Romance of the hook

afghanHow easy it is to fall in love!

Beginnings carry their own rushing wind, as if we start every adventure at the top of a hill and coast down. Then the bike slows and we have to pedal. The thought comes, is it worth pedaling in the direction we’re going?

I started this afghan more than a month ago. Ah, the excitement of the start! I decided to do an afghan to honor my great-aunt. I gathered together my leftover yarn.

This was going to be an amazing afghan! I would use up my leftovers and have something happy.

I grouped the skeins together: purples, brown, sea foam, white, black and khaki.

Missing those bright 1960s colors, I stopped at the store. I got cherry red and orange.

What’s better than the first loop, and the chain to start the afghan? I could pick the size. Of course it should fit our queen size bed! I chained 140 loops.

Pretty Little Moss

This is going to be the greatest thing I’ve ever made! Better than the forest floor prayer shawl. With that project, I had it in mind that I wanted to look like I’d rolled on the forest floor and come up wearing the shawl. It did turn out that way. Unfortunately.

Have you ever seen a six-foot woman wearing a shawl modeled on a forest floor?

I imagined I would look earthy, warm and natural, something from picturesque glades in Northern Europe.

What I looked like in reality was more unkempt—possibly rabid—squirrel than stylish Scandinavian.

All I need is a few twigs in my hair when I wear that shawl and I could pass for a veritable wild woods woman.

Give me a black kettle and a falling down cottage and the look would be complete. So that’s how that project went. I still wear the forest floor prayer shawl. Almost as a dare to see how people respond to it.

I used green fun fur in the shawl, so it’s super soft for hugs. It even feels like a forest floor, mossy and inscrutable!

But this afghan, it’s going to be marvelous!

The need to pedal…and shop

As I started to work on it, I realized I needed more colors. I went to the store for bright yellow and a neon variegated yarn called Blacklight.

Because I’m impatient, I went with double crochet instead of single as my great-aunt did. I figured she was retired; she had the time to single crochet a bed-sized afghan. I have two jobs to work and high school football to watch so double crochet it is.

My ideal timeline for a project is two weeks. Then I’m ready to be at the top of the hill again. Even with the double crochet—and excessive tea drinking that keeps me up in the evening to work on it—this afghan is looking like it will demand three or four months. I’m in the pedaling phase.

I’m six weeks in with more than 9,000 stitches done. Only 18,000 more. But such a big number overwhelms me. Better to think of the fabulous finished project—so happy, so colorful!

This afghan, it’s going to be splendiferous!

I needed more colors for it to truly radiant the 1960s zeitgeist. I got some green and variegated blue.

My son said, “You bought six new skeins of yarn so you could make something that was going to use up your leftover yarn? Do you see a problem here?”

I don’t remember what I answered. I was too busy thinking…

This afghan, it’s going to be magnificent!

Was it grace that made this afghan?

afghanI saw this afghan while visiting my dad. It was the afghan of my childhood, thrown over the back of the couch or folded in the corner, biding its time for winter when it would be used again.

The colors jump out in vibrant combinations. A saturated holiday red with neon orange, mustard yellow and purple, tawny brown, baby pink, true black and icy white, snuggling together for a fantastic effect. The acrylic yarn—showing its origin of the 1960s—reflects a sensibility that cannot be found now.

I didn’t think anything of the afghan growing up. It had use but no particular value. It was one of thousands of items that filled our house, just one more thing in the living room, like my Atari. I didn’t question why the afghan was there or who had made it.

Then almost 30 years later, I saw it again on the back of my dad’s couch. Its outrageous colors caught my attention.

“The afghan!” I exclaimed as if running into an old friend. The 1960s cheap acrylic was tough enough to survive the decades.

long-afghanI stretched it out to look at the stitches. Now that I crochet, I know more. I interpret the language of loops and understand hours of handwork. At first glance, I thought she had made spike stitches. When I looked at the back, I saw it was smooth. I realized she had done front post stitches, raised only on the front.

I counted and made note: 10 sc, 1 FP sc, staggering the raised front post stitch by one with each row. I saw the afghan with new respect.

Large enough to drape over a queen-size bed, I wondered about its maker. I asked my dad and he thought it had been one of his aunts, maybe his Aunt Cena.

Was she at peace when she made it? Was she content to crochet along, making thousands of stitches?

Later I talked to my sister who also had a family afghan of the same vintage. She told me the yarn wasn’t from many scraps, using up leftover skeins as I had imagined but instead from fanciful skeins sold in the 60s, the variegated colors ready-made.  She named off my grandmother’s siblings. She believed our Great-Aunt Grace—a sister by marriage—made the afghans.

close-afghanI know little of my family history. I have no family afghan. But I’m bound to all those who care and have cared enough to create. Items carry our spirit if not our name.

Grace—shown through generosity—makes each afghan. Even the strongest acrylic yarn will fade and disintegrate but grace goes on forever.

Grace is always around, like a family afghan. Not always noticed or appreciated but waiting for you. Find it. Wrap it around yourself. It will warm you, shape you and bless you, if you let it.

Please touch the prayer shawls

I had the opening for my prayer shawl display at the MU Staff Arts and Crafts Showcase this week. What a fun time! If you were one of people who visited with me, thanks for coming. If you didn’t get a chance to make it, don’t worry, you’ll get a taste of the show here.

Please do touchPlease touch

I heard the same remark from more than eight people. It went something like, “I thought your sign said, ‘Please don’t touch the prayer shawls.’ But then I realized that it said to touch them!”

I wanted to invite people to touch the shawls because they are not just for the eyes. The feel of the different stitches and fibers is part of the experience of a prayer shawl. You need your hands to understand the warmth, weight and intention in the shawl.

How many ways are we geared to see what we expect, even when we’re wrong? We think the sign says “Don’t touch” even when it says “Touch!” We have habits of limitation that are worth breaking.

Please do touch the prayer shawls!

More from the show

Demonstrating the prayer shawl creation
Demonstrating the prayer shawl creation
A shawl about finding a true home and belonging
A shawl about finding a true home and belonging
A shawl about fufillment and purpose
A shawl about fufillment and purpose
A shawl about making family out of friends
A shawl about making family out of friends
The purple shawl is about how the unknown might be better than the known, the silver is about compassion
The purple shawl is about how the unknown might be better than the known, the silver is about compassion
A prayer scarf about accepting the gifts from those who have gone before us
A prayer scarf about accepting the gifts from those who have gone before us
A shawl from this Lent about sacrifice and forgiveness
A shawl from this Lent about sacrifice and forgiveness
A shawl from this Lent about comfort
A shawl from this Lent about comfort
A shawl for someone with bright blue eyes and a sparkly personality
A shawl for someone with bright blue eyes and a sparkly personality
This  prayer shawl is about happiness and joy
This prayer shawl is about happiness and joy
My friends who made the prayer shawl wooden racks for the displays
My friends who made the prayer shawl wooden racks for the displays (thank you!)

Four points of prayer shawls

If you enjoy the spiritual dimension of crafting, you might enjoy my book, Creative Women’s Devotional: 28 Reflections for Christian Knitters and Crocheters.

Gen in prayer shawl

Too often things made by hand, and especially women’s arts and crafts, are relegated to the trivial. Prayer shawls elevate something simple to a tangible gift of depth and meaning. After learning the four points of prayer shawls, you’ll understand the act and importance of making, giving and using prayer shawls.

Invitation to Art Show May 21

Come see for yourself! I invite you to see and touch my prayer shawls during the upcoming MU Staff Art Showcase May 21 from noon to 1 p.m. in Ellis Library, upstairs in room 201, University of Missouri campus. The art show runs from Tuesday, May 21 through Thursday, May 23 if you can’t make the opening. Parking for those off campus is available behind Memorial Union with metered spots (enter from University Avenue to go behind Memorial) or on the top level of Turner Avenue Garage.

When hard times threaten

Imagine you’re facing a hard time in your life.

You are looking at a difficult health situation like cancer or a tough change like a break-up or job loss. You’re not sure where the happy, healthy you is.

You might be feeling the pinch between the time you have to give and the time needed to meet all the requirements of your life. You feel the pressure to be a good parent, a patient caretaker or a reliable friend.

It might be that you wonder if you still matter. Maybe there are other more vibrant people around and you feel faded in comparison.

Comfort for hard times

What you need is an arm around your shoulder and a sense that you’re blessed in all your circumstances, good and bad, bright and dark. You need to know the loving hand of the holy holds you.

What can give you a feeling of protection and comfort? What is a tangible reminder of the spirit?

A prayer shawl made from love, yarn, time and prayers infuses the wearer with warmth in body and spirit.

Four point of prayer shawls

1. Prayer shawls heal the maker

Research shows that doing a repetitive and rhythmic action with your hands such as knitting and crochet has psychological benefits. You have less stress and experience a sense of calm while doing crafts. Combine this action with the contemplative practice of prayer and you have a powerful way to bring body, mind and spirit together.

As a maker, you focus on the moment. When you concentrate on the present, you open yourself to a fresh source of energy. Both prayer and craft combine to draw you out of your worries and into your deeper self.

2. Prayer shawls heal the receiver

As a receiver, you have a healing item to wrap around you. With a gentle weight and cozy curl around your shoulders, you can rest secure in the knowledge that someone took time to make a gift for you. All the prayers, thoughts and hopes that went into the stitches surround you. A prayer shawl around you allows you to feel safe and valued.

You can always have a hug from your friend even if she’s not there. You can put on the prayer shawl when you meditate, want to feel inspiration or need a reminder that you’re loved.

3. Prayer shawls connect the past to the present

We live in a time of rushing, selfishness and distraction. How often are you late for something? How often do you only give someone half of your attention—if even that much—because your mind is already gone to the next place you need to be? Or because you’re out of practice, you don’t pay attention to anything anymore? The act of stopping to sit and crochet while praying on each new loop brings us back to a time when the pace of life was humane. It does us good to slow down and think stitch by stitch, prayer by prayer. It builds our depth of concentration.

In moments of contemplation, we hear the song of the spirit and see ourselves as a small part in a greater whole. Someone made the yarn, someone transported the yarn, someone sold the yarn, someone made the prayers that made the shawl and someone accepted the gift of the shawl.

The texture of yarn sliding through our fingers as we loop it together reminds us that making something by hand is an ancient art, as old as humanity. We haven’t always lived in an industrial, technological age with machines embedded in our lives and devices stuck in our hands. It helps us to have the flexibility of fiber between our fingers, rather than only the flatness of screens and rectangles.

4. Prayer shawls embody the power of simplicity, prayer and caring

A shawl is a simple form of clothing. Women often used shawls so they could stay warm and nurse their babies easily. Many cultures use shawls as protection because they can be fashioned into different items as needed, as a cover from the sun during the day and then wrapped around the neck and shoulders at night. For thousands of years, shawls have protected and decorated us, from the ancient Israelites to modern-day women dressed for a summer wedding.

Prayer can also be simple. A call to the divine can be one word, said with intention.

Caring about someone else is a pure act. To want good things for another brings us out of our selfish concern and focuses our mind on community. Generosity helps everyone. Making an item and giving it away is a bigger stretch than any purchase.

Combine a simple piece of clothing with prayer and affection. Give it away. This is the prayer shawl.

Would you like more information on prayer shawls?

Shawl Ministry

Nancy Monson, Craft to Heal


I leave you with this blessing, knit in words, a prayer shawl made of letters for you.

May you feel the presence of God in
hands of the holy on your shoulders with
warmth and weight to feel steady.

In this moment, you can rest.
Your shoulders drop and you relax.

Let the arms of love wrap you
snug to know you’re valued.
You are loved.

May you be at peace in this moment,
the peace of kind hands and wise souls,
the peace of a quiet evening
next to the river where
spring peepers call and starlight gleams,
the peace of friendship offered and accepted.

Peace be with you.