Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I pick up my needles and I prepare to knit.  The yarn is soft, the color is soothing, the pattern is easy to work.  Knitting quietly, alone or among my friends, I let the peace, the quiet, the calm settle into my stitches.  I think about the comfort the recipient will feel as they wrap themselves in the hug I am knitting.  Maybe I'll know them, probably I won't.  It is not about the who, it is about the unconditional gift of comfort and care to someone who is probably facing hard times.  And the process of making it is a gift of peace I give to myself.  Stitch by stitch, thought by thought, row by row, a Prayer Shawl is created.

In my last Post I discussed the idea of knitting for charity, any charity, and presented two books that described a wide variety of opportunities for those in need of some comfort such as soldiers, refugees, premature babies, adults and children who have become sick or who have been traumatized in some way...even organizations that collect items for animals in shelters.  Listed in both books was a charity that is dear to me - The Prayer Shawl Ministry .  The Ministry was formed in 1998 by two Connecticut women who took a class together in women's spirituality at the Hartford Seminary's Women's Leadership Institute: Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo.  They developed the idea of knitting shawls as a way to provide a little peace and comfort to others who might be suffering a hardship--no specifics--just someone who could use some uplifting and comfort and the knowledge that they are not alone. Prayerful thoughts and blessings knit into each make it a Prayer Shawl. The desire to bring comfort and peace to others must be pretty strong because what started as a grass-roots movement with one shawl here in Connecticut has grown by leaps and bounds with groups working on them internationally by the thousands.

Prayer Shawls (as known as "Peace" or "Comfort" Shawls) are what drew my interest back to knitting after many years of exploring other crafts.  It happened when one of my colleagues was busy working on Prayer Shawls for her church.  She was not able to put the fringe on and would bring them in to work for another colleague to attach the fringe pieces she had cut and ready for attaching.  These shawls were so pretty and so soft - I would eyeball them every time she brought one in.  My life at the time was in upheaval and the thought of quietly knitting (knitters always look so content!), combined with the fact that I might be able to craft something that would bring joy and comfort to another when I was having difficulty finding it for myself was appealing.  I told my colleague that I might be interested in making one but that I hadn't knitted in years (...years).  Lo and behold and never a fool, the next day she brought me a pair of needles and a skein of beautifully colored, incredibly soft, yarn.  "Here," she said "cast on 60 stitches and knit three, purl three.  It is easy."  Uh oh, I thought, but inside I was excited.  The rest is history. I haven't stopped knitting since!

The shawls I usually knit use a simple "knit 3, purl 3" repeat over 57 stitches which creates a modified seed stitch pattern. I like the rippled effect.


This shawl is still being worked on, but here is how the pattern looks bigger.

The pattern that the group my friend knits for uses the same "knit 3, purl 3" repeat, but over 60 stitches which creates a ribbed pattern.

My sister used that pattern to make this shawl when I taught her to knit.

Most of the shawls I have seen are made with Lion Brand's Homespun Yarn which is very soft and comes in lovely colors (although I have found that it has a tendency to split which makes it a little tricky for beginners to use.)  But any yarn and any pattern can be used and most community groups will gratefully accept any shawl contributed to their Prayer Shawl collection.  There is never a shortage of those who could benefit from receiving one.

Having only seen the shawl patterns described above, I was amazed by the number of different patterns and project styles available in the books I discovered while researching for this blog.  One book that I came across that I particularly liked was compiled by the The Prayer Shawl Ministry co-founders:

by Janet Bristow & Victoria A. Cole-Galo

The authors preface their book with the story of how the Ministry came to be and the creation of the first Prayer Shawl.  The book is offered as a piece of inspiration for those interested in knitting Prayer Shawls.  As such, a number of stories from those who have created shawls, as well as some from those who have received them, are sprinkled throughout as are a number of blessings and reflective prayers for those who would like to work them into their knitting.  Helpful guidelines are provided for interested community groups as to the proper way to craft, bless, package and deliver Prayer Shawls and an appendix addresses how to start a Prayer Shawl Ministry group in your community.

The information in one of the Appendices came as a bit of a surprise for me - a Color and Symbology chart.  I can't remember seeing this in any other knitting book. This neat little chart was included to help the knitter make their own design choices based on the meaning of a color, a number, or the addition of certain shapes or symbols.  For example, by choosing to use the color Aqua, according to the chart you are sending messages of courage, balance, harmony and stability.  I have always thought of Black as a foreboding color, but according to this chart it symbolizes self-confidence, strength, mature wisdom, harmony, and absorbs negativity.  Huh!  The symbolism can be through the choice of yarn colors, or any embellishments that might be added, such as the color or number of beads or tassels used.

The Prayer Shawl Companion provides 38  patterns from the contributions of a number of different designers, including some who are well known to knitters such as Kaffe Fassett and Nicky Epstein.  All the patterns are clearly written and accompanied by good photographs of the finished piece.  Each designer introduces their pattern with a brief description of what it means to them and why they chose that particular stitch or design.  What surprised me was the variety of patterns and styles.  Most are shawls but there are also patterns for neck-warmers, baptism blankets, lap blankets, a tallis, even a wedding capelet.  What unifies the projects is the joy and comfort they are meant to bring to the recipient. 

I have several acquaintances who have undergone a mastectomy so I was particularly surprised by and drawn to a pattern in the book called the "Heart Warmer," by designer Wren Ross.  This is a shrug-type piece that wraps the shoulders and upper body of the person wearing it in a comforting knit embrace.  I didn't have the yarn used by the designer but I did have some pink Homespun so I gave it a try.  After casting on and knitting a few rows, the pattern calls for increases at the beginning and end of each row and working in a seed stitch until a certain length is reached.  A few rows of garter stitch completes the top edge.  This creates an elongated triangle.

Once the triangle is complete, the ends are folded over and tacked in place.  The addition of a button under the v-neck is a finishing touch that completes the piece.

The authors have also published a similar book for those who are interested in making prayer shawls but prefer to crochet:

by Janet Bristow & Victoria A. Cole-Galo

According to the Shawl Ministy website, the authors are currently working on collecting designs for their next book.  Their website has further shawl information and stories, clicking here will link you to their site.

The act of knitting has been found to be a great stress reliever - if you knit or crochet (or think you might like to learn) why not give a Prayer Shawl a try?  You and the recipient will both benefit!   

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Before I start I would like to qualify this entire article by including crafters of many types - while I am discussing "knitting" or "knitters" specifically, I do not mean to exclude those who crochet, sew or quilt as I have seen similar charitable efforts from them.  Much of what I claim about knitters is equaled by crafters with those areas of expertise.  I hope one day to be able to address some of their contributions as well.

When I decided to address knitting for charitable purposes I thought it would be a simple article.  It has not been simple at all - hence the great delay between my posts, for which I apologize.  I started out thinking that I would describe a few projects or charities but I kept discovering more charities, more projects, more aspects, attitudes, and craft types than I could ever hope to address adequately in one article.  I have stopped and started this posting more times than I can say.  But I realized that if I wanted to say anything  I just needed to forge here I am, forging!

Knitting for charitable purposes:  ie. knitting an item for a recipient, known or unknown, that will bring them comfort, maybe some peace, and the knowledge that someone out there cares about them and that they are not alone.

In addition to knitting items for themselves most of the knitters I know like to knit items for other people and will have at least one project designated for a charity.  Some are drawn into knitting for a particular charity because someone they know, or a community group they belong to, is already involved with it;  some are drawn by a cause that is near and dear to them for personal reasons; some just want to knit for the love of knitting and will search out a cause to knit for.  Most of the local yarn stores support a cause - they provide patterns and collect items from their patrons throughout the year which they deliver en masse.

There are so many charities that you could contribute your skills to that it would be difficult to list them all adequately. But I don't have to! 

In my research for this blog I came across two books on the subject that I found to be good compilations of charity opportunities:  Knitting for Peace by Betty Christiansen, and Knit Along with Debbie Macomber - A Charity Guide for Knitters by Debbie Macomber.  Both address a diverse cross-section of organizations with concerns for soldiers, refugees, adults and children (from preemie to 18) who are sick or have been traumatized, even organizations whose concerns are animals in shelters. The organizations in both books cover local, national and international needs and include websites and contact information for each of the organizations listed.

KNITTING FOR PEACE - Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time
 by Betty Christiansen 

Betty Christiansen has put an awful lot of research into a wide variety of charity organizations and her passion for the topic shines throughout her book which I found to be highly inspirational.  As is obvious from the title and subtitle of her book, the emphasis is on the organizations, the people that created them, and how a person can help them.  The book also includes 15 patterns that would be appropriate for some of the charities she describes.  A final section provides information and websites that enable the reader to get started by finding concerns within their own community.

by Debbie Macomber

Debbie Macomber is a beloved author who is well known in the knitting community...which has its benefits and ability to attract readers.  She is a big supporter of knitting for charity.  Ms. Macomber's book features 14 charities and 18 projects as well as a section regarding techniques and sources similar to the other books in her Knit Along series.   The patterns are well written, easy to follow, and are accompanied by good photographs of the finished piece.  It presents slightly differently than Knitting for Peace in that it reads more like a book of patterns which, by the way, would be appropriate for these charities but it is just as full of heart and inspiration.

I think that if a person were browsing the shelves, Debbie Macomber's book would initially appeal to different people than Betty Christiansen's book.  I am a fan of both books because their different approaches/appeal means they might reach a wider number of knitters thereby inspiring a greater number of people who might end up making a difference in our world.  Pretty cool.  Both authors have culled the wide world of possible opportunities cutting through the process of endless online searching to present a manageable list of causes.  This provides the knitter who might be looking for a charity with a quick and easy way to find a way to make a difference.

Unfortunately, our library doesn't currently own either title but you can call our Reference Desk at 860-673-9712 or go to our online catalogue to place a hold (click on library link on left of page). We can borrow it from another library in our consortium and have it here for you shortly.

I am no different than my fellow knitters in that I like to have a project designated for charity on my needles at any given time.  I am currently working on scarves for a friend's community group (Prince Thomas of Savoy Women's Auxiliary) who are creating scarves for the Connecticut Breast Health Initiative Race taking place this Spring.  Each year her group votes on the pattern(s) they will create.  This year they chose two patterns: a Spiral Scarf and a Scarf with Bobble Ribbon.  My friend provided me with the patterns and two skeins of their chosen yarn...but no pictures.  I started with the Spiral Scarf because it seemed interesting and was different from anything I have made in the past.  I must admit though, after a few rows I was a little concerned about whether I was producing much of anything:

Doesn't look like much does it?  After a little ways I began to recognize the "spiral" and felt better. 

Sometimes you just need a little faith.  Here is how it looks completed.

On to their second pattern, the Scarf with Bobble Ribbon. Again, without a picture I was a little confused by what I was going to produce and I must have been a little dopey as well because I wasn't understanding the "ribbon" of bobbles until I confessed to my friend my problem with interpreting the pattern.  I experienced one of those forehead hitting "duh" moments as she drew out the breast cancer ribbon that the bobbles would form once it was knit.  I have gotten this far with this second pattern so far:

Need more reasons to knit for a charity?

Did you know that knitting has been found to be a great reliever of stress?  Many knitters will tell you that knitting is like therapy - while their hands are busy in one direction, their minds are freed up to think about other things.  When I knit I think about the person or the cause that I am creating the piece for.  Sometimes I just reflect on what is going on in my own life - it is my quiet, reflective escape time.  I have heard this is true for other knitters as well.

Knitting projects for a charity can be even more therapeutic.  The action of knitting is good for the knitter and the finished piece might make a difference to a someone in need, bringing them a little comfort.

Additionally, patterns that are designated for charity projects are often more simple and easy to follow because knitters of all skill levels need to be able to follow them.  This makes them excellent starter projects for beginners - whether they knit them for charity or themselves!  Also, because they tend to be small, these projects are an excellent way to use up materials left over from other projects.  Kind of a good deal all around don't you agree? 

If you have never knit for a charity, I invite you to explore the possibilities and give it a try.  Obviously, one or both of these books would be a good start.  I have also added a Charity Links section on the left side of this page that will connect you to lists of charities compiled by other groups. To surf the web on your own is as simple as entering something such as "knitting for charity," or "charity knitting" into your preferred Internet search engine.  You could also make inquiries at your local yarn store, your religious organization if you are affiliated with one, hospitals, shelters, or nursing homes.

Very shortly (I promise!) I will publish KNITTING FOR CHARITY - PART 2 which will address the charity that got me back into knitting after a long departure: Prayer Shawls.  Check back soon!

Any comments on knitting for charity?  I would love to hear them, please feel free to click below on "Comments - Enter Yours Here"  to enter one.