Blogger and author Kathryn Vercillo is an expert in the area of using crafting to heal, having researched the topic extensively for her book Crochet Saved My Life. In this post she explores how prayer shawls help both the maker and the recipient of the handmade item. Read Kathryn’s previous blog posts on the Lion Brand Notebook here.
A knit or crochet prayer shawl is intended as a gesture of warmth and comfort for the person who receives the item. The maker prays (or sets their intention) for that person with every stitch. When the item is done, a special prayer or ritual may be done to add emotional value to the item before it is sent to charity or given to the person in need. However, it’s not just the person receiving the shawl who benefits from the act; the crafter also heals.
Benefits of Receiving a Prayer Shawl
People who receive prayer shawls often consider them to be special items that they will keep forever. A prayer shawl can be given to help someone who is going through a difficult illness, grieving the loss of a loved one or reeling from a disaster. The item provides physical comfort, actual warmth and a tangible reminder that there are others in the world that care for them.
Wrapped in the snug hug of a prayer shawl, the person can feel the love that went into those stitches. Barbara, who commented on a previous post we did about prayer shawls shared, “When I had surgery the pastor brought one to the hospital and prayed for me and wrapped it around me. It was very comforting. When I feel anxious I wrap myself in it and I feel the love that was knit into each stitch.”
Benefits of Making a Prayer Shawl
Making a prayer shawl has as many benefits as receiving one. Oftentimes when someone we care about is hurting, we desperately want to help but don’t know how. Making a prayer shawl is a way to channel that stressful energy into something positive. Other benefits people cite of making a knit or crochet prayer shawl include:
Making a prayer shawl is a great way to connect you to your own community. Linda Kennedy finds this is true as she makes baby blankets for the women at her church. (Although we call them prayer shawls, intentional crafting items can be anything at all!) She shares, “I know them and think about them often as I am working on theirs. I have heard some of the women talking about how they can’t wait to get their blanket for their baby. It makes me so happy!” Linda put special attention into a white crochet baby blanket that she made for a mother whose baby had heart problems and they weren’t sure whether or not she would make it and found that this was a way to connect to her during a difficult time. Each experience of prayerful crafting is unique and special. Speaking of another item she made for someone from church, Linda says, “When they gave it to her, she cried because she didn’t think anyone would do something like that for her. Seeing how I can touch someone’s heart is so comfort to me!”
Anja’s Squares: A Story of Making and Receiving
Katinka Steyn shared a story about the healing power of both making and receiving intentionally crafted items. It all began in December 2013 when her eldest daughter Anja had to undergo open-heart surgery after a stent lodged in her heart. She posted in her South African Facebook Group Ons Hekel (which means “we crochet”) about what was happening and “countless messages of prayers and encouragement started pouring in”. Anja made it through surgery and was discharged but continued to have chest pain. On January 22, 2014, Anja passed away in her home.
The Ons Hekel group was participating in the 2014 Moogly CAL together at this time. Katinka shares:
“Although I had already done my square for the week, I decided to do an extra one as a token of my love. Anja’s favourite colour was always purpose, so I made a simple purple granny square, crocheted a red heart to put on it and sewed them together with large white stitching. The purpose square was for her and all that she stood for, the red heart symbolized the surgery she had, and the white stitching symbolized her recuperation. On January 23 I posted a photo of this square on Ons Hekel and told the ladies who had so loving supported us that Anja had passed away.”
Katinka went on to explain that a woman in the group suggested that everyone make a square that she could put together as a blanket of consolation, which has a similar intention to a prayer shawl. She started a new Facebook group called “anja blokkies troos kombers” and posted photos of the squares that were received. Katinka continues:
“This is where it all started! The squares started arriving in the mail from all over the world – America, Ireland, Australia, Europe. Most of them came with the most heartfelt messages of sympathy and compassion. Out of this one request for squares we received enough squares to make a double bed blanket for us (Anja’s parents) as well as four smaller blankets that went to her sister Marike and Anja’s three young children who were all under the age of four when she passed.”
Anja’s square kept on coming in. The group now makes blankets for all people who have lost a loved one – with the only condition being that the deceases must not have died before January 22, 2014 (in honor of Anja). There are now more than 1500 crafters in the group and they have delivered more than 100 blankets although the request list is still growing.
Katinka says that as she crafts these blankets for others, she is very aware of who the item is for and how their loved one passed away. The person is directly in her thoughts as she crafts for them. When asked about the way that this experience of prayerful crafting has touched her life, Katinka explains:
“The impact this work has had on my life and my journey through the mourning of my daughter is indescribably. The ladies in the group are the wind beneath my wings; they keep my soul up when I can’t do it myself. And the fact that we are bringing comfort to so many people makes me sadness easier to bear. I believe some of these ladies are angels, put in my life by God to help me cope.”
How has it helped you to make or receive a knit or crochet prayer shawl?