A Bible study flag!

I’ve been looking at flags recently and the stories behind their creation.

At school we’re taught about our Union Jack flag and the joining of four countries in the symbolism (apparently the Welsh dragon, Yorkshire rose and Lancashire rose is just hidden from view!

The Salvation Army flag has significance in the trinity with the Yellow star being the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Red – the blood of Jesus and the blue – the purity of God.

One of my favourite flags is the Indian flag with the wheel in the centre. It’s was originally going to be a spinning wheel and hints at a time when we British were being idiots with someone else’s country and the wheel represented India breaking free and the fight over woven cloth, the story of Ghandhi spinning cloth as a protest is well worth a search and read.

Flags and banners are important pieces of fabric with meaning and pride behind them. 

I’ve been looking too at Tibetan prayer flags and think there is something in making a personal prayer flag or a series of flags. Each one with symbolic meaning, remembering a time of importance or pushing us towards a greater glory.

I sketch and doodle a lot, especially during sermons and lectures. It’s how I keep my mind focused. Recently I began showing some of the sketches to people and decided to take them a step further.

What if I turned these sketches, doodles and notes into textile flags, similar in size to a prayer flag?

Last week our church began a new Bible study titles Jesus at the centre. I went along and took my sketch book. This time, instead of simply doodling I would think about what I hear and try to put the message into a flag.

This is the result.


Part of me feels I shouldn’t explain it, people should ‘get it’ or not get it.

So I will simply explain how I made it.

It’s a piece of canvas, the type you use for tote bags.

I used Inktense sticks and water to paint the background, I saw something on YouTube about how the sticks can be used as a fabric paint if you iron it once dry.

In the centre I hand embroidered in gold thread the Hebrew word Yeshua, which is the Hebrew name for Jesus, this took quite a while and the gold thread was a wee bit difficult.

Since everyone says I have neat handwriting I hand painted descriptive words for emotions around the edge.

I painted a small piece of ribbon with the words Lord of All, a reference to something said during the study and sewed this in place.

Then I frayed the edges, stiffened the top and punched two eyelets so the flag can be hung on a wall or joined to another with ribbon.

As for the meaning, I suppose it means whatever you believe it means. Perhaps you recognise an emotion around the edge and recognise a need to hand it over. Or perhaps you recognise that Jesus came as a man and experienced all these emotions so He truly understands us. Perhaps you see something totally different and it’d be interesting if you wanted to share that in the comments.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the next Bible study.

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.

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.

That’s how you make a soldier

Recently I was in Manchester for a few work meetings and had a long lunch break. It was a Sunday, so I looked up the local corps and found they had a meeting at 12noon. Perfect time for me to go.

It was a friendly corps, one of those smaller, but growing places that I love.

A few other visitors arrived and I realised it was a special day, the enrolment of three new salvationists. A family, mum, dad and son.

In the usual UK corps, we can be a bit boring (maybe somber is a better word), especially when it comes to new soldiers and adherents. Usually, at some point in the meeting we call the folks being enrolled to the platform, a flag is brought out. The words are spoken, forms are signed, we stand in silence and raise a hand to promise to support the new people, then a few photos and it’s all over.

Maybe that’s why the uniform isn’t valued by some of us anymore. It’s nothing to celebrate.

Manchester Central was a different kettle of fish!

At some point in the meeting, without warning, a man at the back of the hall shouted out, “Please rise for the Salvation Army’s newest soldiers”, then with flag unfurled he marched in with the three new people following on.

“That’s a nice welcome”, I thought.

Three chairs were placed at the front for the new soldiers to sit in, then one by one they were brought to the platform and individually made soldiers. Not a mass gathering as I’ve seen, but the officer (who mentioned this was the first time she had done this) went through the whole process separately for each person. Making it a personal commitment. Each new soldier was asked to kneel and sign the articles of war (which we, as a whole congregation had previously read out), and each time we waited patiently while the soldier spent time at the mercy seat before moving to the next soldier.

This wasn’t a rush job, the band wasn’t eager to play and no one cared that the meeting was running on. Each person went through the ceremony as though they were the only person being made a soldier that day.

Then something I found really interesting, soldiers were asked to come forward and put the epaulets on the soldiers shoulders, as though, in that very moment, they became one of us, a part of the family.

Each person gave a testimony and I realised this was a whole family, coming to the church as one, but each making the commitment as an individual.

Finally, welcoming in the new soldiers, an old fashioned glory march.

Anyway, I share it with you, a small, but growing corps, that’s not yet become the somber, everyone looks the same, type of corps some of us have become.

Singing the old songs

One of the things I absolutely love about my dad is his singing, and yet, if you asked people to describe him the last word they would use is singer. I’d even go so far as saying close family members wouldn’t recognise him as a soloist.

Every so often (less now-a-days sadly) he will start humming or singing a few lines of a song, I’m not even sure he knows he’s doing it; then I find myself hours later humming a tune he put in my mind.

The songs are what some people might call the ‘old Salvation Army’ songs, and perhaps are overlooked. Writers like Gowans and Larsson, Genral Albert Osbourne and of course William Booth. Older songs, but the words, oh so deep rooted.

My parents were never the type to make us pray or read the Bible, but some years ago I realised my dad, through his singing, had been teaching me the Christian message all along. I was picking up the message without being forced or coerced, unaware that it was happening. Looking back, at some of my darkest times, a song has started in my mind that, at some point in my life, he put there.

My sins they are many, their stains are so deep.
And bitter the tears of remorse that I weep;
But useless is weeping; thou great crimson sea,
Thy waters can cleanse me, come, roll over me

William Booth (1829-1912)

This, this is the God we adore
Our faithful, unchangeable friend,
Whose love is as great as his power,
And knows neither measure nor end.
‘Tis Jesus, the first and the last,
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;
We’ll praise him for all that is past,
And trust him for all that’s to come.
Joseph Hart (1712-68)

If sometimes men can live for others,
And sometimes give where gifts are spurned,
If sometimes treat their foes as brothers,
And love where love is not returned,

Then how much more shall God our Father
In love forgive, in love forgive!

John Gowans

This evening my parents were giving me a lift home and found myself humming a tune.

I only remember the words of the chorus so as soon as I got home I searched for the rest of the words and found someone singing the song on YouTube.

When from sin’s dark hold thy love had won me,
And its wounds thy tender hands had healed,
As thy blest commands were laid upon me,
Growing light my growing need revealed.
Thus I sought the path of consecration
When to thee, dear Lord, my vows were given;
And the joy which came with full salvation
Winged my feet and filled my heart with Heaven.

Chorus
By the love that never ceased to hold me,
By the blood which thou didst shed for me,
While thy presence and thy power enfold me,
I renew my covenant with thee.

2.
But my heart at times with care is crowded,
Oft I serve with weak, o’erladen hands,
And that early joy grows dim and clouded
As each day its heavy toll demands.
Have I ceased from walking close beside thee?
Have I grieved thee with an ill-kept vow?
In my heart of hearts have I denied thee?
Speak, dear Lord, O speak and tell me now.

3.
By the love that never ceased to hold me
In a bond nor life nor death shall break,
As thy presence and thy power enfold me,
I would plead fresh covenant to make.
From before thy face, each vow renewing,
Strong in heart, with purpose pure and deep,
I will go henceforth thy will pursuing,
With my Lord unbroken faith to keep.
Will J. Brand (1889-1977)

I often feel a lot of my blogs can seem slightly negative about the Salvation Army, or at least the uniform part of it. I might even come across as someone who doesn’t like the music part of church, but I was raised on the music, even though I didn’t realise it at the time. My experience with the Salvation Army has, at times (far too many times) been difficult, painful, and un-Christ-like, but I am still here, sometimes wondering why, and yet knowing there will be a reason that God wants me here.

This morning at church, someone asked whether I was still serious about becoming an officer, and I got thinking.

I’m about to start my intern year and am looking at places I can work and opportunities for the future. Of course I also have a huge list of crafts I want to learn, courses I want to attend, knitting techniques I still haven’t mastered. I sometimes worry that I’ll not live long enough to do it all. Will I ever get to work at Rowan? will I ever write a book on Crochet dolls? Will I ever master the Shima Seiki?

But then I found myself humming, reminding myself of my covenant, and I know, as long as I follow the path, moving forward, it’ll all be fine.

Just in case any of you is interested… This is a very old grainy picture of my dad (those sideburns alone should be an arrest-able offence!)

unnamed.jpg

 

 

Never underestimate a Yorkshire lass.

I try to keep my on line image as a crafting person very organised and positive (apart from the odd moan). Recently though, something happened that I can only say is a bit of a wonder.

So, I’ve decided to start some personal blogs about the ‘Me’ behind Betty Virago. Take these posts or leave them, if what I say isn’t for you, then tip your hat, wish me well, and continue searching craft posts.

I wrote a post last year, a bit of a moan, about being let down by Bradford college and a textile craft diploma I applied for. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and at the time I felt angry and “Why is it always me?” about the whole thing.

There is a saying…

God has three answers.. “Yes, Not Yet and I have something better in mind”

I forgot that the third answer isn’t No.

A few months after that rejection I was with my knitting buddies at the Knit & Stitch show in Harrogate, a massive and jam-packed event. Well worth a trip to Yorkshire and at the same time you can visit the Yorkshire mecca, Betty’s tea shop.

Downstairs at the exhibition there is a line of colleges advertising their courses and one caught my eye. Huddersfield University had a degree in Art & Craft textiles. I took a brochure and looked and looked.

School was a place to went to, to get out of the house, not a place for learning, so GCSE’s are lacking. All my qualifications were gained during later employment and personal study and none were related to art or craft in any way. Eventually I worked out how to apply for the course (I know nothing about Uni and I didn’t even know the first thing about how to apply for the course).

In February I was working with Leeds Poverty Truth, settled on teaching little craft classes and selling patterns and crafts. But I had managed to get an interview at Huddersfield, mainly thanks to a superb reference from Boris at Inkwell (Leeds MIND).

The Uni asked me to bring my portfolio to the interview!!! Portfolio? Everyone I asked said not to worry, just take some of my work and I’ll be fine.

Anyway, the interview day arrived. I entered a room with several young people, all carrying huge black leather bound portfolios crammed with stuff. Each young person was accompanied by one or two parents and all looked organised and smart. I own jeans and t-shirts, that’s my whole wardrobe.

We were asked to put our portfolios on a table and go on a tour of the University campus while our work was assessed. Everyone placed their open folders on a table. I pulled out a Tupperware box of bits and a pack of photos. What a idiot I felt! Totally out of my depth.

We went on a tour, very nice. The course works around four techniques, Knitting, weaving, dyeing and embroidery. Every machine is available to use from traditional floor looms to enormous computerised machines. It was fantastic, but the whole time I just wanted to go home. Sadly I had to stick it out, after all, they had my box of things and some of them were on Etsy, I couldn’t just leave them.

After the tour we were led into a room where we had to wait to be interviewed in pairs. There I sat, surrounded by youngsters and parents, uncomfortable, awkward, wanting the ground to swallow me whole. So I did what any other crafter would do in my position, I took out my crochet.

Me and a young girl were the last to be interviewed. Yep, it seemed like I was in that room waiting for hours.

The teacher was very nice, didn’t laugh at my ‘portfolio’, suggested I start writing out my ideas before making things – I have an idea and work it out in my head instead of putting it on paper.

The young girl had stuff, lots of it. Pages of experiments, she was nice though and I gave her my details, so when she comes to Uni she can contact me and I can teach her crochet.

Then I went home.

Like I said, God has three answers and none of them are No. A year ago I applied for a course at Bradford college and it fell through. God had something better in mind.

A few weeks after the interview I had an email, I was offered a place at Huddersfield starting, well, it’s starting in five weeks. The loans and grants have been applied for, disabled student support organised, travel journey planned, new pencil case bought (well, that’s a right of passage). In a few weeks I’m going to be getting up and travelling the train to Huddersfield and It’s not really hit me yet, even after all these months of organising it.

Underneath the Betty Virago image is someone who thinks they won’t achieve much… on the other hand…

Another thing that happened last year was my computer broke. I lost a lot of stuff, all my music and all the photos of me. I have 2 photos of me now and I’ll share them because there is something important that these two photos say. A message for everyone who thinks good things won’t happen, life won’t improve, God doesn’t say Yes.

1997 This photo was taken almost 20 years ago. It’s me, yep, that’s right. I’m sitting in a doorway, wrapped in a blanket (my bed for the night) eating handed out food and drinking cider.

It’s a newspaper cutting that I keep in my bible to remind me how far I’ve come. taken at one of my lowest points in life.

If you want to read more then visit the Leeds Poverty Truth blog

http://leedspovertytruth.wordpress.com/

Or watch the video on Youtube

I’m there at 45 mins in.

The only other photo I have was taken by a photographer working for Leeds Poverty Truth. It’s my “after” photo.

2014So here’s my message.

No person is a loser. No life is a waste. You, yes YOU, can make it.

Some of you will think, God, bah humbug. Okay, then the human spirit can do remarkable things. take from this what you need and continue looking at my craft posts.

But there are those of you, maybe just one person, who needs to hear this.

God does not say No

God does not make mistakes

God does not make worthless people

 

You are worth it.