Amy Clark

How to Make the Perfect Prayer Shawl

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Many times in life I have felt like there is  so little I can do when hardships arise for those I love. The gift of learning to knit though has been one of those skills that I have been able to share with others in their time of need and always seems to be appreciated, particularly during those difficult moments in life. Although I have talked often of my chemo caps I have created,  one of the gifts I especially love to give is a knitted prayer shawl.

Have you heard of a prayer shawl before? It’s a special gift that you can knit or crochet that can be wrapped around the shoulders of someone who is need of comfort. As you knit or crochet it, you pray for the recipient…thus, its beautiful name.

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Each shawl I create has a special personal touch for each recipient and I spend a lot of time crafting, knitting, and selecting a prayer to make each of these uniquely special.  My patterns have come from an amazing book called THE PRAYER SHAWL COMPANION by Janet Bristow & Victoria A. Cole-Galo, who also happen to be the founders of the Prayer Shawl Ministry. Janet was kind enough to do an interview with me to help inspire you to create a shawl for someone in need.

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How did you find your passion in knitting/crocheting prayer shawls?

I started making prayer shawls with Vicky Galo after we graduated from the Women’s Leadership Institute at the Hartford Seminary in 1997. We were challenged to use what we had learned and apply those insights to our everyday lives. We felt that making a shawl for someone through the work of our hands and the thoughts and prayers from our hearts was a loving way to reach out to others in need of comfort.

What types of yarn are your favorite to use in creating your prayer shawls?

I have no favorite yarn and use what appeals to me.

I am sure that all the shawls you have created are so special, but do you have one in particular that you are most proud of creating and who was it for?

Each shawl is special; but the ones I made to send to Newtown, CT to be given to the families of the children that were lost stay in my heart because I knew the comfort they would bring; but I also drew a lot of comfort in making them.

I love to weave in trinkets and charms that people can clutch, like crosses or pictures of their children/grandchildren on the edge of my shawl. What are some unique personal touches that can make a prayer shawl even more special that you like to use?

I always make sure to attach a charm or medal to the fringe and encourage the receiver to do the same and add their own trinkets as a source of inspiration and meditation.

Do you have a favorite prayer that you like to include or say while creating your shawls?

Many times throughout the making of a shawl and upon completion, I say the “Prayer of Blessing” I wrote:

“May God’s grace be upon this shawl, warming, comforting, enfolding, and embracing,
May this mantle be a safe haven…a sacred place of security and well being,
Sustaining and embracing in good times as well as difficult ones.
May the one who receives this shawl be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace,
and wrapped in love.”

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Like Janet, I have made many prayer shawls over the years and I wanted to share some answers to some questions that I have been asked about my prayer shawls to help you if you might be considering making one of your own. 

What is your favorite type of yarn that you use for your shawls?

I am a big fan of the Lion Brand Homespun Yarn as my yarn of choice. I like the bulkiness of the yarn and that it has a lot of texture. The yarn is thick so it helps to knit the shawls quickly and I usually knit with size 15 needles so that I knit them quicker.

I always try to ask what the recipient’s favorite color is and weave that into the packaging in some way. I love a good neutral shawl that can be worn over everything, but if their favorite colors is purple, for example, I use ribbon to tie in that bolder color to attach my charms on the edge.

What types of charms do you love?

I try to be very personal with my gifts so I like to weave in an element of faith (usually a cross) and then a personal element. The other element I love to do is a photo element because it is a great visual for someone in their time of need. The jewelry section of your craft stores or the craft section of Walmart offer a variety of charms that you can use for photo storage. It depends on the person I am knitting it for though on what I choose to do.

When my grandfather passed away, I had the sweetest picture of him and put this in a charm for my mom & grandma as a gift for the holidays. For those that are fighting a battle of some kind (a miscarriage or cancer), I like to add a photo element that encourages them to keep fighting. Pictures of grandkids or their children offer a gentle reminder of all they have to fight for.

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What types of patterns do you recommend for creating a prayer shawl?

I feel like this is really a matter of preference, but since the object is to focus on the person you are creating it for through meditation or prayer, I love simple patterns and not anything too complex. As a busy mom, this is a project you will find me toting around back and forth from piano & dance lessons, so it needs to be one that I can pick up easily and come back to or be able to knit a quick row in the car while waiting for the kid’s bus.

My go-to pattern is in THE PRAYER SHAWL COMPANION and is called Alice’s Lace Shawl. I love it because there is just a single row of stitching (very easy to remember) and then the other two rows are a knitted row and a purl row.  If you are a crocheter, THE CROCHETED PRAYER SHAWL COMPANION is a great resource & Janet recently added THE NEW PRAYER SHAWL COMPANION which I can’t wait to check out too!

You can also check Ravelry (you need to get your free membership to view the patterns)  for a variety of shawl patterns.

How long does it take to knit a prayer shawl?

To be honest, many of the shawls I knit end up being needed urgently so I try to knit them quickly, often in a matter of three marathon knitting nights. Lately, with our family schedule,  it takes me several weeks to get these done. I try to remember that the true purpose of this is to be in prayerfulness  and to provide comfort, not be the quickest at knitting. The longer I have it in my possession, the more time I have to think on that person. Provided it isn’t an urgent situation, I can usually get these done in a few weeks!

If you have a special talent for knitting or crocheting, consider donating a little of your time to creating prayer shawls for others. Many of the people I have knitted these for, I have never met, but have discovered their struggles through mutual friends or family. This gift for people I know personally or not…  it is just never forgotten. I still have some of the most heartfelt teary-eyed chats with family members or recipients of these shawls years and years after the gift is given.

In a world where we are expected to rush, rush, rush and hurried text messages sometimes replace our real & true presence, a gift like this is impactful in ways you may never realize. 

Have you ever received or created a prayer shawl? Feel free to share your experience here! I’d love to hear your stories!

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Published January 31, 2015 by:

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of MomAdvice.com. You can read all about her here.

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