Finding Solace: Knitting A Prayer Shawl

It’s just something about knitting. It has a small, yet commanding voice, and what it tends to say, in times like these, is that it will help take us through the big steps with little steps. And technically, in this case, those little steps are known as stitches. Knitting takes unease and supports it with shawls the way the performers at a big top support a trapeze artist with a net. It underpins transition with a deeper sort of harmony.

– Deborah Bergman, The Knitting Goddess (NY: Hyperion, 2000)

When I made it home from London, the impact of Ruth Ann’s death knocked the stuffing out of me. While I was away, I had all of London to distract me. Back home, there was nothing to keep the avalanche of grief and the immensity of loss from bowling me over, day after day. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read. Writing was beyond me. There are only so many hours in a day that my body can sit on the harp bench and practice. Long walks siphoned off some of my agitation, but there was no way to walk long enough and far enough to escape sadness. I didn’t know what to do for the far too many hours that I was stuck with just being with myself.

Then I found this yarn, dyed by Debbie Davis at The Fibre Studio at Yarns To Dye For.

Tidal Pool by Debbie Davis
Tidal Pool by Debbie Davis

The merino and bamboo blend is named “Tidal Pool.” The yarn held all the colors of the many mornings Ruth Ann and I spent on the porch of a rented beach house, drinking coffee and watching the day’s first light play upon the water. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I would use it to knit a prayer shawl for Ruth Ann’s partner.

 

Searching Ravelry, I found the pattern Simple Shawl for Fancy Yarns by Jen Hintz. It’s perfect for showing off the beauty of the yarn. I cast on the first five stitches on April 12th.

Some days this was the only project I wanted to work on. With every row I thought about Ruth Ann and all the life we shared. The yarn flowing through my fingers was a tangible thread that tied me to her across the emptiness.

Some days I didn’t want to touch the yarn or the shawl that it was becoming. Picking up the knitting needles was picking up and wrapping myself in grief.

Spring’s days and weeks ticked by. The shawl grew slowly, with four stitches added every other row. The weather shifted from spring breezes to summer heat as I added eyelet rows and garter ridges to the basic pattern. I finished the bind-off and took it off my needles on July 18th.

Completed Prayer Shawl
Completed Prayer Shawl
Prayer Shawl Detail
Prayer Shawl Detail

Knitting this shawl was a tangible sign of and outlet for my grief. Each stitch was like a prayer bead that I could, and in fact had to touch and hold as a part of my own coming to terms with Ruth Ann’s death. Now, all these beads are caressed, counted, and strung. The shawl is finished, and sent off to the welcoming arms of Ruth Ann’s partner, with the hope that wearing it will bring her the healing that knitting it brought to me.

The time spent working on the shawl seems to have somehow defined my period of mourning. I feel more ready to move forward into “next,” whatever that may be, and to step into the life where Ruth Ann no longer walks on this earth with me, but stays forever close in my heart.

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6 thoughts on “Finding Solace: Knitting A Prayer Shawl

  1. I know exactly what you mean. When my grandma died, I knit as a way to grieve as well. She always wanted me to learn how to knit (and I did shortly before she passed) and every stitch felt like a way to honor and remember her. I still feel that way. When I lost my friend this summer, the solace of stitching helped me work through the grief of losing him.

    Your shawl is so beautiful and every stitch is symbolic of your kind heart and amazing resilience.

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  2. I totally understand how knitting that shawl helped not just your friend but also you. It is a true work of love and healing.
    I made a prayer shawl for my harp teacher when her house was hit by a tornado and she moved out for 6 months. I knitted prayers of protection and solace into her shawl. And then I made one again last summer for the wife of our dear minister, taken too soon by a heart attack. I crocheted it, and when I slid the hook into each stitch, I was listening to his archived sermons online so that his words were contained within the shawl for her. I hoped it would hug her with his essence. This project helped my grief as well..he was a wonderful person, loved by us all.
    Your shawl is so pretty and I love the pattern, and especially the yarn. You gave Ruth Ann’s partner something that will help her for a long time. What a wonderful friend you are.

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    1. This is the first prayer shawl I knit. I am blessed by the transformative power of knitting to create something beautiful out of grief and loss. Like you, I knit comfort and protection into every stitch, hoping that these yarns could transmit them to Ruth Ann’s partner, and wrap her in a healing hug whenever she felt most alone. Your friends are also lucky to have you! Your shawls are beautiful medicine for their losses.

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