What Is A Prayer Shawl? (April 2019)

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What Is A Prayer Shawl? (April 2019)

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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.

The Process

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.

The Prayer Shawl Ministry

“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 storiesshawl 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.”

Choosing a Yarn

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.

Let The Yarn Do The Work

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.

Getting Detailed

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.

Explore Lion Brand Yarns

Pattern Ideas

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.

Prayer Shawl Kit Ideas

The Sedona Serenity Shawl by Mama in a Stitch

A simple rectangle shawl knit in Homespun® Thick & Quick®

Heartland Boho Wrap by All About Ami

This simple crocheted triangle shawl is worked up in Heartland® yarn.

The Big Beginner Shawl Scarf by Mama in a Stitch

This project is suitable for beginner knitters and worked all in garter stitch using Fishermen’s Wool.

Free Prayer Shawl Patterns

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  • My Mom was given a prayer shawl when she was in the hospital with colon cancer. I now have that shawl and treasure it beyond words can say.
    A prayer shawl can be a true blessing to someone in need. ♡

  • Five years or so ago, I was asked to set up a Prayer Shawl table for a large meeting of Presbyterian Women, the national organization for women in the denomination. I already knew how to knit and crochet so I started 3 shawls, one knitted and two crocheted, so the ladies could sit and work for a while if they wanted to. The blessings that went in those shawls were amazing. One woman grew up in the missionary field, another had crocheted a shawl for her pastor. Another young woman said her grandmother taught her how to chain and single crochet but had forgotten most of what she learned. These women and many others picked up what I started and all had something to share. The shawls weren’t completed that day, so I finished them myself. The first one was given to my mom’s hairdresser upon her retirement. I liked that one so much I made another and have it waiting for the right person and the right time. The second shawl I gave to a friend who had a leg amputation. The third shawl I gave to my granddaughter when she was having a very troubling day. I was glad to give blessings to so many and received many blessings back!

  • I’m blessed to belong to a group of knitting and crocheting women who craft prayer shawls to give to local hospitals, our parish members, and
    local Linus Project. We receive more working together than we give and enjoy our time together.

  • free patterns of Prayer shall.

  • Prayer Shawl.
    Yes, thank you. A blessing indeed.

  • This is very moving. I sometimes heard about a « Prayer Shawl » and didn’t quite know what it was all about.

    Thank you for the information. The lady who wrote it is gentle and kind. Convincing.

    • You’re welcome. I’m glad you found the information helpful!

  • I have knit many prayer shawls over the past few years. Some for family and friends, many for people I don’t know – granddaughter of friends, wife of daughter’s friend, woman I sat next to in the doctor’s office. I get a sense of peace as I knit and hope that I pass that peace along to the recipient. I also want to give them hope. The majority of my shawls have gone to women with breast cancer. I have 2 shawls in the process right now and I am sure I will be making many more.

  • Our parish has had a “prayer shawl ministry” for many years. We were a part of a Diocesan-wide pocket prayer shawl ministry for the military and veterans hospitals during the Gulf Wars. Currently there are ten – twelve who make shawls, which are blessed by our rector for distribution to those in need of prayer. We knit or crochet with the goal of praying for the recipient with every stitch. We keep a supply of prayer shawls on hand for the Eucharistic Visitors or our clergy to have when calling on the sick or bereaved. We do not limit the distribution to our own parishioners. When we hear of a need in the community, a prayer shawl is taken to the individual or family. It is a very special ministry, whether young or old.

  • Our church as given out 52 prayer shawls to members or family of members of our small church. The process goes as:
    1. I have a request of a person in need of a shawl.
    2. I make or assign it to one of our prayer shawl mission members. They are given the person’s name and reason for the shawl.
    3. Our mission members get the completed shawl to me within 6 weeks. The shawl are knitted, crocheted or woven.
    4. The church’s Wednesday night prayer meeting will pray over the completed shawl.
    5. It is then given to the recipient with a hand written card.
    Many have said that they use it daily to help them make it thru that day and we are pleased to have created it!

  • After the school shooting at Sandy Hook in 2012, we boxed up a dozen or so prayer shawls and sent them to a nearby parish to distribute them. I know we weren’t the only ones to reach out.

  • I’ve knitted many of these over the last 10 years. At first, I kept it simple using Homespun and a basic triangle shawl pattern. Now, it’s a bit more of a process — when the person is put on my heart, I sit down and look through my extensive shawl pattern collection and try and match up each person with a personalized pattern and yarn. It’s an incredibly rich spiritual practice for me!

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