Prayers, traditions and knitting

For some reason, where other knitters rest their hands and needles in summer, this knitter seems to enjoy it all the more during the warmer months.  This year has been no exception and the two projects I’ve been working on this last while are teaching me so much about what knitting means to me and the value, love, tradition and peace it brings.  

My first summer project has been a total expression of love for my friend Melanie (you’ll know her if you frequent this blog!) who is adjusting to living with cancer and the treatments and ripple effect in her life.  The yarn sang her name to me when I raided my wool stash so I played with a few patterns until I found the one that worked the yarn most beautifully.  It turned out to be a prayer shawl.   I’ve made one in the past not realising it was a prayer shawl, but this was a lovely twist to my plan and made it all the more special.  

My definition of a prayer shawl is primarily about the intention of the knitter, who prays over their creation before, and during the knit, and who (if you’re me!) infuses as much love as possible into each and every stitch and row.   (Previously I’ve been someone averse to pray erin a traditional sense – I’d light the candle, hold you in my thoughts, hold you in my heart, but reciting a prayer felt like a return to primary school and rote religious learning that left me cold.)

I chose Metta Bhavana as my “prayer” for this project and called it into my heart and mind when I sat to knit.   I see this as more of a meditation, an intention setting, to create loving kindness for ourselves, for others and for all life.   This shawl has been infused with these words, and with the warmth of the many heart felt many conversations, chuckles and fun I’ve had with this woman.   Of course, every stitch has my love, and I’m hoping that she feels it all.    (I’ll post pictures later when she has received it!).  

While I was knitting this I started thinking about my Mum and how she would spend so many hours sat in her armchair knitting Aran sweaters, cardigans, scarves and hats!   I was always so in awe of her needle skills and the way her fingers could clickity-click through the complex rows and patterns, all the while chatting away or watching TV.   I’ve a specific memory of a scratchy Báinín aran knit cardigan she had with pockets.  I can recall being eye level with the pockets.  My mother was a tiny person – so I must’ve been very young.   Anyway, with the hypnotic ease of the prayer shawl I decided it would be nice to start something for the next project that required more concentration and that would provide a challenge for me. I settled on an Aran Cardigan for myself – as close to the foggy memory of Peggy’s own. I know she’ll be watching over my tension and checking for an even knit, as well as tut-tut-ing any mistakes. (There was a bitter sweet moment today when I realised I didn’t understand the pattern but had no Peggy to call for the wisdom. Google obliged, but just not in the same way. )

Preview(opens in a new tab)

I had a conversation with my brother about this recently.   I’ve been looking into Aran knits and the history and meaning behind the stitches and have been surprised to find that in fact, Aran knitting is a fairly recent thing, appearing somewhere in the early 1900s, with the first pattern published by Vogue in 1940.  I’ve ordered some reading for myself on this as I’d love to know more but found this piece and the linked article about symbolism interesting.  I love that the symbolism relates back to the sea, the land and community.   I love that even though these stitches aren’t handed down the generations for hundreds of years, I feel like I’m carrying on a tradition my mother never even consciously handed to me.   It feels old and ancient and very much like a massive creative, love filled part of Peggy was something I absorbed watching her knit by the fire all those years.   

So, little surprise then that when I picked up the ridiculously big 400g ball of yarn I chose to use my fingers trembled a little at the memory and the beauty of what my mother created.    I know I’m channeling my inner Peig every time I pick it up.  I feel her dedication and devilment dancing through my needles and best of all, I see the patterns appear, twist, turn and grow into something beautiful that I know she’d be proud of herself. I can nearly hear a Peggy titter.  

I understand now why she was so dedicated to her knitting, and why she spent so many hours wrapping us up in her creations.  It’s the same reason my father spent his days quoting fabulous wordsmiths to us and creating his own fantastic tales.  It was her creative expression, her form of poetry.  It was Love.  Love in the tiniest details of everyday things like stitches and words.  Love in the creation.   Love in all its simplicity and beauty.   It’s not just traditions we’re passing along to other generations, but beautiful memories and parts of people we love.  They have taken great care to weave themselves into us, a memory waiting to be recalled, relived and brought back to life. What a sweet remembering.


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