Thursday, 21 March 2013

Cherry Blossom Shawl

The last of my Lent Prayer Shawls is finished and will shortly be on its way.

Like my other Lent Prayer Shawls, it's made with a variegated yarn. This is James Brett Marble Chunky in pink, or rather in colourway, MC30, if you want its official, rather prosaic, name! It's not as variegated as the other yarns I've been using but there is still a clear shading of deep magenta rose to lighter, softer blossom pink. And these nuanced petal shades are what have given the shawl its own particular character.  They reminded me overwhelmingly of clouds of soft, pink cherry blossom and so the shawl became a Cherry Blossom Shawl. I wanted to reflect that in the pattern and so I chose the "Sisters Shawl" pattern from The Crocheted Prayer Shawl Companion where the groupings of single, half double and double crochet stitches make a kind of star-shaped flower pattern in the crochet fabric. 

It's simpler than the Catherine Wheelers and lighter too, which was good because I wanted the shawl to have a lightness about it, like the gossamer blossom it evoked.

I grew up in one of the leafy suburbs of North-West London in a house that was called "Cherry Trees" and when my parents bought the house in February 1971 there were no less than four glorious cherry trees in the front garden. They flowered late, not before the end of April or even early May often, but when they did, the flowers came in great clouds of the palest pink blossom; innumerable, soft, cushiony bunches of flowers; and as a small girl I loved gently to bury my face in them. The trees were quite short ones and by standing on tip-toe on the front step of the porch, I could reach the lower branches fairly easily. Unscented and fragile, yet overwhelmingly beautiful both to the eye and the touch, they were iconic markers of the passing seasons and although, depending on the weather, the blossom might not be there for long, full to the brim with blossom is how I remember the trees, rather than in their more prolonged, leafy, but flowerless, state.

Sadly those four trees are long gone and, for some unknown reason, my parents have never replaced them. Parents often have odd kicks to their gallops, much to the puzzlement of their children! I say that, perfectly sure that H thinks that about me sometimes! But whenever I go home to my parents' house, whether it's May, November or anywhere in between, the cherry blossom floods my memory and my mind's eye and it always will, even though all that remains of the original trees is their stumps, now festooned with rather a lot of ivy.

In Japan, the home of flowering cherry trees par excellence, going to see the cherry blossom is a major event and not purely a superficial or aesthetic one. The activity even has a special name - it's called "hanami". And the word for cherry blossom - "sakura" - does not just stand for the flowers themselves but the reflections of transience and fragility that the flowers evoke. Japanese poets have written haikus and other poetry about them for centuries and they have become icons. Desirable, sublime, exquisitely beautiful yet also fleeting, ephemeral and elusive, like Life itself and the Japanese custom of going to view the cherry blossom each Spring is also an act of Reflection On Life.

There is something both poignant and exquisite about that reflection. We are not here forever, despite the subtle undertow of much in modern society that either tries to avoid recognising our mortality, or deliberately represses it. I have a feeling that this has become the last taboo of the 21st C - one of the things one may not say or talk about much, if at all. Facing the truth however, need not and should not, I think, prevent us from living the time we've got as fully and as delightedly as we can. In fact, I think, the effect of facing it, enhances life rather than the opposite. Although the realisation is tinged with wistfulness, if anything, for me, it sharpens my focus and my depth of vision on what life's about and all it has to offer and be in the present moment.

There's a lovely extract from an interview by Melvyn Bragg with Dennis Potter shortly before he died in 1994 which makes this point exactly. The playwright talks about all sorts of stuff but knowing he has only a few months left to live, inevitably he gets on to living and dying.

"We're the one animal that knows that we're going to die and yet we carry on paying our mortgages, doing our jobs, moving about, behaving as though there's eternity in a sense and we tend to forget that life can only be defined in the present tense.

It is "is"; and it is now only. As much as we would like to call back yesterday and indeed yearn to and ache to sometimes, we can't. It's in us, but we can't actually; it's not there in front of us. And however predictable tomorrow is - unfortunately for most people, most of the time, it's too predictable, they're locked into whatever situation they're locked into ... Even so, no matter how predictable it is, there's the element of the unpredictable of the you don't know. The only thing you know for sure is the present tense, and that nowness becomes so vivid to me now, that in a perverse sort of way, I'm almost serene; I can celebrate life. 

Below my window in Ross, when I'm working in Ross, for example, there at this season, the blossom is out in full, there in the west early. It's a plum tree. It looks like apple blossom, but it's white. And looking at it, instead of saying, "Oh, that's nice blossom, last week looking at it through the window when I'm writing, I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomiest blossom that there ever could be and I can see it.

Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn't seem to matter - but the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous."

You can read a full transcript of the interview, if you're interested, here.

Lots of things in life can remind us unexpectedly of our mortality. One doesn't want to dwell on that aspect of them unnecessarily or morbidly but if they make us see the world and ourselves more intensely and vividly, they are strangely precious gifts that may make our lives more alive than ever before.

I wanted to photograph my Cherry Blossom Shawl against one of the flowering cherry trees in my current garden but the appalling Siberian weather the UK has been suffering - three sudden inches of snow here on Sunday last - means that I would have had to wait until Lent was long gone, for any blossom to be out and I wanted to send my shawl off to its recipient. So when looking to nature fell short, I looked to art to fill the void and made my own crocheted cherry blossom.

Using the long tails left over from crocheting them, I tied them to a bunch of hazel twigs brought in from the cold that are now happily surrendering their furry catkins for bright new leaves in the warmth of the house.

A passable imitation for the real thing, at least until the real thing flowers outside!

I searched the Internet for suitable cherry blossom patterns, having drawn a blank in my little (but slowly-growing!) library of crochet books. The pattern I chose is perfect for the effect I was after, although I have to say, it was a tad fiddly to do. It's by Meli Bondre and you can find it here. It makes gloriously puffy, frothy flowers, just like the ones I remember from my childhood home.

And because this shawl had become a Cherry Blossom Shawl in colour and pattern, I couldn't resist adding a few blossoms to one corner of the shawl.

Have I gilded the lily, or rather, the cherry? Possibly I have, but I couldn't resist!

These less puffy blossoms are from the pattern by King Soleil here which makes nice neat flowers that lie flat against the shawl fabric.

If the recipient finds them too much of a good thing, she can always snip them off! But I hope that regardless of this she will enjoy the idea of snuggling herself in a nest of soft pink cherry blossom and that whatever avenue her reflections take her in, this shawl will bring her as much vivid delight as I have had in making it.

I have to confess that I am slightly sad that Lent is drawing to a close. It has been such a creative time and I can only hope that what I have made for others gives them even half as much as making has given me. It's been an extraordinary adventure and one which I relinquish somewhat reluctantly. But all good things come to an end and there are WsIP a-plenty a-calling me, not least my Sea-Ripple, some projects left over from the first half of last year (ahem!) and one or two newer ones as well as some anticipatory summer sewing! So onwards and upwards!

 But secretly, and just between you and me, I am already looking forward to next Lent!

E x


  1. I had to take a second glance at your lovely cherry blossom as I thought yours had actually flowered. What a wonderful idea and so cheery. I love the colour of your shawl, so beautiful! We are preparing for Holy Week at work, very busy time, busier than Christmas I feel and with the enthronement today, busier than normal! Take care. Chel

  2. Love, love, love your cherry blossom, so realistic and the branch looks gorgeous! I have used that yarn before but not that colour way, it looks lovely worked up. Thanks for posting the Dennis Potter extract, it is so true, we should live as much in the present as we can, who knows what is around the corner! Rowen@Coastal Colours x

  3. All your shawls have been pretty but this is by far my favorite! I love it. The recipient should love it and I hope feel quite comforted whenever they use it. Which I imagine will be quite often since it is just so gorgeous.

  4. The shawl is so lovely! but the flower arrangement really caught my eye. So beautiful!!!

  5. Dear E
    Yours shawls have been so beautiful. Lucky recipients - I am sure they will all love and cherish them. Your cherry blossom is perfect and will last a good deal longer than the real flowers. Dennis Potter was so right and we are all guilty of not living in the present - there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, only today. Sometimes it would be good to remember that and to appreciate where we are right now.
    Congratulations on some wonderful projects and thoughtful writing, as always.
    Best wishes

  6. wow love this shawl and it's definately my favourite so I am going to get some of the wool and make myself one they are so lovely . You have been very busyxx

  7. What a beautiful shawl you created. I was blown away to realize you had made the cherry blossoms yourself. They look exactly as they should on the branches.

    And you did not gild the lily by adding some blossoms to the shawl. Thanks you for all your links! I am saving them in my bookmarks.

    Sakura was a beautiful explanation. Thank you, sweet E.

  8. What lovely soft pinky shades.
    I thought that blossom was real until I read further on!
    Beautiful E, really beautiful

  9. This has made a lovely lent project. I love all the shawls you have made. I'm sure that they will be received with love. Inspired by you, I have chosen the shawl I want to knit. Now I need to source the right wool.Your cherry blossoms are completely beautiful. Looking forward to seeing the real blossoms in our garden, too.

  10. What a lovely post; very though provoking. My parents also cut down a most beautiful blossoming tree that I remember so well from my childhood. My father has passed and my mother moved back to Norway, but I drive by the home often and always think about that tree when I see the stump. Thank you for evoking the fond memories.

    The shawl is nothing short of gorgeous. It will make someone very happy.

    I love, love, love your crocheted blossoms. I have a whole bag of crocheted blossoms that need a project. They were once on branches from our yard as well, but the branches dried up and broke. I call them apple blossoms after my blog; however, they could very well be cherry blossoms. ;-).

    I look forward to your future posts and projects, although I will make every effort to enjoy this post in the "now". :-)

    Good weekend to you!

  11. Such an excellent post! Not many blogs give you crochet and mortality in equally beautiful parts. The shawl is simply lovely, my favourite of your prayer shawls, and your crocheted cherry blossom is wonderful! More than a passing imitation of the real thing, I'd say. I love the stamens in the middle, very effective.

    There is much talk of being "mindful" around at the moment, just being in the present more, and I am trying to do that. Death is a taboo, and so is ageing too I think.

    Thank you for a thought provoking post Elizabeth. x

  12. Those crocheted blossom are so beautiful - I'm missing the blossom too at present. I grew up in the middle of London, right by the river, and all along the embankment from Westminster to Pimlico there was a stream of cherry tress - I was very naughty and used to pick them and take them home - too young to realise that wasn't a good thing to do - but I was captivated by their beauty. Here in Sussex we are short of cherry trees. I was going to head out yesterday to search for some hawthorn blossom which I know grows in a field near here but to be honest, the sub-zero temperatures and pressures of schoolwork kept me in all day.

    Lovely to have a bit of breakfast time to catch up on your blog - must go and arouse the teenagers now! love Judy.

  13. Out of all your beautiful shawls for Lent, this last one is my favourite Elizabeth. The cherry blossom pink is such a nurturing shade, and your gorgeous sweet cherry blossoms give hope for the Spring to come, I'm sure whoever is lucky enough to receive this most beautiful shawl will treasure it for years to come.

  14. Hello from Very coolish Michigan. I just discovered your very lovely exquisite Cherry Blossom Shawl. Such a super great job you did in creating it. I absolutely LOVE your crochet Cherry Blossoms. They are wee works of art. LOVE them and they look glorious on the Cherry Blossom branches of that does not want to bloom this year.. Very Neat idea.. Thanks for sharing the site where you got the crochet patterns for the wee beauties. I so do love your blog and your very creative lovely and creative ideas.. Hugs Judy


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