Blanket of hope: students knit blanket to support refugees

Through the power of art, textile arts students at Memorial University’s Grenfell campus are helping to bring Syrian refugee families to Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

A massive blanket made of individual colourful knitted squares—created by the students—was sold to raise money for the Refugee Support Group, a local community organization working to support and sponsor refugees coming to the area.

The blanket was originally the idea of Barb Hunt, a visual arts professor at the university.

Over the past several years, Hunt has been teaching students to knit, creating small knitted squares as a practice project.

Having accumulated many squares from previous students, she said the plan was always to sew them together and make a blanket.

After voting, the class decided to donate the blanket to a Syrian refugee community group.

However, the group determined that it would be more helpful if the blanket was sold in order to help raise money to bring a Syrian refugee family to the Corner Brook area.

“I would say: if you don’t want to do anything with your square, just leave it there and I will make a blanket. That was the most useful thing I could think to do with all these little squares,” Hunt explained.

Creating the blanket was a co-operative and rewarding process, reminiscent of the “quilting bees” of Newfoundland’s past. The students, fuelled by pizza and tea provided by Hunt, gathered over two quilt-making sessions, working together and volunteering their time to create and finish the edging of the blanket.

According to Hunt, when the students were asked if they should be given extra credit for their time, they refused.

Hunt said the project helped to connect students with Newfoundland’s longstanding relationship with the practice of knitting.

The course focuses on knitting, using real wool, in order to physically embody the original, authentic experience of working with one’s hands.

“In Newfoundland, knitting is historic. It’s a cultural practice. It actually contributes to survival because women would knit the gloves and the mitts and the socks for the fishermen that would go out fishing. Women fished too, so there were fishermen, fisherwomen, fishers,” Hunt explained.

“In Newfoundland, sometimes men learned how to knit. It’s not such a gendered practice.”

According to Hunt, the students were able to physically see the results of their actions through the positive feedback they received from their community. 

The students were able to create a blanket made of wool yarn that is able to keep a person warm, and through the donation to the Refugee Support Group, help welcome a family in a new country.

“I think what it did for the students was give them the feeling of expanding their art practices into the world, and I think that’s empowering,” Hunt said. “You realize that the art projects you make have an effect on people and an effect on the world.”

Photo credit: Meagan Casalino