The unknown influence you’re having today (whether you’re a mom or not)

Me with my mom's needlepoint pillow
Me with my mom's needlepoint pillow
Me with my mom’s needlepoint pillow

Growing up, I never expected I would have an interest in fiber. I didn’t give it much thought. I was busy with horses and an electric typewriter where I typed for fun!

For years as a child, I saw my mom do needlepoint, weaving the colors through canvas until a picture appeared.

After I left the house, she returned to knitting and made sweaters for my toddler son, and even a sweater for our beloved golden pit bull.

After her death, I bought knitting needles and thought I would try it in her memory. Years later, I’m still knitting and have added crochet to my repetoire.

She died without knowing I would be a knitter like her. She never knew her influence on me.

We can’t always tell how we are affecting others with our actions and choices. But we do.

This is why it’s important to do our best so we help future generations enjoy life.

Whether you are a mom, want to be a mom or will never be a mom yourself, blessings to all the women this weekend. Your loving heart makes a difference–keep on shining, my friends!

Ultramen in handmade sweaters

ultramenMy mother knitted them for my niece’s Barbie dolls. She followed careful patterns to make sweaters, pants and dresses. She counted stitches. She included details of stripes and snaps, elastic waistbands and ribbing on the cuffs.

She must have used tiny knitting needles. The little loops curl around one another in rows, neat as bowling pins with equal distance between each one.

How satisfying it must have been to make the miniature outfits! A whole wardrobe could be finished in a week.

Making clothing for adults can be tedious. You never notice how big a grown man is until you try to knit a sweater for him! You notice how strange our heads are shaped once you wrestle with the angles of making a hat fit.

Dolls make perfect models. Never growing, they stand ready to pose in your latest fashion. They won’t stretch out the sleeves or wear out the elbows.

A new purpose

My niece grew up. The dolls—no longer needed—waited for a fashion show that never came in southern weather unsuited for sweaters.

Because of my interest in all things yarn, my sister asked if I wanted the Barbie clothes.

“Of course! Sounds fun!” I said.

She mailed me the clothes in an envelope the size of a thin paperback.

I admired them and put them in a box. The sweaters waited.

Meanwhile, my husband’s Ultramen protected the bookshelf from attack. They stood unyielding in molded red plastic armor.

The realization struck me. Sweaters are made to be worn, not stored in boxes.

These Ultramen need sweaters! I got them dressed immediately.

Could my mother imagine her creations would decorate Japanese plastic superheroes from the 1960s? Would she be distressed—or delighted?

After we’ve made something, we can’t control how it’s used. We can make it with joy and give it away with our best hopes. Once it’s out of our hands, it goes in its own direction.

What are you making now that will outlast you?

Her work—with its unintended purpose—continues to produce joy.

Proud Ultramen in knitted glory look out from their bookshelf across the vast bedroom. They are never cold, always cozy, cheering us up every time we see them.

Ultramen in hand knit sweaters—the silliness of it, the wonderfulness of it, life!

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.

Doing it badly

My first scarf in all its glory
My first scarf in all its glory

What would you like to try but you hesitate because you think you would do it badly?

Why do we feel if we can’t do something well, we shouldn’t do it at all?

Something happens to us between being kids and adults where our inner critic overtakes our sense of curiosity. We put looking good before having an adventure.

I’m here to say it’s worth looking foolish to do what you haven’t done before. Listen to the little thoughts.

Be a beginner. You don’t have to demand a full run at the start. Let yourself stumble.

Do a simple thing with love. That will be enough.

Little thoughts

After my mom died in 2009 from lung cancer, I wanted to honor her during her birthday month in 2010. One Saturday evening I was walking through Walmart and the thought came to me that I should learn to knit. Do you know those little thoughts—quiet, unexpected and easy to overlook—that guide you? It was one of those.

But that little thought grew in strength as I walked to the craft aisle. I chose a book called I Taught Myself Knitting that came with needles in the package. I picked out some teal yarn.

I had always said that I could never be a knitter because I imagined the arthritis in my hands would give me too much trouble. I wasn’t drawn to yarn but on that day, I dared to try it despite my expectation it would hurt.

My mom's knitting
My mom’s knitting

I felt happy as I finished my shopping. It seemed the perfect way to honor my mom by taking a month to learn the skill that brought her joy, calmness and human interaction. She was an impressive knitter, fast and able to accomplish complicated projects including a queen-size afghan with cables and ivy she made for my wedding.

The next day, we went to church. Before the service, I sat in the fellowship hall working on the new scarf project I had started the evening before.

Once the service started, my friend Pat stood up and talked about the spiritual nature of her knitting. I hadn’t known she was a knitter. She showed pieces of her work to the congregation and said the verse from Psalm 139, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

It felt like God talking to me.

Moved to learn knitting on Saturday evening, I heard about knitting as a practice to bring you closer to the divine Sunday morning. My family remarked on the incredible nature of the occurrence.

Amazed and inspired, I went home and stumbled my way along the scarf. I added stitches, dropped stiches and was altogether mystified by the process of looping the yarn into a warm length of fabric. I kept going. How?

Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; although we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand. Psalm 37:23-24

I finished my first scarf. Her birthday month was close to ending but I decided to try a prayer shawl. I prayed as I knitted.

I completed the first prayer shawl and made more: shawls, scarves, ponchos and sweaters.

After my first five months of knitting, I realized I’d been knitting the wrong way! I’d been doing twisted stitches the whole time. I laughed and kept going.

Lives looped together

My first prayer shawl done with twisted stitches
My first prayer shawl done with twisted stitches

My friends encourage me. They notice my work and appreciate my effort. Is my work good? Not really. Are my friends kind? Yes, beyond measure.

The quality doesn’t matter. It’s the process. There is purpose in trying and in doing. There is value in remembering those we love and trying to be like them.

Doing what my mom did brings me a deeper understanding of her. I forgive and appreciate her as I never did before.

This December will mark three years of working with yarn. I make simple things. I make gifts. As I make them, I pray that the wearer will be happy and at peace. I try to put a hug in the yarn as I work.

I’m messy. My pieces are often coarse and basic but it’s worth it to make the loops.

I let the loops connect to one another. One loop through the next loop, I pull them into a group. I link the circles again and again, building the piece as I go. At the end, all the stitches are joined together. Just like us. Just like people.

God bless you today as that little thought occurs to you and you find your next adventure.