Take me out to the art show

Thank you to my visitors at the MU Staff Arts and Crafts Show this week! Hugs to you all! ❤

1970s candy
Bowl of candy from my table: all available in the 70s!

I was thrilled to be included in the show and visit with everyone about the 1970s, crochet and candy. What a success! I don’t think I will have to bring home too many packages of Pop Rocks or Laffy Taffy.

My favorite? Each time someone smiled at the colors in one of my crochet pieces, or told me about a memory of a family member who crocheted. I heard, “My grandma used to crochet,” or “My aunt taught me to crochet.”

Enjoy a few pictures from the art show. And if you’ll be in the Columbia area, the show runs until 3 p.m. Thursday, May 22.


Lord, thank you for nurturing
our desire to create connections.
We splash our world with color!
We tell stories of work done before:
My grandmother made me a baby blanket.
My mother made me a sweater.
We realize it is hardly the craft that matters;
it’s always the people.

Stories and scarves,
photos and paintings,
are only ways to say thank you
for this time on earth,
where it can be so bright and
full of goodwill
when we make it so.
Help us make it so.

Tell me your thoughts!

What is an experience you’ve had with an art show? Or yarn?

Celebrate the 70s with me and yarn!

You’re invited!
You’re invited!

I adore the design of the 70s because I am a child of the 70s.

For most of that decade, I grew up in a fabulous house in southern California with shag carpet and an avocado-colored fridge. It had an intercom that you could press a button to talk to other rooms of the house. The 70s has a reputation for delighting in color. Inheriting the psychedelic palette of the 60s, it embraced a new sensibility of on how to work with brown, rust and mustard at the same time. In short: combine them excessively. In a poncho. With fringe. Wear that poncho proudly.

This is the 70s aesthetic…and I love it.

Relish the tasteless?

Design is continual. Everything that catches our eye today will soon enough look “of a certain time period”. Instead of resenting the old and calling it names like “dated” and “tasteless”, I relish it. I salute the colors that speak with the familiarity of childhood. Devote yourself to thinking back on the world as it was when you were young. By comparing and contrasting how things were with how things are, we can notice the passage of time. This act of noticing stops our lives from becoming a blur.

Finding the familiar is a gift you give yourself. Do you enjoy the hunt of a gas station sign, seeking out roadside antique shops for just the right one? Are you a collector of delicate porcelain figurines, as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother was? Our souls thrive on the occasional comfort of nostalgia.

For the MU Staff Arts and Crafts Show (flyer PDF), I’ll be displaying the 1970s retro crochet pieces I’ve worked on all year. I focused on the colors that come from my personal history: creative ways to say I celebrate the way the world was when I arrived.

I await the show eagerly. I look forward to having fun laughing with people about the outrageous hues and vibrant combinations. I will even be wearing a special outfit during the grand opening reception on May 20 at noon…hope to see you there!


Lord, thank you for our life in full color!
We thrive in celebrating and expressing
ourselves in how we create our clothes
and decorate our homes.
Thank you for change.
Thank you for longing.
Thank you for remembering how it was so
we can even better appreciate
how it is now.

Tell me your thoughts!

What brings you happiness to think back on?

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!

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.