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10 Benefits of Making and Receiving Prayer Shawls

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.

prayer_shawl_april2015A 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:

  • It takes your mind off of your own stress as you help someone else.
  • It can heal old wounds. For example, someone who has been through cancer herself might crochet prayer shawls for chemo patients and heal their own pain with each stitch.
  • Prayer shawl crafting can be done in groups, which offer camaraderie and companionship to the maker.
  • Some people find it easier to make time for crafting when they have a purpose, such as charity crafting, which allows them to reap many health benefits.
  • It is a way to bring prayer or meditation into your daily life. Research shows that there are numerous benefits to prayer.

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?

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  • RickyandSue Neal

    Thank you for this. God has blessed me with a crochet ministry, including prayer shawls. Sometimea I wonder if it really matters. I needed this today.

  • Pamela Rosenbaum

    I started a prayer shawl ministry at my church about 9 years age - it was a time when I was going through a very emotional depression and was truly in a pit of despair!! I made 12 shawls the winter of 2006 and was led out of the darkness mostly due to trying to help others who are suffering. So many have told me about how wonderful they feel when they wrap up in their shawl! Many others at my church are now making these shawls and it is very gratifying for all of us!

  • Marge Hofknecht

    I don't remember when I first heard of prayer shawls but about four years ago I started one for a friend of mine who recently lost her husband through suicide and I wanted to do more for her than just send a sympathy card. She also lived in another state where I could not just run to her side and be there with her. Working the stitches with prayers going up to the Throne of Grace for my friend encouraged me that we have a gracious God Who is ever-caring and comforting in a way that is only His own. When I finished the shawl, I met with my pastor and his wife and together holding the shawl in our hands we prayed for my friend. I sent it off to her and included some meaningful Scripture verses to encourage her.

  • cd

    I gave a prayer shawl to a friend with terminal cancer. When she went to hospice, she took two things with her. Her bible and the prayer shawl. Before she passed, she asked her son to return it to the oncology floor at the hospital so someone else could enjoy it's comfort.

  • Leni Lambropoulos

    I was looking for a pattern for a knitted triangular prayer shawl to knit for my daughter but I couldn't find one. I decided to make up my own pattern for a rectangular shawl. When it was done I gave it to my daughter who had just had surgery. Her little girl wrapped herself in it and slept with it so it had a double benefit. I am now going to knit more as people definitely seem to get comfort from them. I am very glad I found the article on prayer shawls as I can knit and donate them which will keep me doing what I enjoy with a purposeful end.

  • Patricia

    I crocheted a prayer shawl for a young woman who has been a member of our church since she was little. Her mother died eleven years ago, and when she was going off to college at the age of only sixteen, I felt she needed a "portable hug" from us. The shawl has been just an extra connection to home for her and a wonderful experience for me. I'm thinking of making one for each one of the youth when they leave for college, as a remedy for the homesick blues.

  • Lambs Loom

    Love this article and will be sharing! About 9 years ago some friends of mine and I started making prayer shawls when we got together once a week. The next thing you know we had missionaries in Mexico (just 10 miles south of us) and another missionary friend taking them to China! God has taken this ministry and blessed us with fellowship together and He is running all over the world with it! It is so encouraging to hear stories of how HE has taken these prayer shawls and delivered Hope and Love to so many.
    Last year we formed a non-profit and have a yarn/gift shop to help fund even more things...God is good!!! <3

  • Kit

    I call the scarves that I give away "portable hugs". Sometimes if someone does not want another scarf for themselves, I ask them if they know someone who would like to get it from them, to remember them by. Often the person does. I like it that this is a "portable hug" that can be passed from person to person until it ends up where it is needed most. And perhaps later be passed on yet again. I do not have to know where it ends up, I just need to see it start on the journey.

  • Helena Tugwell

    I have knitted and gifted 4 prayer shawls and I have been brought close to tears each time when I see what such a simple gesture means to people.