If you've been thinking about lending your knitting or crochet skills to charity work, I'd like to recommend one of my favorites - the Prayer Shawl Ministry. There is such beauty and power in these prayer shawls (aka. "comfort shawls") for both the giver and the reciever.
The first shawl I made was for a friend diagnosed with ovarian cancer. As I watched her go through both surgery and chemo, I wanted so desperately to do something, ANYTHING, that might comfort her through that terrible ordeal. While surfing the Net, I stumbled upon a reference to prayer shawls. Googling the term led me to a website where I learned that these shawls are made and given to people in all sorts of life-changing situations (illness, grief, depression, etc.) for comfort, love, and inspiration.
I found a basic Trinity stitch pattern, pulled some exquisitely soft bulky yarn out of my stash, and went to town on size 16 needles. Knitting for only a few hours each evening, it took me about 2 weeks to complete the shawl. When I wrapped that shawl around her shoulders and told her of the prayers and love I put into its creation, we both cried. She later told me that everytime she felt like she needed a hug, she'd wrap that shawl around her shoulders. She fought that terrible disease over nearly five years requiring multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy. When I couldn't be there for her, the shawl was. She died this past June and the shawl continues to comfort her grieving family.
Since that first prayer shawl for my friend, I've made a dozen more that have been given to others through my church's pastoral ministry. Besides being rewarding charity work, creating these shawls has also strengthened my faith and helped me develop a more contemplative prayer life.
If you'd like more information on prayer shawls, you can find it here. The founders of the Prayer Shawl Ministry, Janet Bristow and Victoria A. Cole-Galo have also collaborated to bring aspiring knitters thirty-eight distinctive and lovely prayer shawl patterns to knitters of all skill levels in the pages of:
The Prayer Shawl Companion: 38 Knitted Designs to Embrace, Inspire, and Celebrate Life
Beautiful pictures, easy to follow patterns, and anecdotal personal stories make "The Prayer Shawl Companion" so much more than just another book of patterns. You'll learn the meaning and traditions behind the kinds of shawls showcased, as well as the importance of these shawls to those who make them and/or receive them. Thoughtful, inspiring, and educational - knitters at every level of ability and proficiency will enjoy this book.
I encourage you to start a prayer shawl for someone you love. I'm so glad I did.
Here's another great new book I just purchased that is a unique addition to my bookshelves.
Freeform Crochet and Beyond is written by Renate Kirkpatrick and offers both inspiration and instruction for this experimental art form. I've posted several articles on freeform crochet and often use these free-style crochet motifs as embellishment for my felted knit purses and more. As the title suggests, there is a "beyond" embellishing with freeform.
I met Renate Kirkpatrick through a terrific Yahoo Group where we exchange tips, techniques and encourage one another to keep pushing the envelope with crochet hook and yarn. Renate is one of the veteran's of the group and a source of inspiration to all of us. It's so exciting to see her works in print.
What is freeform crochet? It's probably best described on the International Free Form Crochet Guild's web site:
"Freeform crochet is like painting. The hook is a brush and the yarn a paint. The result can be abstract or realistic. Freeform is original design, not a reproduction of another person's pattern, it goes beyond the realm of patterns and restrictions that usually apply toward our art. The outcome is a piece of art like no other, not only functional, but beautiful as well. Freeform includes 2-D and 3-D art, clothing and useful items."
Here's a sample of my freeform crochet used as embellishment on a felted purse, but this is nothing compared to the exquisite work of others who create stunning garments and even coral reefs populated with all sorts of sea creatures rendered with hook and yarn.
I encourage you to purchase a copy of Renate's book so you can discover the joys of creating something distinctly your own under the guidance of one of the best in the field. If you'd like to meet other afficianados of freeform crochet, do follow the link to the Yahoo Group above and sign up to be a part of the discussion. I'll bet Renate will be there to answer any questions you might have about the techniques in her book, too.
AntiCraft: Knitting, Beading and Stitching for the Slightly Sinister
This book by Renee Rigdon and Zabet Stewart is one of the newest and wildest additions to my growing library of knitting and crochet books. I just had to post a word or two about this wickedly different how-to/pattern book of "slightly sinister" projects that will appeal to the teens and young adults who are into the dark, medieval goth look . Not only are there instructions for knitting pirate hats, constructing corsets out of black duct tape, sewing wiccan dresses, crocheting stuffed two-headed rats, and the like, but each project is accompanied by awesome photography. The talent behind the camera is Al Parish.
The writing is off-beat and hysterical, making the book worth the price just for its entertainment value, alone - especially to an old dame like me who wouldn't be caught dead in "double snake thigh-high stockings." There will be, however, two very teenage nieces who'll be happy with their Christmas presents from Auntie J this year - appropriately adorned with skull and crossbones, of course.
For the newbies out there, the book includes a section in the back with step-by-step instructions on how to knit, crochet, bead, and, incredibly - how to make chain mail! Patterns are clear and easy to follow, and accompanied by useful tips. I think what I like best about this book is that it's not exclusively knitting or crochet projects. I think it's great to break out once in awhile to make something that doesn't involve yarn - like making chain-mail earrings. How cool is that? The next time I find myself in a creative rut, this book is guaranteed to give me a laugh and a way to spread my wings.
Take it from me, you just have to buy this book for yourself, if only to see the unbelievable squid-shaped menstrual pad holder...