Prayer shawl. Peace shawl. Comfort shawl. Mantle. Whatever name you give them, they serve the same purpose. These are a wearable hug crafted with love and intent from maker to recipient. Whether it be personal words, verse, song, prayer, mantra, or something else, it is these thoughts imbued in the shawl with each stitch that make them what they are.
The Original Prayer shawl designed by Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo.
Prayer shawls can be knitted, crocheted, woven, or worked by any other means desired. They may be adorned with beads, bobbles, shells, fringe, etc., or left plain and understated. They can be shocking pink or muted tan and anything in between. In the instance of these shawls, the product is a physical representation of the process. That process is a journey through thought and intent.
When creating a prayer shawl the individual making it begins with a recipient in mind. This person is held in the crafter’s thoughts from beginning to end. Then whenever the recipient wears the shawl they have a tangible reminder of the care and prayers directed their way. It is as much a healing item for one person as it is the other.
Depending the beliefs of the crafter, a prayer (or poem, song, etc) may be said at the beginning and end of the process. Also, despite the common name of “prayer shawl,” these items are not exclusive to any religion or faith. Anyone can make and wear a shawl and the type of intention woven into it is unique. Each individual is free to choose a type of blessing, or none, that they are comfortable with. Taken literally, the term, “it’s the thought that counts” is fitting in this instance.
“Shawls … They wrap, enfold, comfort, cover, give solace, mother, hug, shelter and beautify.” — Janet Severi Bristow, 1998
2017 marks 19 years for the Prayer Shawl Ministry, which was founded in 1998 by Janet Severi Bristow and Victoria Galo. The two met while attending Women’s Leadership Institute at The Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut. They joined together with the idea of combining a love of knitting and crochet with the desire to reach out to those in need of comfort as well as joy.
On the Prayer Shawl Ministry website you can explore inspirational stories, shawl instructions, and instructions on beginning your own shawl ministry group.
There is a common misconception that prayer shawls are not made for happy and positive events. However, they can be as much a celebration of life as they can of loss. Any instance where the crafter is thinking of someone. In the words of the Prayer Shawl Ministry:
“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; leading ritual; first menses or croning rites of passage; during an illness and recovery; ministering to others; graduation, birthday, anniversary, ordination, holiday gifts; or just socializing.”
Selecting yarn for a prayer shawl is as simple as it is difficult. The maker may choose anything, this is the simple part. There’s a whole world of options. The hard part comes when sometimes you have trouble pinning down what “perfect” is.
We at Lion Brand have a few favorite yarns that can be used for your prayer shawl.
Scarfie yarn, shown at the bottom left, is a wonderful choice for a shawl with the simplest design (even just garter stitch). Sit back, stitch, and watch the ombre effect play out. Homespun, below right, is another option that plays up simple stitches. People have come to love the unique texture and painterly colors available in Homespun. You can truly let the yarn do the work for you while you stitch purpose, intention, and positive feelings into your shawl.
For shawls with a little more textural detail you will want a simpler yarn. Color Made Easy® (below left) allows this while working up at a bulky gauge. For lighter shawls try Heartland® (below right). Both of these yarns are 100% acrylic, making them easy for your prayer shawl recipient to care for.
These yarns are suggestion only to get you started. Any weight, color, or fiber will stand in as you’d like.
The pattern that started it all (shown at the top of this post) must, of course, be mentioned first. This is a simple, knitted shawl (there is also a crochet version) worked in a chunky or bulky weight yarn of your choice. It was designed by the founders of the Prayer Shawl Ministry, Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo.
Many other shawl designs have popped up over the years as single patterns or in larger collections. There is an entire section on LionBrand.com dedicated to them.
Remember, a shawl does not need to be classified as a “prayer shawl” by title to be used as such. Simply choose a shawl pattern you are drawn to and create with intent.
A simple rectangle shawl knit in Homespun® Thick & Quick®
This simple crocheted triangle shawl is worked up in Heartland® yarn.
This project is suitable for beginner knitters and worked all in garter stitch using Fishermen’s Wool.