As indicated in my previous post here, for Lent I'm not giving up anything essential like chocolate, biscuits, tea or, heaven forbid, cake - these, in my book, are survival rations, not optional extras to the daily round, I am afraid, - but I am taking up the idea of making crocheted prayer shawls to give away. It's been interesting. And a bit different from my other projects.
Firstly I had to curb my starry-eyed enthusiasm for the more complex patterns in the Prayer Shawl Companion book and limit my choice to a pattern that I could commit to memory easily. Otherwise there was a risk of Starting, But Not Finishing. So I had to abandon the lovely pale pink Clover Leaf Shawl designed by Robyn Chachula that I had a hankering to make and opt for something simpler. But what? Careful perusal of the book made it clear that nothing about these shawls is meant to be happenstance. The stitches are symbolic; the overall pattern they make is symbolic; the colours are symbolic; the whole project is pregnant with meaning and everything carefully chosen for the message, it is hoped, it will carry to the recipient. As a result, it took me longer than I thought to make a start because the choice at every turn had to be weighed carefully.
In the end, I chose the pattern in the book entitled "Lattice Shawl", contributed by Mary Bell. It's a simple repeating pattern of three open-work rows of "V" stitches worked on top of one another framed by denser rows of (US) double crochet stitches either side. The open form of the "V" stitch lends the pattern the appearance of a trellis or lattice-work fence such as for climbing roses, scented jasmine or clematis with their big, plate-like flowers. I am going to be sending this shawl to a friend awaiting surgery, whom I can't be with in person, so the suggestion of support in the background provided by the trellis pattern seemed appropriate.
So far, so good. Now for the question of the choice of yarn. I'd already decided to explore the potentials of variegated yarns for these shawls on the grounds that they would provide variation of colour without my needing to cart round umpteen different balls of yarn - if I didn't make the production process as portable and user-friendly as possible, I was concerned it might get bogged down. I bought a handful of sample variegated yarns from my LYS and for this shawl I used "Passion" yarn by James Brett in the colour-way P2. It's a variegated chunky acrylic / wool mix. The colour "P2" doesn't sound very attractive does it? But despite its prosaic name, it's beautiful. The colours, ranging from blue and violet to peach and orange mixed with green, pink and some neutral earth-tones, are soft and gentle and it's deliciously light and silky.
The colours remind me of a garden at the beginning or end of the day. There is quite a bit of green - the green of new shoots, bright and alive in early sunlight. There are accents of mauve, pink and tangerine - blossom in the dew or at dusk. There is a streak of deep, vivid blue - the sky just after sunrise or before sunset. There is some soft grey, charcoal and a touch of taupe - velvet shadows beneath a spreading tree or shrub at twilight - translucent and gentle. These impressions were not all self-evident when I picked the yarn off the shelf - I just liked its soft rainbow palette - and what has been interesting during the making of the shawl is the way that the images developed and with that, related wishes and prayers for the recipient.
I hope it will speak to her of hope and newness, of the reassuring cycle of life that is a constant in a society of so much change and uncertainty, of the basic beauty and goodness of the creation and its Creator, of the subtle complexity and mystery that are woven into the fabric of life and the warmth of relationships that sustain and support. I hope it will speak of the promise that each new day brings and echo the peace that should bid farewell to each one that passes . And even if it doesn't quite say all this, I hope it will be warm and comforting on days that need a bit of warmth and comfort.
The pattern was simple to remember and, hooked up on a 6 mm hook, it took shape nice and quickly. So no risk of failure to finish! On the contrary, it is now ready to be packed up for its journey across the Atlantic.
The book suggests that the making of these shawls should be done in set aside spaces of Quiet Time, preferably lit by a candle or two, but this wasn't entirely realistic for my rag-bag life which is a constant jumble of work, domesticity and often, sleepless nights when I wake up in the small hours worrying about stuff and so I used whatever time was available, even if some of the spaces were odd minutes here and there to supplement longer set-piece hooky times and I hope that it's not lacking in authenticity thereby. And there is, in a way I think, something good about a project that has accompanied the maker in the to-ings and fro-ings of her life - a different kind of authenticity perhaps from the authenticity of only setting aside exclusive periods of prayerful quiet in which to set about construction, but an authenticity nonetheless.
As the garden images grew in my mind while making this, and as I thought about the lattice pattern, I was reminded of the passage in the Song of Solomon where the young girl spies her lover, peering through the lattice window, eager for her to join him in the garden with all the hope and promise that it contains in the newly-burgeoning Spring.
It epitomises so much what the colours and pattern had made me think of. And as the making of this shawl happens to coincide with what is hopefully the ending of the winter and Spring beginning to arrive, I've called this a "Song of Solomon Shawl". And the writer of the Song of Solomon, (whether Solomon himself or not), puts it much better than I ever can:
"See the winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance." Song of Solomon 2:11-13
Hopefully the winter is almost now past and the rains of which there have been so many are indeed over and even if not, I hope that metaphorically my shawl will be a harbinger of Spring in all sorts of ways for my friend across the ocean.
While the Song of Solomon is, on one level, just a love poem, it also expresses very powerfully and profoundly the divine joy in creation and human relationship and the Christian mystic tradition has not been afraid to embrace God as divine lover as opposed to unbending judge. Read 16th C St John of the Cross's poem, "The Dark Night of the Soul" or Medieval Hildegard of Bingen's poetry if you want to see what I mean.
Makes us 21st C types, full of rational sophistication, seem a bit desiccated by comparison sometimes.
I am now on my second shawl for someone I know through work. Different yarn, different pattern but equally revelatory creative experience. Watch this space!
When the idea of making prayer shawls for Lent first took shape in my mind, I worried that appropriate recipients would not be that easy to identify but I needn't have worried, it's been very clear and the only problem will be keeping the production pace up. Thank God for sleepless nights! They may not always be a joy but they have their uses!
Anyone else tempted to have a go at making a shawl to give away? If you are and you'd like to post about it, let me know and I'll put a link to you in my next Lent prayer shawl update.