Monday, March 7, 2011

Prayer Shawls

As I mentioned in my "Seven Socks" post, I'm on the mend from back surgery. For the past couple of weeks I have been at that part of  recovery where I am doing pretty much everything I was doing before surgery, but I still get tired doing it all & sit a lot because I'm too tired to move! Since I'm sitting, I want to be doing something useful, and I found inspiration in a recent sermon at church. Our minister has been away on a short medical leave & one Sunday we had a guest speaker, a member of the congregation, who told us about her experiences surviving breast cancer. One of the things she mentioned in her list of things that supported & comforted her along the way was the chemo shawl that a group of us had woven for her (on my portable Ashford 24" rigid-heddle loom). It occurred to me that making & perhaps even getting a prayer shawl ministry started at my church would be a good way to cope with this part of my own recovery.

I decided to make a few ahead, then offer them to our minister when she got back from her leave, & see what she thought of the idea. Our off & on again craft group at church had started another shawl a year & a half ago, which was still on the loom half-woven, upstairs in my sewing room, so that was at least half a shawl to get going with. I looked through my stash for appropriate yarn & realised that I needed to make a trip to JoAnn's (hurt me, hurt me!) because the yarn best for these projects (easy-care yarn that can be machine washed & dried) is what I tend to buy the least of, being a natural-fibre sort of person. However, one of my fave yarns to weave blankets & shawls with (especially for gifts) is Lion Brand Homespun yarn. Although it's 100% acrylic, it is thick enough to work-up quickly (I weave it on a 5 dent heddle) & puffs magically when it's washed & dried by machine. It's very soft & the colours are really nice. Brendan's first weaving projects when he was 11 years old (scarves & a blanket) were made with Homespun, & when his grandmother was going into hospice 1 1/2 years ago, he brought the blanket to her so she would know he was thinking of her.
11-year-old Brendan weaving a blanket on the Mighty Wolf

I already had at least 3 more warp chains measured for woven shawls, & my stash did contain enough Homespun for a couple crocheted shawls to get me started, so I looked for promising stitch patterns in Schapper's "The Complete Book of Crochet Stitch Designs". My friend Momo had recently made a kitchen mat from worsted cotton yarn & pattern #493, so I thought I'd start there. I swatched a few needle sizes & it became obvious that I needed a big needle to make a drapey fabric from this pattern, so I went with my largest (at the time) a size P hook.

I decided to combine some purple with the red to make it more interesting. The resulting shawl is a bit thick & on the edge of what I consider acceptable drape for a shawl, but it's warm & cuddly for sure. It used about 4 skeins of the Homespun to make.

A week ago Sunday, the day before my shopping trip to buy yarn, we discovered out that our minister's short medical leave had been extended due to complications :(  So I decided then & there that the first rainbow shawl would be for her. I went out Monday after taking Brendan to school & bought 2 skeins each of 7 colours for the rainbow. I also bought some Woolease Thick & Quick Super Bulky to match a couple of skeins I had leftover from another project, to see how it worked up as a shawl. When I got home I swatched Schapper's pattern #498, a ripple pattern, and started crocheting a rainbow.

One thing I find when I'm learning a new crochet pattern is that it takes more than a swatch to give me the sense of the pattern. So casting-on and making the first few rows are my shake-down cruise, crochet-wise. I do a lot of ripping & have to be very patient with myself. By the time I've repeated the pattern a few times (on 72"-80" worth of crochet...) it starts singing itself in my head & I stop making mistakes. Yay! I really like how the first rainbow shawl turned out.

 I worked 2 full pattern repeats in each colour, for a total of 21 rows, over ~72" inches fabric length, using the size P hook again. I found that this pattern, which is all double-crochet & chains, is much drapier than the wave pattern, which has rows of single crochet as well lacy stitches, even though they were made with the same yarn & the same size hook. So the rest of the patterns I've picked-out to crochet are all double-crochet, to make them as drapey as possible. The other thing I found out is that I can't just crochet over the ends as I change colours, since the scale is so big with this yarn & hook. So I've been working the ends in carefully after the shawl is done. Machine washing & drying helps to "set" the ends in place, too, & that's how I'm finishing them all, so there won't be any unpleasant surprises for the recipients.

I also used the ripple pattern to make a shawl using the Woolease Thick & Quick Super Bulky (say that one fast...). Fortunately, while I was buying yarn I also bought the biggest needle they had (a size Q), because that was the only needle that made something resembling a drapey fabric from this yarn. It was not easy for my hands to use this needle- I really had to adapt my usual crochet technique, since each stitch was so huge.

It worked-up in a couple of days, & I used 5 skeins of yarn, making 1 1/2 pattern repeats of each colour, for a total of 15 rows. It's very soft & cuddly, but I will not use this yarn again because my hands ached afterward! At least there isn't much in the way of leftovers...

For the second rainbow shawl I decided to use Schapper pattern #17. This shawl is 21 rows by ~72" as well.

And then, last Friday I finished weaving the shawl that was begun 1 1/2 years ago! It took me all morning to finish weaving & then make the twisted fringe along the edges after cutting it off the loom. I really like the colour (Homespun "Harvest") & it drapes very nicely as well. It's about 21" wide & 72" long. (By the way, thanks to Brendan, my wonderful model for the finished shawl shots :).

I sent the first rainbow shawl to my minister on Friday & I hope she'll get it by today. I also hope that it will be the beginning of a new ministry at church, to bring comfort to those in need, by the work of loving hands.

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