Janet Bristow and Victoria A. Cole-Galo are the founders of The Prayer Shawl Ministry, which began as a result of the pair's participation in a retreat dealing with feminist spirituality. Through the years it has grown into a movement embraced by churches and community groups across America and beyond, with groups that make shawls, pray over them and give them to people in need -- often people they know, sometimes strangers or people they will never meet.
The duo shares stories from the ministry as well as patterns for an array of shawls, wraps and comfort items in The Prayer Shawl Companion: 38 Knitted Designs to Embrace, Inspire and Celebrate Life.
The book begins with a bit of history about how the Prayer Shawl Ministry originally started and offers thoughts on how individuals should start knitting prayer shawls with mindfulness and love.
The authors suggest thinking about the final recipient of the shawl when choosing fibers and colors (though several of the designers in the book talk about the serendipity involved in a shawl finding the right recipient). A peaceful environment and a bit of thoughtfulness before beginning to knit make the creation of a prayer shawl more of a ritual.
There are tips for adding meaningful embellishment (such as charms or a prayer pocket) to the shawl, how to bless and present a shawl to its recipient, even how to gratefully and gracefully receive a shawl of your own should you ever be given one.
There's also a note on gentle shawl making, reminding people with physical limitations that it still may be possible for them to take part in a shawl ministry.
The 38 patterns included in the book offer a wide range of options for prayer shawl knitters, from basic Garter Stitch rectangles and triangles to lacy projects and even a massive colorful circle shawl.
There are tiny projects for babies, a lap blanket and a few other projects suitable for men, and a "hug" wrap intended for women who've had breast cancer surgery.
The bulk of the patterns are for relatively new knitters, with one pattern rated for beginners, 22 called easy, 12 for intermediate knitters and 6 rated for experienced knitters.
Many of the patterns come from individuals who are involved in prayer shawl ministries in their local communities, but others are from well-known designers like Kaffe Fassett, Brandon Malby, Nicky Epstein and Kristin Spurkland. Each pattern comes with a little story, either related to that shawl in particular or to what prayer shawl knitting means to them more generally. There are also prayers, quotes and meditations that can be used to bless the shawls or to say over the recipient when the shawl is presented.
Some of my favorite patterns include the easy two-color Calming Shawl, worked in Bee Stitch with a pocket to include trinkets or a prayer card; the Reversible Cable Shawl, both practical and pretty; Mystery of the Trinity, a lace-panel project that works with sets of three eyelets; the easy but stunning diagonally striped Dakota Wheat Shawl (pictured on the cover); and the Lacy Shawl, which combines a really easy lace pattern broken up with plain knitting.
For knitters who love prayer shawls, The Prayer Shawl Companion is a wonderful guide to the meaning of knitting and giving prayer shawls and offers lots of good ideas for easy -- and more complicated -- patterns to try.
Knitters who like knitting shawls but who don't participate in a prayer shawl ministry can still enjoy the patterns, and may even find themselves drawn to knit some of these projects for charity, with or without the religious implications.
The only fault I find with the book is that several times there's just one picture of the project, which doesn't allow potential knitters to get a good look at the details. But if you're willing to take a project a bit on faith, you're sure to be rewarded with projects that are treasured by the recipients and also meaningful for you as the knitter.
Publication date: September 2008