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.

Traditional Crafts and Traditions

I want to start with a story, which I’m sure most of you will know.

A little girl is watching her mother cook a fish and notices that her mother cuts off the head of the fish before putting it into the pan to cook.

“Why do you cut off the head?” the girl asks, to which her mother responds, “it’s how my mother taught me to cook”.

So the little girl goes to her grandmother, “Why do we cut the head off of the fish to cook it?”, to which the grandmother responds, “It’s how my mother taught me to cook”.

And I’m sure you know the story by now.

The little girls goes to her great-grandmother and asks, “Why do we cut the head off the fish to cook it?”.

The Great-grandmother replies, “because my pan wasn’t long enough for the whole fish”.


My Grandmother in her then-fashionable bonnet
My Grandmother in her then-fashionable bonnet

I grew up in the Salvation Army, I know all about tradition. I grew up wearing a horrible bonnet designed for Victorian heads and hairstyles (buns). Many women salvationists kept pieces of sponge in the bonnet to keep it from slipping, but I know many women who kept their spare pair of stockings in there.

Yep, the army bonnet. It’s history is fascinating really, it’s Victorian style comes from the birth of the army when salvationists were often targeted by the skeleton army and publicans angry that their biggest customers were becoming Christians and not spending their money in the pubs any more. The bonnet was head protection from stones and other missiles.

In Victorian times the bonnet was a fashionable and useful item. Now it’s an uncomfortable, unhelpful, off-putting tradition.


When I first started spinning wool I sat in the spinning group listening attentively to every word people said. If I was going to master this craft I needed to hear everything.

Eventually I got my first set of carders (large brushes for, well, brushing the fibres). One spinner was showing how to use the brushes when another spinner spoke up.

“You should only brush the fibre three times.”

Why? No one knew, but a name was mentioned in reverence as though this unknown (to me) spinner was the fount of all spinning knowledge and if that’s what she said then that’s what happened.

I spent some time using the cards, giving them three brushes.

Then I broke free.

I recently invested in several spinning videos and watched one, From Wool to Waulking by Norman Kennedy.

From Wool to Waulking
From Wool to Waulking

Norman has been spinning since a young lad and learnt mostly from spinners in the highlands of Scotland. He was raised firmly in spinning tradition and his video is both informative and fascinating, I totally recommend it.



Throughout his video he makes reference to other spinners and knitters who don’t do things as he was taught. He speaks as though he is the one authority on spinning knowledge, often seemingly putting other spinners in an inferior position.

Norman Kennedy has a unique insight in spinning, he learnt from traditional spinners from one part of the world. He’s has a knowledge that thankfully he is sharing in order to keep that tradition alive.

But tradition doesn’t leave room for experimentation, new technologies, and other cultures.

Yesterday I had a fantastic trip to the British Wool Marketing Board in Bradford. I’ll tell you about it another time, but Oh My!!!

I have never seen so much fleece in one place, and the smell… To dye for.

Stacks and rows and stacks of huge plastic bags filled to bursting with wool.

Halfway through the tour one of our group turned to me and said, “I see they store their wool in plastic, but I was told only to store it in a cotton pillowcase”.

Before I could respond we were led through a door and my chance lost.

I thought long and hard about this idea of only storing fibre in cotton, where does it come from…

Imagine, this woman goes to the spinner who taught her, “Why do we only store fibre in cotton?”

“Because that’s how I was taught”

And the question goes back through time to a very retired spinner, who taught spinners through the ages, now sitting in an old folks home with her knitting stored in a plastic tupperware box beside her…

“Well, back then, plastic wasn’t available and cotton kept it from going all over the place”

I don’t know if that’s the truth behind this, but if plastic is good enough for the Wool Board… and Spinner Judith MacKenzie… and Armley Mill Museum… and… well, pretty much anyone who ships wool around the world. Then it’s good enough for me.

I love the traditional crafts, and I hope you do too, but if you ever hear the words…

You’re holding your hook, wool, needle… (Insert tool here) wrong

You should only do that …. (insert number here) times.

That’s not how my mother, grandmother, teacher … (insert person here) did it.

And you’re not in a re-enactment group….

Ask the question and consider whether it matters, after all, Traditions are like rules… Made to be broken.

Slow Creativity

It used to be, things made slowly, by hand were for the poor. If you couldn’t afford new clothes, you made them. Hand knitted jumpers were made by family members over time, where shop bought winter wear was for people who could afford to travel to skiing locations.

Well, that was my experience anyway.

Shops couldn’t/wouldn’t stock the handmade style because it took too long to create. If you had money, you could afford to save time and buy what had been made commercially.

Machinery came in that cut time and costs to products and the quicker things were made, the cheaper they became.

But with modern machinery came a loss of traditional craftsmanship.

The slow movement brings back the loss of hand made skill.

The idea that something is made slowly, consciously. No modern machinery, no technology that takes the focus away from the task of creating.

At Uni we were given a small piece of cloth. We were told to bring simple tools, tweezers, scissors and spent several hours sat on our own, no conversation, quiet music playing, dimmed lighting.

Our only goal, to take apart the cloth and put it back together.

Experiencing the cloth fully, contemplating the craftsmanship in making.

I started by silently taking threads from the edge, just wanting to take enough to make the cloth a neat square. Nothing was to be wasted, every scrap had to be saved.

When I had enough threads I had the idea of crocheting them into a square. I tied the ends together then made a granny square.

Using more threads I cut a hole in the fabric and sewed the granny square back into the cloth.

Could I do this enough that it no longer was a woven cloth, but a crochet blanket?

The idea then formed that I would only do certain squares. The cloth would remain, but with an added value.

After the cloth was made we were told to treasure it, make a box or similar to put it in, so I made a box.

I bought a cardboard book style box from Hobbycraft and painted the inside with gold acrylic.

The outside of the box was painted with metallic paints

The cat added value by walking over the paint before it dried (Note to self – when I’m famous, rent a studio with a separate area for the cat)

Finally I folded the cloth and secured it with brown ribbon.

Divergent thinking and my path to a bad grade.

I should have done this blog weeks ago, before I broke my leg and since I get the cast taken off in just over a week, well it’s been a long time. But I kept putting it off, and since I like to do my work in order I kept putting other work on hold till it was done. The work piled up and I didn’t know why, until I realised it’s a dire task.

The lesson was on Divergent thinking… I didn’t get it… we watched a two minute video… great video…. I still didn’t get it.

I’ve spent all day today trying to get the work done, or rather avoiding facing the work. I’ve watched three episodes of Voyager, slept for an hour around 3pm, spent ages feeding treats to the cat, sorted out my Amazon wishlist… anything but do this.

If you want to see someone who’s done the homework properly follow this link:


It’s my friend Sarahs blog task.

I’m going to lose marks, but, Y’know there’s some things in life that you know you just can’t face, and answering questions on paragraphs is one of them.

Instead I looked at Divergent thinking.

Here’s the link to the video we saw in class:


It’s a talk by Sir Ken Robinson on Divergent Thinking and education. The video we were shown stops at 2 min 18, but this link shows a minute more.

This idea that as we get older we become less and less creative really interested me for two reasons.

1. I’m classed as a mature student, although my maturity can be questioned.

2. Not everyone loses this skill over time.

I’m statistically less creative than the majority of people on my course, but there’s something I can do about it.

My search for divergent thinking understanding led me to Tina Seelig from Stanford University.


She talks about creative people and the decline of creativity. One thing she brought up is the change of learning space as we age.

For example, my primary school classroom looked like this:

Image 1: AIS, . (2012). Kindergarten classroom. [Online image]. , http://www.ais-uae.com/en/Menu/index.aspx?PriMenuID=8&CatID=18&RefID=0&mnu=Cat.

Well, okay, we had a seperate room for our bags, we had a blackboard not a white board, There were no computers, and the TV was wheeled in on a huge trolley, and there was a play house in the corner.

Then high school

Image 2: BBC, . Starting secondary school. [Online image]. , http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/find_out/guides/uk/back_2_skool/newsid_2188000/2188695.stm.

Pretty accurate, except for the art room where tables faced the wall. The TV was still on a locked trolley, but we rarely saw it.

Workplace courses

And suddenly I’m not as surprised with the age/loss of creativity connection.

Then I came across a talk by Michael Bahr, He talks about thinking about the box. His idea for creativity is that we need more rules instead of less rules.

For example, a drama teacher might ask students to create a scene.

But the students need rules, the more rules means the more creative we become.

So the same teacher might say, create a scene, but…

It has do be about a penguin… in the desert… eating ice cream…

and suddenly creativity begins.


Finally, in writing this I found another video of a Ken Robinson talk.


He interviewed Paul McCartney and asked about his schooling. He asked Paul whether he enjoyed music at school and whether the music teacher thought Paul had any talent. Paul said No.

Elvis Presley, while at school, wasn’t allowed in the glee club because it was thought he would ruin his sound.

This gives me hope.

So, I will probably lose marks for not doing my homework as asked, but I’ve enjoyed the process of discovery.