A Question of Blessing

It’s been a while since I mentioned the quilts of hope project, it had to be put on a back burner while I finished my degree. But it was something that I was so passionate about I knew I’d return to it at some point.

Well, for those who are new to the blog and those who’ve forgotten what the quilts were about, here is a recap…

The quilts of hope project combined two thoughts; What happens when people craft together and How does a fabric become a spiritual object.

Although the idea of making a quilt with messages on was one I thought of in my first year at university it wasn’t until the end of my second year that I got to sit down with a group of students and hand sew a quilt.

What I found fascinating wasn’t the skill needed, in fact the quilting process is a very simple in and out stitch that is quick and easy to learn. It was the community that I found interesting.

Folk who knit in groups might know what I’m on about when I talk about the comradery of crafting together. I used to go to a knitting group where was sat in a group knitting our own projects, but the conversation was what brought us together. I think those fellow knitters knew more about me than my GP did!

There’s been a long tradition of community crafting, from waulking cloth and singing songs in time with the process to the modern day yarn bombing. There’s some connection to sitting around and working together and chatting together that is perhaps as therapeutic as a psychotherapy session.

As I worked with the students, all at least a decade younger than I, sitting around a quilt and sewing the very simple stitch we began to chat together, then sing from the radio (ABBA songs seem to be good for all generations) then our conversation turned into this magical therapeutic atmosphere where no subject was off guard and we moved away from sharing niceties to discussing the truth of our lives. Depression, eating disorders, suicide, stress… subjects that perhaps would only be shared after a long period of friendship were suddenly being discussed openly, with no worry or fear.

There was no feeling of being embarrassed or as though you were sharing something that would trigger some uncontrollable emotional situation, in a sense our conversation, though quite deep, had an air of lightness and refreshment.

I’ve experienced counselling and quite often, when a heavy subject has been discussed, it can leave a sense of dread for quite a while after. Here though there was none of the heavy after-thoughts of sharing.

Perhaps it was simply that we had something else to do.

Maybe, that barrier that stops us from being open, or the inner voice that tells us we’ll be misunderstood or judged as unacceptable, had been removed. The simple act of distraction by our hands working, whether knitting or the simple stitch of quilting, has the power to free us from self-discrimination.

If churches really wanted to reach their community what better way of doing so than a community group that had the ability to really get to know its participants. Imagine the folk around the church area, coming together for a crafting purpose and whilst crafting, talking together about the issues that really matter.

The second thought came through a long term relationship with a local charity.

The Joanna project works in the red light area, going out at night to meet the women as they work and pray, feed and care for them. During the day they also have a safe house where the women can come and eat, shower and see a number of professionals to get help to change their lives for the better.

Sometimes, when you get to know a woman who has suffered from unspeakable abuse, there’s a feeling that you just want to reach out and hug them.

When you think about a hug, this act of holding onto someone and not letting go because you think it makes them feel safe. It might work for some, but when working with someone who knows what it’s like to be forced against their will, it can feel like being trapped all over again.

Speaking personally, because it’s all I can do, I know what it’s like to be trapped. To be in a position where someone has you pinned down, you’re not free to wriggle out or step away. I know the fear of being held against my will and when someone comes to hug me, there’s often the same feeling.

I know that most people are hugging you as a sign of love, but for those who know entrapment, a hug isn’t that different. Quite often it’s a spontaneous act that’s done without asking permission. I was reminded of the fear that comes with a hug last week when I was at a workshop on poverty. I was speaking about mental illness and was saying something rather difficult and filled with emotion. A woman I didn’t know jumped up and came quickly behind me and hugged me.

I understand that she was doing something she thought was a nice gesture, but I’ve experienced people coming behind me and putting their arms around me, only it wasn’t done out of kindness.

How do you hug someone, when a hug can do more harm than good?

And that’s how the Quilts of Hope project was born.

Imagine a quilt, hand stitched with messages of love and hope, sewn together by people at community quilting workshops, where folk from all backgrounds come together, sit around a quilting frame and stitch together. Pouring their love of vulnerable women into squares which are turned into a physical textile ‘hug’.

In one sense, a community of people, gathering for an evening in a church hall, learning the basics of quilting, and experiencing a place where they are free to talk openly about their lives in an atmosphere of acceptance. Where church folk can start the process of making real friends and connections with folk in the community.

But then, what is made from these workshops, a quilt given to a women’s shelter.

Where, at a woman’s most vulnerable moment, when a physical hug can cause pain, she can wrap herself in the quilt, giving herself total freedom of movement, can rest beneath the quilt, read the messages of love, and feel safe and loved knowing there are hundreds of women behind the quilt, all praying for and loving her.

Finally, the first quilt has been finished and the next question for me begins.

How does a piece of cloth become a spiritual object?

Behind the Quilts of Hope is a belief that our prayers can go with the quilt to the women we do not know. I don’t know who will use the quilt, I don’t know the needs of the people who will bury themselves underneath it, so all I have is the prayers I pray for the unknown women, that’s something only God knows.

I’ve always thought that I’d like some sort of blessing said over a quilt before it’s sent off, perhaps five minutes of a church service where the church pray for the women who will use the quilt and perhaps where those who’ve worked on the quilt can come and see off their square once it’s been joined to the whole.

Yet, now that time has come, it feels somewhat silly (again, that inner voice of self-doubt) Does it matter that a church has had a final prayer? Aren’t the silent prayers of the individual quilters enough? Well, of course they are, but somehow, I want a final… well, a final blessing. Does that sound crazy?

I remember as a child, our Sunday School got a new piano, well new to us!

I remember clearly listening to the Sunday school leader talking about the piano having a history, pointing out a ring stain left from perhaps a pint of beer, and the question that maybe once, this piano had a very different life. Then I remember praying for the piano, and it’s new life being used for God.

I remember too, a collection of brass instruments being donated and sent to Africa where they were needed, and I remember the instruments being laid on the mercy seat and praying over them.

So it’s certainly not a new idea, and I wonder whether this is something that God is putting on my heart because He also thinks it’s an important part of the quilt process.

My next question is this, What would that blessing look like?

And here’s where I need your thoughts, please comment or email your thoughts on this.

How do we hand over the quilt? Do we invite a staff member from the joanna project to come and be handed the quilt? Do we lay the quilt at the front of church for people to lay a hand on it? Do I just ask for prayers or do I spend a couple of minutes explaining the ideas behind the project?

I really look forward to hearing what people think about this.

In the meantime I start on the next quilt. This time for the Salvation Army’s human trafficking unit. I have no idea where this one will end up, except that it’ll be used for people who’ve experienced being trafficked in the U.K.

I’m thinking, perhaps the people who will need this quilt won’t have English as a first language, so I’ve been asking for squares with hearts on… a universal sign of love. However, messages are welcome too!

I’m still a few squares short, so if you want to make a square email me for details. Also (a little pitch here) if you want the quilts of hope project to come to your church or community group, please get in touch. I can only make these quilts if people invite me to come and make them with you.

(Knitted) Quilts of Hope Square 1

For those who have come here from Ravelry, welcome. I encourage you to read my other posts on this blog about the Quilts of Hope project and what we are trying to do.

Being a yarnie and having many yarnie friends I felt a project that only used sewing was just not on. I want to welcome several craftpeople to the project and so, here is the first of several (hopefully) knitted squares for a (knitted) Quilt of Hope.

It’s a simple stocking stitch square with a garter stitch edge, something rather easy to start with. The finished square should measure 4.5 inches. I kept it quite small because I get frustrated knitting plain squares and wanted something beginners could make without getting bored.

If you are making squares for the project (and I really, REALLY, hope you do) please add a note as to whether they are acrylic, wool or one of the many other fancy yarns. This helps with sewing up and washing later.

One project that could benefit from knitted and crochet blankets is the Salvation Army human trafficking unit, who help relocate people rescued from slavery in the UK, Yep, we don’t often think about slavery as a modern day problem, but there are people caught in slavery in the UK, yes, even in Yorkshire.

I was listening to one woman who helps with the relocation of rescued people. Sometimes they’re alone, sometimes in a small group, sometimes with children. They may have a journey through the night, across the country, several hours long.

The people might not speak English, they’ve learnt not to trust, and don’t fully understand what is happening to them. Imagine travelling being that person, in a country you don’t know. I imagined blankets to help through the car journey, maybe with heart patterns on some of the squares (the heart is a bit like a universal symbol). It might help break down the language barrier and at least be a comfort on the journey.

So without further ado, Quilt of Hope, knit square 1

With DK yarn and 4mm needles, Cast on 24 stitches

1-4) knit

5) knit

6) knit 3, Purl to the last 3 stitches, Knit 3

Repeat rows 5 & 6 up to row 30

31-34) knit

Cast off

All done


This is an easy square to get you started with more squares to follow.

If you are in the Leeds area, we will be meeting on Thursday 20th October at Costa coffee shop, Crown Point, Leeds. It’s two doors down from Hobbycraft.

We will meet at 1.30pm till 3.30pm and will be hand sewing squares, knitting and crocheting squares. Come when you can, leave when you need to.

No experience necessary!

Modern day slavery

image

As a member of the Salvation Army I am very aware of slavery and trafficking in today’s society. I also work for the joanna project and know many women who are forced to work in terrible situations.

Yet, until now, I have never come across a situation where a government has sanctioned forced labour on its own people, children included.

While searching for information on the cotton industry I came across the Anti-Slavery website.

http://www.antislavery.org/english/campaigns/cottoncrimes/default.aspx

I’m sure they wont mind if I copy part of the webpage here…

This year’s cotton harvest is underway in Uzbekistan again. Children and adults are forced to pick cotton by hand for in order to fill the shortfall in voluntary adult labour. They receive little, if any, pay.

Each citizen is given a daily quota, which, this year, will be up to 70kg of cotton a day. Those who fail to meet their targets, or who pick a low quality crop, are reportedly punished by detention, told that their grades will suffer or face problems at their day to day workplace. Children who run away from the cotton fields, or who refuse to work, are threatened with expulsion from school or college. 

There are many ways to deal with this information.

  • You can ignore it, since it doesn’t affect you or your family
  • Go to the anti slavery link above and sign the petition
  • Avoid companies who use the cotton
  • Buy cotton from an alternative source
  • Find organic cotton http://www.organiccotton.biz/

But now you’re aware of it the one thing you can’t do is claim you didn’t know (because you’ve read about it)