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#metoo why now?

There’s been a lot of talk about historic abuse and victims coming forward after decades of silence. It’s made worldwide media since Hollywood got involved, but I’ve been hearing comments since the notorious Jimmy Saville.

Taxi drivers have ranted in my ear about women just wanting compensation and making up stories and now a leader of a large country has also felt the need to dismiss women who ‘suddenly remember’ their abuse.

It’s not that women wake up one morning and after 30 years thought, oh, I just remembered!

They remember every sodding day. It’s not that they’ve never told anyone either, it’s just that we haven’t told the right person.

We tell counsellors who ask us how we feel, we’ve told friends who have hugged us and said nothing, we’ve told people as kids but not by using words, and we’ve told other survivors who’ve then decided to tell us their story. But suddenly after years of telling others we decide to tell the police.

For me, it happened this Summer.

I was on holiday, thankfully the last day of my holiday because it ruined any chance of enjoyment.

I was chatting to a fellow church member who happened to attend a church I went to when I was a teenager. You know how it goes, you meet someone who has a place in common and you begin the ritual of listing names of people to see who you have in common.

“Do you know … ?”

“Yes, they’re really funny”

“Do you know … ?”

“Yes, her dads a perv isn’t he?”

And that’s how it happened, a conversation of how a man has been grabbing women and getting away with it for 30 plus years. Most recently, a woman in his church who publicly shamed him.

We chatted about how many women there could be, why the church wouldn’t just kick him out (apparently because he’d just go do it at another church). Whether finally meeting a woman who shouted at him publicly would stop him and how in truth, we doubted it.

We went our separate ways, but the conversation for me didn’t end. I was 14 when it happened to me, a mouthy teenager, but that was no excuse. I was furious that it was still happening that in all these years the church hadn’t stopped him.

I spoke to a church leader who advised me to speak to someone (they meant someone else, anyone else, just not them!) so I did.

The Manchester police website has a chat room, so I started there. Within minutes I was chatting to a woman online when she said someone was going to phone. A few minutes later I was on the phone with an officer who wanted an official statement.

Leeds police took the statement a few weeks ago. Coming out of that interview was perhaps one of the most freeing feelings I’ve experienced.

I wasn’t asked endlessly about my feelings like in counselling. There was no telling me that I’m just trying to cause trouble like when I tried reporting a similar situation to a minister, or the time a youth worker asked for the incident to be put in writing then filed the accusation in a drawer.

For the first time it was like handing it over to someone who was going to take the responsibility from me.

Of course, the man denied it, he can return to his church and try to get back to normal, and to some it’ll feel like he got clean away with it. But he knows that he’s been caught. His church knows he’s been caught and the police will continue to seek others he assaulted. The police didn’t arrest him because he’s innocent, but because at the moment, there is just my word.

The problem is, he isn’t alone, I grew up in an environment surrounded by men and abuse was rife. You know, my years of fear about speaking out has been broken.

It seems like that was just a rehearsal for tomorrow.

I’ve not been able to go to church for quite a while because it’s too close to home sitting in church feeling that the church let me down as a child. I live alone and I’m self employed, so I work alone, I’ve gone whole weeks without seeing another human and at times it’s brought me so close to the edge that I’ve had to use every bit of energy to keep going.

I’m usually the kind of person who doesn’t ask for help, doesn’t tell people when I’m struggling, and yet here I am telling the world, but I’ve learnt that if I’m going to get through this, I need to change how I am and I must start telling people and asking for help.

It was while searching online for possible help in case I needed it that I came across a government inquiry into abuse in institutions. In for a penny in for a pound I felt and since I’ve started telling the right people, why stop?

So tomorrow I head off for two days to give my statement which will eventually go towards advising the government on abuse. The statement also goes to the police who will decide whether to take matters further, but since the most prolific abuser from my childhood committed suicide after I eventually told him I’d tell someone, I doubt it’ll go far.

I’m sure some will question why now or wonder whether it’s worth it with the stress this is causing me, but years of not coming forwards haven’t done much for me, perhaps finally doing so will.

Sorry it’s not a post about knitting or dolls. Here’s a picture of my cat to make up for it.

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Meet the dolls 4 – The Coal Miner

The final doll in my final university project. I planned on seven, but really, when it came down to it, my obsession to the little details just took the time and I think I’d rather do four dolls really well, than rush seven.

coal008b.jpg

The coal miner is more modern and I’ve named him not after a Yorkshire coal miner, but one from Spennymoor in County Durham. Norman Cornish, a coal miner from the age of 14, who took advantage of art classes for miners and became an artist in his 40s. (www.normancornish.com)

I’ve even used some modern technologies, sewable electronics to make a working head lamp.

coal020b.jpg

I’m sure many folk are thinking why have I made a coal miner when I’m making dolls that represent traditional crafts, and at first the coal miner was the doll I was going to leave until last. Then a few weeks ago I was with my parents and a programme was on the TV which showed a clip about the Lofthouse colliery disaster from 1973, I’d have been 1 years old (yep, I’m sticking with 35 being my current age). My mum looked up and said, ‘oh, your dad was there’.

No, my dad wasn’t a coal miner, although he was a Bevin boy in the war. He was a Salvation Army officer and spent a lot of time providing support to the men during the search for survivors. It reminded me also of a time when years later, as a young Salvation Army member I was collecting money door to door in a nice middle class Lancashire area. It was during the time of the miners strikes. I remember one door opening and a man telling me he wouldn’t give to the Army because we gave to the miners. I didn’t get it being so young, but as I remember the story I decided the miner had to be made.

The dolls represent traditions that are dying out or how I sometimes feel about knitting, becoming only for the privileged. When I was young, people made their own clothes because they couldn’t afford to buy ready made. Now we’re in a place where poorer folk shop at Primark and the wealthy go on sewing classes or extravagant knitting holidays.

I was talking to a lady in the cafe at the National Coal Mining museum a few days ago about crafting. She told me she was a quilter and began quilting to use up all the scraps that she had left over from dress making. But then her husband spoke – describing what she does. He said she buys a yard of fabric, cuts it into pieces and sews the pieces back together to make a quilt. Quilting was once, using up your left over fabric, doll making was using up your left over wool. Now though, there is a worry that crafting is moving from the working classes to an expensive and privileged hobby.

It’s not wrong though (to be a wealthy crafter) and perhaps my gripes should be for another post.

The coal mining industry is another craft (because it is incredibly skilled) that has been lost and although the dolls have been made as a celebration of Yorkshire life and craftsmanship, I wonder if, in the future they’ll be seen as a look into a forgotten past.

 

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Saturday 21st April 2018

I’m writing this on Sunday since I didn’t finish my knitting till 3am and wanted to show it here.

I visited the Scarborough maritime heritage centre today.

Each doll is going to be linked to a place that represents the character of the doll and I chose this heritage centre for personal reasons over than popularity.

When I asked people to recommend a place that represented Ganseys in Yorkshire I had a lot of suggestions of commercial places in Whitby and Filey. I’m not opposed to linking with a commercial business, in fact the next doll is linked to a shop, but where I can I want to highlight some of the lesser known tourist centres.

I chose Scarborough for my own links to the area, it’s where my grandparents lived and I’ve a lot of lovely memories of the town.

As I’ve been around the town I’ve also noticed the friendliness of people. I’m staying in the Grand, it’s one of those places you look at as a kid and think it’s only for the posh people. It’s a ‘grand’ building and the staff are wonderful, but the building is not being looked after (my bedroom window was kept shut with gaffer tape).

It’s a shame that British seasides often have the reputation they do, but there are signs that Scarborough is fighting back. Looking for toilets yesterday I found the indoor market, it’s not the bustling place I remember, but new artisan businesses are popping up and although perhaps not as much use to the locals as it once was, for tourists it’s a must visit place.

The heritage centre has a small shop space but is packed of interesting things to see. The volunteers are extremely knowledgeable and friendly and I had a good chat about Ganseys.

One glaring ‘mistake’ Gansey knitters will spot on my Gansey is that it isn’t a Scarborough one, it’s a blend of Scarborough and Whitby styles. The traditional Scarborough top half is more a moss stitch, but I chose to add cables instead as a more interesting pattern. I explained this and was told that the Scarborough Gansey is older and perhaps the reason for the lack of details is that cables hadn’t reached us from Aran. Well, who knows.

We chatted about the myths of Ganseys, whether it’s true that the styles of jumpers were to help you be identified and relocated to your fishing village if you drowned at sea. If you read Penelope Hemingway’s book on River Ganseys you might agree with her (and me) that this was a myth.

As well as Penelope’s book, I’ve also spoken to the owner of Propagansey who is extremely knowledgable about Ganseys.

If you think about the Gansey in a more realistic way, since patterns were not written down at the time, the pattern was passed down through family, as the family married the pattern spread through the village. It wasn’t an identification system, just a local pattern being taught through family generations.

But it’s a nice story.

I also found out that a black Gansey represented death, so was not a good idea to make whereas White meant you’ve been married less than 5 years.

A few years ago I went to the in the loop conference and listened to Annemor Sundbø (https://annemor.com/english/) who studies traditional Norwegian jumpers. A lot of the styles have a similarity to the Gansey in that the bottom half of the pattern is different to the top half.

These jumpers have a black and white pattern on the top half and a plain white non patterned bottom half. Annemor suggested it was simply that white wool was less expensive than black wool and since the men tucked the jumpers into their trousers is was a way of using cheaper wool for parts of the jumper not seen.

A bit like how my mum used to only iron the front of my dad’s shirts because when he wore his jacket no one saw the un-ironed back!

Could this be why some Ganseys are plain on the bottom half? Why put all that effort into the part of the jumper not seen?

I also still have a family mystery to solve!

Some time ago I found an image in a book, The boats of the Somerset levels by Mike Smylie, I have very little information on my dad’s family so anything helps.

The image shows my granddad, beside the river on Salmon parade in Bridgwater, Somerset. He was a salmon fisherman and the last in a line of boat builders.

I’ve also found this painting on Bridgwater’s council website. Somewhere I remember reading the painting dated 1902 and shows Pocock boat business on the river, the white cottages on the right of the river were where dad’s family lived.

And that is all I have to prove that my dad’s family existed!

I was interested in the fishing net used by William Pocock and had searched the internet for information but found only one similar item in a museum in America!

https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/human-origins-and-cultural-halls/northwest-coast-hall/tlingit/tlingit-collection/fishing-and-hunting/scoop-net-of-whale-sinew

I showed the image to the people at the heritage centre, but they’ve never seen one like the one in my grandads image.

So I’ve emailed the museum in America and the Blake museum in Bridgwater to see if they have any information.

Why? Because despite my lack of woodworking skills I’ve been trying to make a miniature version of the net!

And so, with miniatures in mind, I’ve a few last images.

I’m making a doll to represent the terrible knitters of Dent, terrible as in, they were terribly good at knitting!

With a knitting gauge of 5 stitches per centimetre and 1.5mm needles I set myself up in the hotel coffee lounge to set about making a version on the Dent gloves.

There is a good book about dales knitters, recently republished by Penelope Hemingway (https://theknittinggenie.com) which includes a pattern for some Dent gloves.

This image of a pair of Dent gloves comes from her blog page and is the pair I took a bit of free licence with!

I didn’t manage the fringe at the bottom, although… nah! Too fiddly.

I managed a date, which took up a lot of space and some of the pattern. The plan was to make mittens, thinking it would just be crazy to attempt gloves, but as I reached that part of the gloves I thought what the hell!

I also only made 1 glove since I wanted the doll to be midway knitting the second one, although I might just make the second one.

So finally… without further ado… my version of the Dent gloves…

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Wednesday 18th April

I’ve two dolls finished so far, many more to do.

I took them to a meeting this morning at the request of a friend who wanted to see them in person.

The question came up about making and selling dolls. I’ve long believed, as many crafters do, that people don’t want to pay for the time it takes to hand make items. My dolls can take up to 3 days to make, that’s 3 days non stop. Even at minimum wage the dolls would be out of the price range of most folk.

I also believe that the fun in doll making would soon disappear if I had to make dolls constantly. It’s something I enjoy, but I could go insane if I had to make them day in, day out!

Plus I’d miss the fun of hearing from people trying to make their own doll. I sell the doll pattern on Etsy and Ravelry (search for my little crochet doll), it’s not the cheapest doll pattern, but my website (www.bettyvirago.com) and Ravelry have several free outfit patterns for additional outfits.

I enjoy sharing the techniques of doll making and even though not every doll made is the same as mine, they’re all lovely.

The dolls are based around Yorkshire people, so another part of my research has been drawing people in public. That’s quite an achievement for me, since I’m a little shy at getting out my drawing book in public!

Today I found an Italian cafe opposite a very busy bus stop and spent some time drawing people waiting for the bus. It gave me a little bit longer than I’ve usually had when I’ve been trying to catch passers by.

One guy took my attention partly because of how he was standing.

Legs wide apart, arms in pockets, shoulder length shaggy hair. Knee length boots and trousers, no not trousers. What are they called? They stopped at the top of his boots.

He wore a flat cap on his head. It got me thinking. For him, the flat cap was a fashion statement. I noted that it was like the gentrification of the working mans clothing. Making the poor look fashionable.

This evening I spent some time on YouTube, looking at how other people draw and paint people. I found this interesting video on drawing people in different perspectives.

Drawing people

Tonight was also my weekly knitting group. I knitted the skirt for my third doll, the knitter, then measured it against a doll only to find it was too tight and I had to start knitting it all over again. Skirt done, but so much more to do if I’m going to have the number of dolls that I’d like.

I’m heading to Scarborough this weekend to take photos of the fisherman doll ‘on location’. Each doll will have a charity or business that they represent, I’m hoping it will highlight some of the smaller, lesser advertised places on the map.

I’m wanting to link the fisherman to the Scarborough Maritime heritage centre.

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Finding your Social mission

Why do you do what you do?

What makes you tick? What is at the very heart of your passion?

These are the questions I’ve been asking in order to find my Social Mission, the deepest Why? Of my business.

Keep asking “Why?”

Recently I was told if I want to get to the root of why I’m here I need to keep asking Why?

I’m looking at a business where my profits go towards running craft and art classes for homeless people

Why?

Because I want to build confidence in homeless people

Why?

Because I don’t think they see their value. I don’t think others see that they have a value.

Why?

Because living on the streets makes you feel worthless

(Some Whys can be more specific – you might need a critical friend for this)

Why homeless people?

Because everyone else has something of their own

(If you hit a wall try backtracking)

Why art and craft?

Because it’s what I know…

…because everyone can draw or make something…

Why?

Because people appreciate art & crafts
When you’ve been beaten down its hard to accept love for yourself, it’s easier to accept appreciation for what you do rather than who you are.

Maybe learning to be appreciated for what you make is the first step towards accepting appreciation for who you are. 

Why is it important to accept appreciation?

Because maybe, if you can accept that others love and appreciate you, the next step is loving and appreciating yourself.

Why is that important?

Because, can we really change for the better if we don’t love ourselves?

Because I know what damage hating yourself can do.

I believe change comes from a belief in self worth.

I believe that art & crafts can be learnt by everyone.

I believe that creating space for arts and crafts can be the starting point.

In my own situation, life started to change when I met people who believed in me, but it was only when I learned to believe in myself that life changed permanently.

I believe if I can create an art space where everyone is accepted then lives can begin to change.

If I can show people who feel worthless, their value, I can begin to turn the tide of lives wasted.

If I can begin to change a few lives, we can change the world.

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Meaning in the cloth – rethinking the prayer shawl

I used to read the story of Cain and Abel and wonder what was Gods problem.

In case you don’t know the story here’s a little summary…

Cain was a farmer while Abel, his brother, was a shepherd. Both brothers came to God with a sacrifice. Cain brought some of his grown produce while Abel brought his best first-born lambs. Now God liked Abels offering of lambs, but, well… not too fussed with the veggies. The rest of the story can be read in Genesis chapter 4.


As a kid I didn’t get it, two guys brought a gift to God and God was a wee bit picky. 

Being British we’re raised with the ability to smile and look pleased whatever the gift, but God obviously isn’t British (where were his manners?).

Shouldn’t he be grateful that he’s getting something?

It’s not for me to argue with God about his reactions though, He wants the best, the first fruits and first borns. God wants to be the first thought on our minds and have the first portion of our gifts. In everything we do God wants first place.

I don’t think it was about making sure they gave 10% and perhaps it wasn’t even that the carrots weren’t the biggest. The meaning behind the gift is what riled God. You can imagine Abel looking over his flock, inspecting every animal for flaws and size, then picking the best of the best, as though this gift was for his beloved. Cain, watching Abels fussiness, laughed to himself while throwing a handful of the nearest veg into a basket, “that’ll do” he thinks.

You might know that feeling at Christmas when you give a gift that you’ve chosen especially and being aware that the real excitement is in the giving. Was Abel thinking of Gods face lighting up at the sight of God looking at his gift and seeing that most beautiful of lambs?

Similarly we might also know the feeling of giving a gift in politeness, those folk at the bottom of the Christmas card list who get whichever card is next in the box of 100. Who cares what the card looks like, its giving for the tradition and politeness rather than the Joy. That, I suspect is what riled God that day. He didn’t want a gift out of politeness but out of love.
When thinking about a prayer shawl what is our first thoughts?

Learning a new technique? Wondering how quickly you can get it finished? 

Do you have any thoughts on the reasons why you make the shawl? 

I know what its like to make something with royalty in mind (yep, I’ve kept quiet about that!). I chose yarn from a Yorkshire mill that could promise British only fleeces. I spent a couple of days hand dying the yarn myself. Every little bit of the item was made as thought the Queen herself would see it, no detail was missed, the stuffing wasn’t your average polyester, it was British wool, even the pipe cleaner arms that would never be seen were chosen by hand from a local pipe cleaner factory. The item was to be my very best work.

If clothing the naked and feeding the hungry is the same as clothing and feeding God then each prayer shawl should be made as though God himself was the recipient. Similarly, if each recipient is to see the shawl as a gift from God, then each shawl should be made with our best effort as though God himself had commissioned the gift.

Therefore, making a prayer shawl no longer becomes a second rate ministry but a valuable resource in the church.

Say what you like about the value of a church band, but someone in need has to come to church to hear the band play, they need to know the words to the tune and understand the poetry in the song. A prayer shawl is one of the few gifts that go beyond the church walls, beyond the boundaries of language and country. Giving a gift that has been made with so much thought and love, then given to be used when encouragement is needed is one of life’s most beautiful pleasures.

After the band have played the last note, the choir have sat down, the sermon done, the Amen said… the prayer shawl continues on and travels with the person in need.

The prayer shawl though, isn’t a magic cure. It isn’t a vessel to carry healing, and touching the shawl won’t turn around test results, if healing comes it comes through Gods choosing. It’d be romantic to imagine a physical prayer soaking into cloth, but the shawl, at it’s basic level remains simply a shawl. 

However, it still has something magical about it. In those moments when pain comes, when bereavement is unbearable, when loneliness surrounds, being able to wrap ourselves in a piece of cloth made by someone who thought of nothing but us in the making allows us to temporarily dwell in the presence of comfort, hope and fellowship.

I have two small toy bean bag cats in my home, financially worthless and commercially made, but given to me some years ago by a couple at church. Brian and Cathy were there in my darkest times, if I told you what they did for me, well, this blog post would never end.

Cathy died a few years ago from cancer and Brian has retired and moved away. There is nothing magical about the toy cats, but everytime I see them I’m taken back to a world where they are with me. I’m reminded that there is someone out there who loves me unconditionally, someone who values me as I am. I’m reminded of the many times Brian helped me quit drinking, of the times he let me sleep it off in his office. The years Cathy spent counselling me as a messed up young person, of the Joy in their faces at my baptism, the comfort when I lost my job, the worry when I moved to Leeds and the celebration when I went to University.

As I write this the tears flow and my heart hurts, but its a joyful cry and a blessed pain. Few people know unconditional love like that couple gave me and that is a real shame. As an alcoholic I accept the lifelong fight of sobriety, but I have two weapons, two soft toy cats that I look at and remember those who stand with me and I remind myself that this fight is worth it.

Nothing magical in the toys and yet something very magical.


A prayer shawl at its root is simply a strand of yarn looped together to form a piece of cloth. It is something that someone has taken hours to make and think about, but it is more than something to do with your time, more than a way of using up your yarn stash and more than a way to make something when you simply don’t know what to do.

To be called to the prayer shawl ministry is a powerful calling, it is listening to Gods commissioning, his choice of recipient perhaps without knowing why we are making the item. Being able to put our best work into a piece then hand it over without finanancial reward, personal acknowledgement perhaps even without knowing the outcome. Trusting wholly in the gift of giving for loves sake.

As I continue to look at this unique ministry I hope more and more people will begin to take up the call of this powerful ministry. I hope more and more churches begin to see the true value of a creative ministry in their church.

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Rethinking The Prayer Shawl

I’ve known about prayer shawls for some time now, its a simple idea, knit a shawl while praying for a person, then give the shawl to the person and let the prayers and blessings you prayed into the shawl continue to bless.

I heard that a local church held regular prayer shawl groups and I went along to see what it was like in practice.

The group meets once a fortnight at the church and were very welcoming, It’s very much like any other knitting group but where everyone is knitting the same item and there’s a lot less gossip!

They showed me a book that lists every person who has received a shawl (or scarf) and the centre of the small room had a table with recently finished shawls.

There were tales of people who had been given shawls and were pleased with the gift, tales of whole groups who’ve benefited, a Christian football team who had each been knitted a scarf in their team colours and a choir who each were given a scarf.

At the end of the knitting we held a short ceremony, a candle was lit, a prayer was jointly read and the prayer shawl ministry had ended.

As I came away I felt pleased that I’d seen the ministry in action, but something was nigiling me, something didn’t sit right and it wasn’t until later, when I was at my local knitting group describing the meeting that it started to become clear.

Actually, when I started putting it all down on paper I realised there were a few questions about the ministry. I hope to expand of each of these in seperate blog posts, but here’s a few of my thoughts.


Are we giving out best?

The shawls are made using the thickest, cheapest acrylic yarn, using thick needles (perhaps to knit up quicker).

For a long time I’ve believed the church see non-musical arts as a poorer relation and this was apparent in the choice of yarn used. Why spend £5 on a 50g ball of merino wool when you can buy a 100g ball of squeaky acrylic from the pound shop?

No reason at all if you’re not able to afford the £5 ball, but a church that has a grand piano isn’t scrimping on other creative ministries so why go cheap when giving a knitted gift?

It also makes me ask whether this is our best for God? Again, if your best is cheaper yarn then that is as acceptable to God as Vicuña (named the cloth of kings). This question of being the best for God leads me to my next question.

Are we mass-producing the blessing?

As I looked at the seemingly endless list of people who’ve received a gift from the group and heard about the groups who’ve each received a scarf I questioned how a small group could accomplish so much. Then I was shown a small knitted square, a pocket shawl to carry around when you can’t take your shawl with you.

There was something uneasy about the seemingly mass-production of the whole thing. Using thick yarn and chunky needles means you can churn out these things in no time and suddenly it no longer feels like a personal ministry blessing one person at a time. It feels like a trip to Jerusalem and the need to bring back an olive tree cross for everyone. It seems more about the mass production than the slow process of making and thinking of one person.

We knitters know the huge challenge of making something for someone, we are careful about colour, yarn, pattern, its a process that takes time and we need to know a bit about the person to be able to get it right. That’s why hand knitting can never be a mass produced business. It’s slow and personal.


Who is it for?

There is a whole jar of worms about knitting gifts for someone. For the knitter, we’ve put so much of ourselves into the gift, time, money and passion. 

The whole idea of giving that precious gift away is full of worries about whether the person wants what we’re making, do they like the colour?

Every time I leave my mums house I pass a cupboard with a small shawl in it, something I knitted for her some time ago but she’s never worn and most likely she never will. I’m not upset about it, it was my choice of colour and she isn’t the scarf/shawl wearing type of person. I often wonder whether I should just take it back and make something else.

When we’re making a prayer shawl, are we knitting for ourselves? Improving our skill, using up our yarn stash? Or are we giving ourselves wholly to the idea that this is a gift for someone else? A gift that they might not receive as we want them to?

What is it for?

Once the shawl has been given, what is our expectation?

Partly I ask this thinking about the choir, the thirty plus people who each received a hand knitted acrylic scarf. How many of those people liked the colour? How many liked the feel of the acrylic enough to wear it and make use of it?

Are we expecting people to use these items in their prayer life? And if so, How?

Are we expecting the scarf/shawl to heal? 
I know I’ve brought more questions than answers, but I hope to go into more detail later and perhaps come up with some possible answers.

If you’ve make a prayer shawl or received one I’d love to hear about it.

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The camaraderie of crafting

I’m in Birmingham, a place I’ve only ever passed through (well, okay a very short stay here as a baby). I’m here because tomorrow morning I’m running a workshop on electronics in textiles. 

After a sleep in my hotel room to catch up on several disturbed nights, due to my new neighbours dog trying to settle in back home, I come down to the hotel lobby, it’s almost 7pm, I expect most guests will be in their rooms, out at a theatre or restaurant, but no! The lobby has two sofas, both filled with people, to my right is a small bar area with around 20 more people gathering around tables. 

I find an empty table that seats four and take a seat, then as I do whenever I’m seated I pull out my knitting and… well.. I knit.

Within minutes I’m joined by Barbara, there seems nothing strange about our meeting, I don’t need to ask her name. Barbara is one of the hardworking volunteers at the knitting and crochet archive. We chat for a few minutes before she excuses herself and goes to other tables to chat. 

I turn around and see an older woman sitting just outside of a table group. I ask her to join me even though I’ve never met her. She sits for a moment then says she’s left something in her room and goes off to get it, leaving her bag next to me – a stranger.

By this point the number of people gathering in the lounge has grown to around 30 and growing. Nothing seems odd, no one is looking out of place. People who’ve never met are chatting and sharing almost instantly… and yet, it seems to be the most natural thing in the world.


Of course, I’m at the national Knitting and Crochet guild conference, we’re all knitters and crocheters. 

Yesterday I was at an interview, I was talking about crafting as a business and explaining the benefits of crafting in groups. It’s sometimes hard to put into words the instant friendships that can be created through something so simple as a craft group. 

On Wednesday I started a new knitting and crochet group in my local area, seven of us turned up with more people sitting on the sidelines watching. We talked, laughed and consoled while at the same time learning a new, valuable skill. As we meet regularly we’ll find out more about each other, our similarities and differences, we might find we disagree on religion or politics, but we’ll still meet, still share and still look at each other as friends.

This camaraderie is something I’ve been trying to put into words, with much difficulty. On Friday I sat in front of a panel of 10 business people and tried to get across why a social enterprise based on offering affordable and free craft groups was important. It’s hard to describe, but as I sit here in this lobby, with strangers I consider friends I’m realising this isn’t something that can be put into words.

I have friends who belong to a church which celebrates community, I stayed there recently in their community home. If it weren’t for the church my friend and I perhaps would never have met. Her accent often reveals a very privileged background but she met me when I was begging on the streets of London (a very long time ago) and we’ve been friends ever since. Her church often talks about the walls that come down through the church. Rich and poor, old and young… 

Her church experience though isn’t often shown in other churches. I go to a church that I consider friendly, very friendly in fact, but the camaraderie isn’t there. In two years of attending I feel I’ve made one good friend who’s close enough to know me and I her. Two years and still there’s a sense that the majority of people wouldn’t feel safe leaving their bag with me to return to their hotel room. 

It hit home recently when I was down to my last bit of money. I was still a week away from getting any money and I was owed money from the university. I had some food in the cupboard, but not enough to make a meal out of unless that meal was pasta, fish fingers and custard.

My gas and electricity were both down to their last pound and a recent leg ulcer has left me in agony. I was in pain and couldn’t even afford a packet of paracetamol.

Yet, as I sat there, trying to think of a way to get help, going through my list of friends who would console me, there was only one name from church that I could go to. Out of all the 50-60 people at church, there was 1 in two years that had developed a relationship with me enough to be there in my hour of need. That, my friends, is not real church.

It’s a shame, that the crafting community is doing what the churches seem unable to do, but it’s something that is very powerful. 

I see it in the quilting project, where young students begin talking openly about mental health and the effect exam pressure is having on their health. I see it on a Wednesday night when my fellow knitter, Helen, fills her car with folk so no one has to walk home alone, even though it means driving right across town and back again. I saw it on Wednesday as I listened to people begin the process of getting to know each other and I see it here in the hotel lobby.

I’ve been hearing it recently in stories of hospitals taking on a resident knitter to encourage parents to knit whilst their child is in hospital, I’ve heard nurses mention how powerful a neo-natal knitting group has been, and even my friend Helen has shown it by taking her spinning wheel to our hospital.

Where once the church used to be, crafting is coming. 

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Banned from the Band

I’ve been asked to contribute a piece for an exhibition called ‘beatitudes’. It’s based on the sermon on the mount and one of those well known parts of the bible.

The version below is from the message translation.

Matthew 5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
I listen to Dr Bill Creasys Bible talks on audible and he has a very interesting way of explaining them which makes so much sense. 

At first I was going to create something on his viewpoint (it really is worth listening to). After a while though I started thinking about my own working style as an artist and what I want to say through my work.

I write a lot about poverty and a lot about the church and a lot about poverty and the church.

A lot of what I say is about the lack of understanding in some aspects of church life, the little things that churches do without really thinking about how their actions are perceived.

Recently there was an article in the Salvationist magazine (29/04/2017 edition) that told the story of a woman who felt she wasn’t allowed to wear a Salvation Army uniform because of a disability that meant wearing the skirt was unsuitable. The story loosely skips over the part where she was told she couldn’t wear the uniform with trousers (really, In 2017?), but thankfully she was able to push ahead and get trousers and feel like a valued member rather than a cheaper version, or as someone said to me a few Sundays ago, “not wearing the uniform properly”.

I have a similar problem, years of leg ulcers have left my legs… well, let’s just say I’d rather not have them on display thank you very much! 

Whilst you might have read the article you may have missed the editors comments at the front of the mag, but he spoke about the uniform, how it put him off joining for quite a while. He suggested that whilst the uniform has some uses, it mustn’t be  barrier for people joining.

Note: I know, I’m talking about the uniform again, I feel like I’m flogging a dead horse, but bear with me.

While the article and the editors comments spoke about barriers to the uniform from a disability perspective I have another barrier… cost.

A couple of Sundays ago (infact the same Sunday of the ‘proper’ uniform comment) I was talking to a friend about the cost of the uniform and a plan I was developing for the beatitudes exhibition.

I made my usual gripe of how a church started with the poor is in a position where only the rich can afford to join. I asked how they can justify charging £250 for a Sunday outfit just so you could take part. (My friend reads my blog I think, so let me just say I’m not repeating the conversation as a gripe to or about my friend!). 

My friend agreed and added that she wouldn’t pay so much for an outfit and had bought the uniform originally to play in the band, as a hard working mother and career woman the band was her weekly escape. We agreed, the cost was awful and went on our way.

Several days later I was still thinking about the conversation. 

Y’see, I don’t necessarily disagree with the uniform, sure it has its uses. But as it is, it’s impractical, expensive, badly designed and often badly made.

Imagine going to John Lewis, paying £70 for a skirt, getting to the till and being told they hadn’t finished it and you would need to take the skirt to a tailor to get the hem sewn up! At £70 I expect it finished and hand delivered in a box with a red bow.

Something bothered me about the conversation and it took a few days to recognise what it was.

My friends comment that she wouldn’t pay that much for an outfit… what bothered me?

It wasn’t that I wouldn’t pay that much, but I couldn’t.

In all innocence there is a level of misunderstanding in the church that is difficult to get across. I’ve been to a few songster practices, but realised there was just no point in going since I don’t have the luxury of being able to grumble at the cost, buy the uniform and join the choir anyway. I’d join the band, since I can actually play, but I’m barred from joining in church activities because of poverty. It’s important to get this message across so let me put it clearly…

I am barred from taking an active part in my church not because I won’t wear a uniform, but because I can’t afford to.

I am banned from being a useful member of my church because I am poor.

For those who still don’t grasp the reality of it, here it is in picture form…

 

Somehow, blessed are the poor in spirit seems the perfect starting place for my exhibition piece. Perhaps whilst the spiritually poor are blessed (Dr Creasy suggests that the blessing is in knowing you are spiritually poor and in the perfect starting place to find God), unblessed are the spiritually rich but financially poor.

How do I get this message across in one piece of work?

I thought of getting hold of an old uniform and embroidering over it things I could buy instead of the uniform, like five weeks rent, central heating for the winter. I’m not sure though it’d be enough to get the message across, people need to feel it personally. I thought of making the Salvation Army crest in goldwork embroidery and putting a price of £2,500 on it to try and get across how much the cost feels like to someone working. 

How do I get a middle class Christian to grasp what this feels like. Wanting to be a useful church member, but being asked to hand over almost two months wage for membership. Would you join the church on those conditions?

What it feels like to not be able to attend church events because you think your need for electricity is more vital. Trying to explain that the lunch club is failing because the poor community can’t afford the three course meals. Having a young girl pass the collection plate around and the sense of shame when you can’t put in. Telling my minister that my neighbour is a drug dealer and being told my neighbour is my mission field, yet not quite grasping what it’s really like for an ex-user to have a dealer on their doorstep. Offering to help at a coffee morning and being asked to bake cakes when I can just about manage a weekly shop for myself.

Just how do I get this message out there? 

I spent two years at Bible college, I’ve worked and volunteered for Christian charities for over almost two decades, and yet… I am not allowed to participate in my church, not because I am spiritually poor, but because I am financially poor. WWJS? (What Would Jesus Say?)

This Sunday is Candidates Sunday, a day when we consider Gods calling on our lives… I might stay home. Well, I have an important day on Monday and could use the time to prepare. The thought of listening to a sermon asking us to consider God asking us to act, yet the inner hurt of not being able to stinks a bit too much for me.

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How the Salvation Army changed the world.

I grew up in the Salvation Army (have I mentioned that before?) listening to the stories of the Army before I was born.

I heard how the ‘Army’ produced the first safety matches. Taking on the UK match companies that left poor workers with the awful occupational disease Phossy Jaw.

Or how we began the employment agencies over 100 years ago, well of course we did. Suddenly we have a church that is saving alcoholics and the newly sober people needed steady work, how else would we respond?

Or how we helped bring about changes in the law of underage sex and child slavery by our part in rescuing a girl sold by her parents for £5.

This week alone, I’ve had two conversations with people who’ve mentioned how older folk give money to the Army because of what we did for their husbands in the war.

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It’s all wonderful… and yet…

It feels as though, the last couple days, the UK has suddenly woke to the scandal of our Government and it’s abusive benefit cuts.

How did this happen? How did they manage to, overnight, put parents in the position of losing £120 a week, receiving just 50p a week from the Government in housing benefit support?

But this isn’t an overnight thing, the government have been bullying the poor for several years.

The country have, over the past few years, been enjoying the ever growing number of TV shows about benefit cheats, scroungers, “too lazy to work” streets and the huge number of kids everyone on benefits have. I’ve watched people’s attitudes harden as they sit around their TV’s shaking their heads at the seeming audacity of scroungers claiming something they’ve never worked for.

At this point in my rant/post I need to add a Disclaimer:

I apologise in advance to my mum, nephew and anyone else who I name in this post. I love you all, but I’m so annoyed that I can’t be bothered to change names today.

Okay, that’s done.

I sat in the car with my retired Salvation Army officer mother a few weeks ago and she started telling me about a woman she had seen on TV. The shame that this woman received so much benefit and was on TV saying it wasn’t enough… that is, until I spent time with my mum breaking down the woman’s likely weekly expenses and mum realised it didn’t leave her with money for food.

My mum, who spent decades of active officership working with homeless and mentally unwell people had somehow lost her ability to recognise the situation of the poor.

Anyway, I wasn’t writing this post about benefit cuts…

My church has recently started asking for more people in the congregation to attend the weekly lunch club it runs. I went a few weeks ago and for £3.50, me, and 12 elderly people, enjoyed a three course basic meal.

My church (or Corps to those Army folk who don’t like to think of us as a church) is situated in a large and poorer part of South Leeds, surrounded by HMO’s (Houses of Multiple Occupancy). Drugs, addiction and prostitution is rife in the area, so a perfect location for an Army hall.

We have a lunch for anyone to enjoy, four times a week, for a mere £3.50. You’d think we would be packing the place with hungry locals, but in fact, lunch club is dying.

Yes, there are patches of nice housing in the area, and patches of elderly housing, but there’s a lot of single people, young single people on benefits living in HMO’s. (I’ve written about HMO’s in the past too)

A single young person on benefits gets £57.90 a week. If we imagine a situation where all his/her rent is paid by housing benefit (hopefully, this is the case), how much is left for that person if they live in a HMO?

Gas/electricity/water  £10-15 perhaps

Weekly bus pass  £15

Basic food (tea bags, bread, milk etc..)  £5-10

Mobile phone*  £15

Even with just these four essential bills it leaves just over £10 for main meals, TV licence, clothing, taking a girl on a date, a drink in a pub to talk to another human, basic toiletries.

Imagine too, the mental strain of living in a room smaller than some peoples bathrooms, having your cooker a few feet from your bed. Having to remember to take loo roll every time you need to go to the shared toilet, neighbours fighting through thin walls, and the stench of marijuana from the guy below.

How wonderful it would be for that single person to be able to escape the confines of the HMO and have a hot meal at my church in it’s spacious dinning room with access to free wifi. To be able to sit with others and talk to someone rather than feel imprisoned in the cell-like place they call home.

But as I pointed out in another blog post, £3.50 is too expensive for the most desperate people in my churches area.

I think we have a situation where our Army folk have forgotten what it’s like to be poor.

Again, this post wasn’t about the shame of the HMO’s…

This week I saw a new Lap dance club given permission to be set up in Leeds.

“What do you mean by another one” I hear you say, “How many do we have?”

Well enough that one website has a top 5 list of the best ones. One of which is within walking distance of my church I might add.

Do I need to explain what’s wrong with treating women as sexual objects? or how I’ve seen women in our legalised prostitution area charge less than a Costas coffee for sex?

And, yet, this blog isn’t about prostitution either…

Yesterday my nephew took me out for my birthday, (yeah, thanks, it was a nice day).

I’ve had a few chats recently with him about life, the Army, God and romance.

A couple of years ago he gave up two years and a lot of money to train as a youth worker in the Salvation Army, and yet, I was sitting with him asking why his bible had a light covering of dust and he didn’t seem happy at his church, so much that he seems to have stopped going.

I recognised myself in him, as a young person, attending youth events and getting fired up by stories of the old Army. How, as a young person in the Army, he has the ability of changing the world for good and for God. I’ve seen his room filled with postcards and tokens from music schools and youth events that are supposed to remind him of his power to change the world.

Yet, yesterday I saw a young man with no outlet for his vision. I recognise myself, as a young woman, wanting to work with homeless people and being fired up by big church youth meetings, then coming home to my local church and being told there was nothing for me to do. I sat there, talking to this young man, trained by the church as a youth worker, but given no youth to work with, and so, he has an air of giving up about him.

Earlier that day he’d dropped off his money for another week of music school in the Summer and I worry how many young people feel hurt after a week of being built up, only to return to their church and find no part for them to play. I know it was one of the reasons I gave up church as a young person, and I see him in a similar way. I wonder too, how many vacant chairs in our churches were once filled by someone wanting to do ‘something’, but not given a chance.

Our young people are sent to camp to have the fire in their belly ignited, but then sent home and not given fuel for the fire.

“But they’re just young people”, I hear some of you older folk say,

You should come sometime, to the office where I get my university business support from. They’re you’ll see dozens of young people starting and running successful businesses, making a living and a difference despite having a lack of years.

And again, I say this blog post wasn’t about the lack of opportunity in our churches…

This blog is about how the Salvation Army in the UK once changed the world. I would have liked to have said How the Salvation Army in the UK is changing the world, but I’m not sure I can say that at the moment.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, we are doing many amazing things, it’s just, well…

Going back to the conversations I’ve had this week, you would think the public only think we worked in the war.

Our recent public face makes us appear that we’re more concerned with how a gay celebrity can have a uniform made that won’t cause us offence rather than the growing poverty concerns.

Last weeks Salvationist newspaper seemed more concerned with playing April Fools than speaking of the fire we should have for human rights.

I’ve heard more about people upset that they’re not bringing back the bonnet than upset that our neighbours are in need. I heard of a band master outraged about the joke including woodwind instruments in the ISB, so outraged that he was about to request a refund on a concert ticket because he didn’t want to hear woodwind. (Incidentally, this band master is the only one who allowed my flute into his band, so I don’t know why it’s such a problem). Is that his passion? His righteous anger is focused on buying a brass band concert ticket and the disgraceful possibility of having to listen to a few violins?

In a few years time, when those who fought in the world wars are gone, will we have people to replace those who give because of what we did 70 years ago?

We seem obsessed by asking our people for money, making sure our members buy fair trade, having matching church outfits, and driving our fancy cars to our fancy homes outside of the rough area of our church location.

I don’t have a fancy car or house and I live in one of those poorer areas, but I speak to myself as much as to the richer members of church.

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not doing anything about the hundreds of mostly men living within walking distance of church and living in poverty, loneliness and hunger?

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not picketing outside government buildings with placards stating that “the Army does not approve” of their cuts to the disabled and poor?

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not in the local public and committee meetings demanding the local council stop allowing more places of sexual exploitation?

Why are we content to play our music on quiet streets, playing songs people no longer know the words to, when we should be playing a battle cry outside parliament?

I hear you groaning at me, mumbling that the last TV series about the Army also showed us washing the feet of the homeless. Brilliant, and important to do, but so are many other Christian churches.

And yes, I recognise the number of soup kitchens we run, but again, standard church requirement these days.

We were called to be an Army though, not an average church. We were supposed to be at the front showing how it’s done, but we’re just another face in the crowd now. The early Salvation Army paved the way and left us a legacy that makes people and governments sit up and listen when we speak, but we’re wasting away and keeping far too silent on the war time issues.

Okay, okay, I’m ranting.

I’m angry, but as guilty as the next salvationist.

So why the rant?

I feel at a cross roads. I am in the Army, not because I was brought up in it, but because Christianity, for me, is also about action. I can’t talk about a God of Love and walk past my downtrodden fellow man and I want a church who feels the same way.

I also accept that I am about to start my final year at university and, well, time right now just isn’t a luxury for me.

I might be getting a degree in textiles, but my heart is for the homeless, if I was to choose between a job in a fashion house and less paid work with homeless people I’d choose the homeless person every time.

Being so close to the end of uni I keep thinking about life when it ends and I admit, I don’t quite see a place for me in an Army not in action. I wasn’t made for the wealthy lifestyle or the 9-5 office job, I was raised amongst the homeless, raised to fight for the needy and I’ve sat idle for far too long.

I have friends, in a church, who give everything they have so they can help others, and I look at my friends church and it appeals to me… it appeals to me very much.

And yet, I’m very much aware that I’m here, as a member of the Salvation Army, by no accident. Even my textile degree projects seems to have the Army running through them.

How has it come to the point where a non-uniform wearing salvationist has to say what the leaders should have been saying?

…6…7…8…9…10, okay deep breath.

I don’t know where this rant is taking me, I don’t know whether anyone will feel the passion I feel in this, but well, as another birthday passes, and I adjust my year of birth to fit my alleged age again, I just felt something on my heart that I needed to speak.

I worry about our world, whether my neighbours will manage with the next round of benefit cuts and difficulties. I recognise a hurt people taking their anger out in the voting booths and I worry for where this will lead us.

A quote often used these days is this:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if, one only remembers to turn on the light”  – Albus Dumbledore, a great wizard, and perhaps in another life, a Salvationist.

We are supposed to be the lights that point to Jesus, truth and righteousness, we’re part of an Army that grew from poverty and the slums that sadly are returning, but without ignition, we’re just dull, grey bulbs.

Rant over.

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Links for more reading:

https://glynnharrison.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/when-william-booth-took-on-the-big-manufacturers-of-safety-matches-and-won/  Also read the link to the article this was written about talking about the Church of England and the dreadful Wonga.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39484897

http://michaelgallagherwrites.com/lizzie-blaylock-books/bridge-of-dead-things/eliza-armstrong.html

*I know many wealthier people think a mobile is a luxury, but try job searching without a phone and you’ll realise how vital it is. You can’t even claim benefits without making a lengthy phone call and having internet access.