings and parties to turn yarn into craft projects. Several years ago lifestyle magazines touted that knitting was all the rage with celebrities and other opinionmakers. Unlike other fads, knitting did not fade away and has woven itself into the lives of a new generation.

Ingerman says the club was created informally in 1998, when the longtime knitter decided to send an e-mail to students "on a whim." "I sent the e-mail asking if anyone was interested in forming a knitting club -- at 3 p.m. toward the end of April, right around commencement, which is a busy time for students," Ingerman says. "In an hour I had 32 responses."

Three years ago, the club was granted official status as a student organization, which means "we get some funding that allows us to plan a few shopping trips to Walmart, Pine Grove Mills and Hollidaysburg to buy yarn," says Ingerman.

The club has about 20 to 30 regular members. "It's definitely popular," Smith says. "We had 60 students sign up this year and 50 the year before. Some join just to learn how to knit and others like the meetings. People stay as long as they can -- 20 minutes or two hours."

Smith says the interest in knitting is primarily coming from women, although the club has had two or three men in its ranks every year in recent years. "It's a group of people that you wouldn't normally meet, because there are students from many different (majors), although there does seem to be a lot of science students," Smith says.

Ingerman, in addition to her role as adviser, also teaches knitting to any member who wants to learn. Knitting needles range from $1 to top-of-the-line models that are $15, and yarn is available at the club or students can buy their own.

Smith and Ingerman agree that knitting, no matter what the project or the skill level of the knitter, provides a respite for students from often-hectic schedules and, not coincidentally, gives the adviser a new vantage point for her view of the college.

"I teach all international students, so for me (the club) gives me a chance to hear what is happening around the college," she says with a smile.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.