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Dolls House sized Travel Home

Well, it seems quite a while since I made anything or wrote on this blog, but here’s a fantastic little free make in the hope that you’ll forgive my non-posting.

I’ve spent a long time making dolls and trying to ‘up my game’ I figured I’d like a nice way to package dolls I sold. I’ve been looking for boxes for quite a while, then I came up with this little idea.

A little traveling home for my mini crochet dolls. It fits dolls just under 6″, so that’s dolls house dolls and some of Beth Webbers smaller dolls, plus some of the ball-jointed dolls that I’ve been looking longingly at recently.

It’s a long set of instructions and all the items I used were bought at my local Hobbycraft (I think that might be Hobby Lobby in the USA)

Firstly, you will need:

1 x A6 craft essentials storage box

12″ x 12″ scrapbook paper (for wallpaper, so look for small patterns)

A4 sized foam board

Piece of 1/8″ diameter wooden dowel

Bead with a large eye

Thin piece of ribbon or embroidery thread

sewing needle with an eye large enough for the ribbon or thread and thin enough to fit through the bead. I used a cross stitch needle.

Pritstick, Tacky Glue, double sided tape

Sellotape

Pencil

Scalpel

Cutting mat

Ruler

Pliers

Gorilla Glue

Small bit of water.

Step 1 – The Wallpaper

Cut a piece of 12″x12″ scrapbook paper to 16.5cm x 22cm

Along the 22cm edge measure in 5cm from each side and fold in, this should make a folded piece that fits perfectly into the A6 box.

Use Tacky glue, Prit-stick or Double sided tape to stick into place.

Make sure you add glue to the corners, no one likes the peeling wallpaper look!fullsizeoutput_198b.jpeg

Step 2 – The Bed

With Foam Board, cut the following pieces:

1 x 7cm x 16cm piece for the top

2 x 4cm x 7cm pieces for the bed ends

2 x 4cm x 15cm pieces for the sidesfullsizeoutput_198a.jpeg

Glue the short ends to the bed first, then the long sides. Glue the sides to the front of the bed, not the edges. Secure with sellotape.fullsizeoutput_1989.jpeg

SAFETY WARNING! 

When using scalpels and glues, remove kids and pets from the working area, keep scalpels closed and glue lids on. My cat recently sat on a mould filled with epoxy and ended up with a plastic butt!fullsizeoutput_1988.jpeg

The bed cover. Cut a piece of 12″x12″ scrapbook paper to 25cm x 16cmfullsizeoutput_1987.jpeg

Then cut a 4.5cm corner out of each corner of that piece. fullsizeoutput_1986.jpegFold the sides over and glue into place. Secure the edge with clear sellotape if you think you need to.fullsizeoutput_1985.jpegfullsizeoutput_1984.jpeg

Step 3 – The Centre Panel

Cut a piece of Foam Board 17cm x 5cm

Cut a piece of the scrapbook paper 17cm x 10.5cm.fullsizeoutput_1983.jpeg

Along the 10.5cm edge mark 5cm from both edges and fold in, this leaves 1/2 a centimetre space for the edge of the foam board.fullsizeoutput_1982.jpeg

Fold the paper over the foam board and glue in place.fullsizeoutput_1981.jpeg

Place the bed into the box then slide in the panel making sure the bed has a comfortable fit to pull in and out once the panel has been glued in place. fullsizeoutput_1980.jpegMark the panel position with a pencil then remove the bed and panel, fullsizeoutput_197f.jpegGlue between the panel markings and glue the panel in place. Check the bed still fits, but remove the bed until the glue has dried.

fullsizeoutput_1978.jpegLEAVE TO DRYfullsizeoutput_197a.jpeg

Step 4 – The Wardrobe

Using a 1/8″ diameter piece of wooden dowel you need to cut a piece that will fit across the wardrobe space. For me the size was 4.3cm, but you need to measure your own dowel, however, it should be around the same size.fullsizeoutput_197b.jpeg

I cut the dowel with a scalpel knife, then snapped the piece off with pliers.fullsizeoutput_1979.jpeg

Use a good glue to fix the dowel in place. I use Gorilla Glue and am beginning to swear by Gorilla Glue products. fullsizeoutput_197d.jpegThis glue activates with water. fullsizeoutput_197e.jpegSo I dipped the dowel in water, then added a tiny drop to each end of the dowel. The glue expands when dry, so you only need a tiny amount.fullsizeoutput_197c.jpeg

Push the dowel in place. If you’ve measured it long enough it should fit snuggly and not need holding in place.

Put the bed into its space to stop the dowel from pushing the panel out.fullsizeoutput_196d.jpeg

LEAVE TO SET

Step 5 – The Bed Pull (Optional Step)

I used a glass bead with a medium sized hole and a cross stitch needle.

Thread the ribbon (or embroidery thread) through the needle, then thread the needle through the bead eye. If it’s a tight fit you could use pliers to help pull the needle through, but don’t break the bead doing this.fullsizeoutput_196a.jpeg

Tie a knot on the ribbon to stop the bead falling off and cut the ribbon long enough to hang nicely from the underside of the bed (about 2inches).fullsizeoutput_196e.jpeg

Glue in place under the bed, add some clear sellotape to keep in place while it dries.fullsizeoutput_1969.jpeg

Step 6 – The Shelves

Cut two pieces of foam board 4cm x 4.5cm

Cut two pieces of scrapbook paper 4.5cm x 8.5cm

Measure along the 8.5cm edge and mark 4cm from each edge, leaving the 1/2cm gap.

fullsizeoutput_1968.jpegFold in and glue around the foam board shelves.

fullsizeoutput_196c.jpegAgain, you need a nice tight fit, so you will most likely need to trim a slither from the edge of the shelves to fit.

fullsizeoutput_196b.jpegOnce they fit nicely, glue in place.

fullsizeoutput_1966.jpegDecorate as required.

I made some coat hangers from Polymer Clay and jewellery wire to hang the dolls spare dresses on and she has a shelf for spare underwear and shoes.

fullsizeoutput_1967.jpeg

I’m also making a quilt and pillow for the bed but as you can see, she’s going to have a great time in her little travel house.

Hope you enjoy this little tutorial.

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As I said, I bought all of the supplies from Hobbycraft. I’ll be at my local store on the 13th September running a six week quilting and patchwork workshop. At the time of writing this there are a few spaces left, it’s a small group and if anyone has been to one of my workshops you know that I make sure everyone has a great time and makes something wonderful. No experience necessary but if you’ve got experience still consider coming and see what new things you can learn.

Other news, I went to London in July for the New Designers exhibition, that was really great. I also got accepted for the craft council website and of course, I graduated with a BA(hons) in textile art and crafts. By far though the best news was coming winning first prize for wool innovation from the Worshipful Company of Woolmen. Good things must be ahead!

Let me know in the comments how you are all doing, send some crafting and doll making love and let me know what you’ve been making.fullsizeoutput_1964.jpeg

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Quilting without machinery

Looking at quilting videos these days can put you off crafting I think!

There’s been a lot of advances in technology recently with sewing machines having longer arms and quilting frames and well, all sorts of wonderful magical equipment.

If you’re looking at getting into quilting you might come across a video like this…

Then you might start looking online for the equipment you’d need to start quilting and, well then you’d need a sit down and a cup of tea.

I’m all for innovation in crafting, but we should never put aside the traditional methods.

So in September I’m starting a series of hand quilting workshops at my local Hobbycraft store.

Six weeks of trying out different quilting and patchwork techniques and not a machine or expensive piece of equipment in sight.

I’ll bring all the tools you need and some fabric, but people might be wanting to chose a £7 bundle of fat quarters in their own colour choice from Hobbycraft.

You don’t need to buy large rulers or fabric scissors, I’ll bring needles and thread but I’ll be happy to show people around the sewing department to show them what they can buy if they want to take their quilting further.

We’ll not be making any huge bed quilts, but we’ll be making practical things like pin cushions, needle books and trims. Items that are small enough to give you a taster of this amazing craft but enough to let you know if you want to go further into the craft.

Now I know many of my blog followers are not local (many not even in the UK) but I’m sure you’ll agree that sometimes people can be put off trying a craft skill because of the cost of equipment.

Recently a company launched a home knitting machine similar to the extremely expensive industrial machines we had at university. The machine is a full garment machine, meaning it makes the whole garment for you. No sewing, no fitting pieces together. You tell it to make a jumper and a jumper pops out the bottom.

Like the quilting machines it’ll set you back a few grand.

I can imagine now the folk who think they’ll just quit their day job and set up a knitting machine business printing jumpers and selling them at craft fairs.

Hmm reasons why this isn’t a great idea is perhaps a whole other blog post, easy money and crafts doesn’t really go together. But I can imagine some folk looking into this as a great money maker.

I think the machine looks great and if I had the money and space I just might be tempted, but honestly, I worry about this push for modern technology in crafting. If you are a modern crafter and everything you use is plugged in, why not find a class local to you and have a back to basics session, head back into the slow pace of crafting for peace rather than crafting for fast profit. (Moan over)

If, you are local, here’s the advert for the hand quilting and patchwork classes.

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And now the real work begins…

I know.

I haven’t posted in a while.

It’s been a crazy few weeks, but oh so wonderful!

On Thursday I finally get to wear that cap and gown I’ve worked so hard for, my degree finished. I’ve still got library books to hand in (typical) and being so last minute I still don’t know what time I have to be at the university. But I’m a few days away from not being a full time student.

Here’s a wee photo of my final project (and me).

As well as the degree I won an award…

And I was one of 11 students chosen to take my exhibition to London to the New Designers show

I met some people with potential opportunities and, well, it’s all been a crazy busy few weeks.

And then it all stopped.

Now I have to earn a living. I’ve applied for a couple of part time jobs to keep the money coming in, and the little I have left after exhibiting in London I’m putting into adding a shop onto this website, so excuse the next few weeks as I try out various looks and slowly add items, I’m still trying to figure out how to add postage to the listings.

Have a gander at the shop, let me know what you like and what you don’t like. Give me a few suggestions if you have them. And wish me luck trying to make it in the real world!

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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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My Final Project

My final project (I mean my final Uni project, I’m not quitting!) is based around doll making. I’ve been a doll collector and maker for years, but I wanted my final project to push my doll making and make something that celebrates another love of mine, traditional craftmaking.

I want to create a series of dolls, using materials which are as natural and locally sourced as possible. Each dolls character will take on a craft or career and will be linked to a small business or charity that promotes the craft.

Hmmm, am I explaining this right?

An example;

Here is William, a fisherman. He’s the first doll of a possible 8.

I used the My Little Crochet Doll pattern that’s on Etsy, it’s a pattern that I wrote several years ago, so the pattern is mine.

The first problem came straight away when I realised how difficult it was to find wool in flesh colours. Sure, I can get it in acrylic, but I wanted natural materials and the benefits of using wool over acrylic is huge.

I spent quite some time figuring out the dyes to use and searching for a yarn that used British wool and is fully produced in Yorkshire. Despite Yorkshire and Britain once being a huge manufacturer of wool, the majority of British wool is now sent abroad to be spun. I’ve even heard of people shipping the fleece abroad to be spun then shipping it back to the UK to be finished, imagine the carbon footprint!

So using a wool that’s a British sheep was quite easy, but finding a local producer, not so much.

I managed it though and am using a DK yarn made from the fleece of Cheviot sheep. It’s a hard wearing wool from a mountain sheep so will make a doll that’s hard wearing and long lasting.

I considered other breeds, Merino is soft, but not a traditional British sheep and I wanted to showcase British wool. I also looked at Bluefaced Leicester, a favourite fleece. It produces a lovely soft wool, but more expensive and that was also a consideration.

I’d like to bridge that gap in the market by selling flesh coloured wool that I hand dye. Because I’m using British wool and hand dyeing in small quantities it’ll be a quality product. But I also am a campaigner against poverty and can’t justify having a product that’s too expensive. Anyway, the Cheviot wool is still a lovely wool and not at all scratchy or harsh.

Anyway, I managed to dye the yarn. I’m keeping how I did that a secret though, sorry!

The doll is stuffed with British Lambswool, again I could have used acrylic, but the evidence for using pure wool in soft dolls, well non-flammable, takes on the body temperature of the child, wicks away moisture and many more.

So far I’ve got 6 skin tones, I’ve some more to try before I decide on final colours.

My dolls have a wire, pipe cleaner armature to allow them to pose their arms. Thankfully I found a local factory that’s been making pipe cleaners for over 100 years. They’re a small, local, family run business which is just perfect.

So with the mill, the dyer (who’s also a small local dye producer) and the pipe cleaners that’s three small businesses that have benefitted from the dolls so far.

The original pattern has a coloured scalp, but I wanted to change things a little, so I needle felted hair and eyes onto each doll.

As for the clothes I’m using a mixture of hand dyed Cheviot wool and a commercially produced yarn from West Yorkshire spinners, again a small local mill.

I wanted to show off the colour options of wool so the clothes are made from West Yorkshire Spinners new yarn called Illustrious. It’s a blend of Falkland wool and British Alpaca. Those who know me, will know my objection to using British Alpaca (I believe you should buy Alpaca from Peru, not Britain!) but this brand of wool comes in the largest variety of natural shades, which is what I wanted, so I’m compromising a little.

Each doll outfit has one item that’s dyed a different colour. So the fisherman has natural coloured trousers, boots, and underwear (all dolls should have underwear), but his jumper and hat is hand dyed.

This helped make the skin tone less ‘obvious’, without it the doll looked almost monotone, but the skin colour showed up, glaring at me. The one coloured item softened this out.

Anyway, that’s my project in a nutshell really.

It’d be nice to know what people think, especially about the plan to sell the dyed wool.

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Meanwood Valley Urban Farm

Today I was thinking about the Farmer doll so I took a trip to a local farm. Meanwood Valley farm (www.mvuf.org.uk) is a charity run farm near the centre of Leeds. It’s a short bus ride out and a few minutes walk from the bus stop and it’s only £2 for adults and 50p for children.

It was lambing time so lots of wee ones to see, some of the smallest lambs I’ve seen so that was nice.

There was also alpacas, cows, pigs, donkeys, guinea pigs and rabbits.

The farm has allotments for local people and a cafe which was a bit pricey but since it’s only £2 entry I guess it evens out.

I did a few sketches in pen and ink, some better than others

It was quite a nice little trip out, I’m always happy to visit sheep and met a really friendly fellow who let me give his head a scratch.

Anyway, back to the doll… when I think about a farmer I imagine them wearing a waistcoat and flat cap so that’s a must. I’m wondering whether the dolls should have accessories. Perhaps this fellow needs a bucket of feed, but maybe not knitted or crocheted. I’d like to make something out of clay, but it’s all down to time at the moment.

What do you imagine as a farmers outfit?

Well, I’ll leave you with this lovely photo of wee piglets.

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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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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.

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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.