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Knitting a Prayer Shawl: What it is, What it Does, How to Get Started

I've been reading a lot about prayer shawls recently, and I thought I'd talk about it.

A prayer shawl ministry's website explains that prayer shawls can be used for comfort during times of loss or stress, or for celebration, or to mark an important transition: "Shawls can be used for: undergoing medical procedures; as a comfort after a loss or in times of stress; during bereavement; prayer or meditation; commitment or marriage ceremonies; birthing, nursing a baby; bridal shower or wedding gift; [or] leading ritual."  I like the sound of that.

I've seen books and patterns for prayer shawls in stores or on Ravelry, and occasionally I'd overhear someone in a yarn store mention making one, but I hadn't given them much thought until a month or so ago.

First, I read a post on The Rainey Sisters' blog about a program in their area which counsels women grieving after infant loss that needed more donations

I'm not in a place to donate money to anything right now, but thinking about losing a baby really got me.  I was blessed with an uneventful and joyous pregnancy, followed by a safe birth, and now I have a beautiful and healthy little girl.  She's the very best part of my life and I can't imagine life with her.  I can't imagine what it would be like to lose her (and I have to admit, I haven't tried very hard to think about it because it's just, well, unthinkable), and I wanted to donate a shawl to the program.  They linked to the Wrapped In Care program's free pattern (PDF), but I cast on the Sideways Shawl from Shawls, Wraps, and Ponchos.  It's not described as a prayer shawl, but I noticed the directions included thinking warm thoughts about your recipient as you worked through your rows and that was good enough for me.  I actually didn't notice that little instruction until I had already started.

Then, Lion Brand Notebook began a series about prayer shawls.  This week's post seemed especially helpful because it addressed that weird area of when you aren't religious, but still want to make a prayer shawl for someone you love.  People who don't pray are obviously still capable of sending good wishes and gifts to others who are hurting.  When my grandfather died, one of my favorite things anyone said to me was when a friend wrote simply, "I'm holding your family in my heart right now."  I thought that was a wonderful sentiment, and could be something worth repeating as you work.

And then my knitting newsletter from Leisure Arts featured their prayer shawls books.  Knit Prayer Shawls, The Prayer Shawl Ministry, and The Prayer Shawl Ministry Vol. 2 are all available in ebook form now along with 20 other titles--and that includes crochet patterns.

By the time I'd started reading the Lion Brand posts, I already knew the shawl I'd cast on was going to be much, much, much too large.  The bulky weight yarn I was using hadn't seemed too bulky, until all of the sudden it did.  So it had been sitting in a corner for a little while before I decided to try again with some Caron Simply Soft that I had on hand.

The sideways shawl is pretty simple, and I like the look of it.  I think I'll take my bulky yarn and try it out again on the Knit Triangular Prayer Shawl (Ravelry download) that has been published by several people, including Leisure Arts.  It's a free pattern and has a good rating by Ravelry users, so it's a good place to get started even if you've never made a shawl before.

If you're considering making a prayer shawl for a loved one or a charity, a few last thoughts:
-Use yarn that's easy to care for, preferably something that is safe for machine washing and drying.
-I've read that most people recommend solid colors.
-Using needles a size or two up from the recommended size will give the shawl extra drape, and hug its wearer a little more easily.
-Think good thoughts.

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