Advent Shawl CAL: Weeks Three & Four

It has occurred to me that in order for your shawl to be completed by Christmas Eve or Day, that I need to double up on the week’s instructions. So you will have both sets of instructions, for Week 3 and for Week 4, so that you can crochet as your time allows. Next Monday I will post the 5th and Final section along with the edging. That will give you the last week prior to Christmas to work on finishing your Shawl.

If you are familiar with an Advent Wreath, you will know that the candle for Week 3 is the Shepherd Candle and Week 4 is the Angel candle. I chose the “Grass” green for Week 3 to represent the fields in which the shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night. For Week 4 I chose the pale pink “Blossom” to represent the Angel Candle. Each stitch pattern is also thoughtfully chosen: a V-stitch pattern to represent the grass of the fields; the Crosshatch Stitch to represent the wings of an Angel. As always, the Tri-Color Transition is representing the three gifts of the Magi to the baby Jesus…gold, frankincense and myrrh.

I hope you are enjoying this Crochet-A-Long and that it is proving to be a meaningful and enjoyable “work” preparing you for Christmas Day. Below you will find my reflection for these two weeks. It may seem heavy, but I write out of my heart and where God is speaking to me in present time. May it bring encouragement to you in some way. Thank you for those of you who have left messages either here or on Facebook, or Instagram about your experience of crocheting this Shawl.

Click HERE to download the PDF of Instructions for Weeks 3 & 4.

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A dear friend of mine is at this moment struggling for breath in a cancer ICU. We typically think of the celebration of Advent as a happy and lighthearted time. It is not always so. Though I have known and been friends with her for 30+ years, I feel as if I’ve known her all my life. She and I both were dancers in our young girl years and I imagine we would have been BFF’s in dance class, working our plies, tandus, and pirouettes together. She has been valiantly battling esophageal cancer for 2 1/2 years, and it has been my privilege to walk alongside her, trying to keep in touch as best we can through it all.

We speak of Advent as an anticipation of Christ’s coming to us as a babe in a manger. Indeed it is just this. But we sometimes miss the fact that He comes to us in a multiplicity of ways. The entire Christmas story is rife with numerous ways God comes to His people: an Angel of the Lord comes to Mary to bring her the news that God is going to come to her, overshadow her, and birth in her His only Son. An army of God’s messengers come to the Shepherds in the field to announce the birth of Christ. God comes to Joseph in a dream to allay his fears and give instruction for the path ahead. God comes to the Three Kings in a dream to tell them to travel another way. In fact, the entirety of the Scriptures is an unfolding of all the ways God has come to us. Not the other way ’round.

I astonish myself with how I know this to be true, that the King of Heaven comes to His children, but I live as if I’m the one who has to reach, grasp, and work my way to God. There is not a single story in the Bible where people have successfully gotten themselves together, cleaned up their act, been nice enough, smart enough, wise enough, to achieve the status “made it to heaven.” In fact, usually their efforts to earn salvation or God’s approval go horribly wrong. But God…

He comes to us in Advent as a baby, because that is what we are…helpless, vulnerable, dependent babes. He does ALL the work of coming to save His own. He alone rescues. He alone provides. He alone comforts. He alone grants faith, grace, and mercy. He also comes to us in our death. We do not travel that lonely dreadful path alone. Soon He will reach out His hand to my friend and say those precious words…“Talitha, koum”. He will take her by the hand and say “Dear little one, get up and go with me into eternity! Breathe freely, plie, tandu and pirouette to your heart’s content! ” Yes, even in death, He comes to His own. Emmanuel. God. With. Us.

With grace in every stitch,

Jennifer

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The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

Isaiah 9:2

Advent Shawl CAL: Week Two

I hope you’ve had a lovely week and that you were able to find some time to sit down and crochet. It is difficult to carve out time to be reflective and creative. My hope is that this will be an aid to that end and not just be one more thing on the ever growing list of stuff that needs to get done. Even though I have finished crocheting this Advent Shawl, I am sketching daily through Advent and knitting along, a few stitches a day, and finding it a good way to slow down a bit. If you are just joining in with our Advent Shawl Crochet-A-Long, here is Week One.

The stitch pattern this week is the Mesh Stitch. I chose this because all the little “boxes” it makes resembles a bustling city, buildings-upon-buildings all in a row or even stacked one on top of another as I imagine Bethlehem may have been. I hope you enjoy the simplicity of the stitch pattern and a repeat of the Tri-Color Transition. As always…please read through entire pattern carefully to understand what you will be doing and to familiarize yourself with terminology and special notes!

Click HERE to download the PDF for Week Two.

The following is the reflection for this week, which is a brief musing on Bethlehem. If you celebrate Advent with an advent wreath, you will know that the second Candle is the Bethlehem candle. I will not be reading this one out loud, as the time involved in uploading the audio is more than I have today. Perhaps next week will afford more time for this. 🙂

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Bethlehem. We know the story – Mary and Joseph had to travel to this central location to register for the census and upon arrival could not find any available rooms in the inns. They ended up being granted permission to stay in a stable. A barn. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could turn away a 9-month pregnant/close to delivery woman and her husband, and then tell them to go to the barn out back to stay the night, or two, or many.

Yet I myself do the same. How often is the pregnant and potent wonder of the gospel presented to me in humble and barely recognizable ways? How easily do I push that aside, relegating it to a corner area while I devote my attention to the pressing, the urgent, the magnanimous or glitzy? It is at Christmas time that I renew a resolve to go looking for Christ’s presence (and His presents) in all the humble, unassuming places in my life. He often abides in the smelly, not-so-tidy, earthy and uncomfortable events and circumstances that I try to run from or gloss over.

When I consider Bethlehem, I’m challenged to make room in my heart and life for Christ. To move aside all that clamors and clutters up the wonder of God in human form, a babe in a manger, and to make Him central. As I crochet and knit, as I draw on paper, I make space in may life for this wonder. I’m setting aside for just a little while the holiday to-do list and working the humble and unassuming stitches and lines so that I might see what He is doing in my life – making a dwelling place for Christ the Lord.

May He find us willing to let Him into the stable of our heart this advent season.

With grace in every stitch,

Jennifer

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“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'”

Matthew 2:6/Micah 5:2

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

Luke 2:1-7

Advent Shawl CAL: Week One

Thanksgiving, as a holiday, is now behind us. Yet we continue to offer thanks every day and especially as we turn now to anticipate the celebration of Christ’s coming! To facilitate our anticipation and preparation for this event, we are starting a series of stitches. You may read the first blog post about this idea HERE if you are just now joining in. Crocheting through Advent will offer us time to slow down in the midst of the holiday hubbub and make thoughtful stitches. Each week contains instructions for a section of the Advent Shawl that reflects the topic of Advent for the upcoming week. Notice that we are starting a week in advance of the actual Sunday of Advent, so that we can have our Shawls finished for wearing on Christmas or gifting to another. I have chosen stitch patterns that reflect, in order, the topics for each week.

The first candle of Advent is the Prophecy Candle. I chose an open fan or shell stitch as this portrays the radiating rays of the prophetic foretelling of Christ’s coming to save His people. Generation after generation remembered, recalled and passed on the promise of a coming King, a Messiah, whom God would send to His people. Like the rays of the sun, these prophecies reached through hundreds of years, to be realized on that night in Bethlehem long ago. As we stitch, we remember and recount the plan God had in mind all along, to send His one and only Son Jesus to  work salvation for us. Our hearts are kindled by the knowledge of God’s faithfulness through the unfolding and intricate plan He orchestrated in every detail.

The following Reflection is for any who wish to have further reflection for this week’s stitching. I have written it here for your reading enjoyment. And you can also listen to me read these thoughts to you as you stitch, if you like. I am so very glad you have chosen to come along with me in our journey of anticipating the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.

Click HERE for downloadable PDF Instructions for this week’s portion of a crocheted Advent Shawl.***PLEASE read through entire pattern carefully to get an overview of the instructions for this week!

Listen here as I read the reflection for this week.

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As a child, the foretelling of the coming of Santa was an elaborate affair. From the books I read, to movies and holiday TV shows, from the malls and department stores, to wish lists and letters sent…all was designed to heighten the anticipation of this jolly man, dressed in red and white, coming to give gifts to children. Even adults whom I did not know seemed in on it as they would ask – “What have you asked Santa for this Christmas?” and “Have you been good?” or “Do you think you’ll get presents from Santa or lumps of coal?”

My dad went to great lengths some years, jingling sleigh bells late at night, making huge boot prints in the scattered ashes from our fireplace, all to heighten our excitement and secure our belief in this benevolent character. As an actor and director of theater, this was dad’s forte – bringing to life a story, however fantastical, in such a way that the “fourth wall” disappears and is experienced as real and true. I did not stop believing in Santa until the 5th grade, quite old I’d say to be finally letting go, despite the fact that I had found all of my and my siblings Letters to Santa in a box when we moved from one house to another. When my mom finally, plainly and simply, told me the truth about Santa, there was not a little disappointment.

The prophecies and foretelling of Christ’s coming likely had a similar mythical and legendary quality about them, as well as some confusion and disappointment in the unfolding events. The Jewish people, in faith and hope, held onto the prophecies that this Son of God would come and free them from their bondage, make all things right, give them untold gifts of peace on earth. When Christ as a babe finally did come, the questions began. A baby? Born to poor and unassuming parents? And then to watch his life unfold…carpenter by trade, youth teacher in the Synagogue, healer of the sick and then crucified?? Surely this is not what the prophecies were all about?!

In a similar, though lesser quandary, I wrestled with the news about Santa. You mean he isn’t a jolly man in a red suit? He doesn’t ride in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and there isn’t a North Pole with elves at work all year? You mean to tell me, that all along, this was just my dad?

Now my father is not perfect, but he is jolly. He loves to give gifts. His exuberance is infectious and he seems to know everyone he meets. To be told that Santa was actually my dad all those years was not a bad deal at all. In fact, he was a real, flesh and blood man, with whom I lived 365 days of the year and he delighted in his children. This was a much more substantial and enduring Santa than the plastic, tinsel-trimmed version I had been imagining.

To a far greater degree, what we now see as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies of old, may be disappointing to some at first. but upon closer look, is richer and deeper and more beautiful than we could ever have imagined. We find that the Messiah, though he did not lead a revolution to overthrow the Roman oppressors, has indeed conquered all our enemies and risen victorious, raising us with Him. We find that He is flesh and blood, that we are His children and He loves us dearly. We discover that He delights in us, and knows us by name. He definitely knows if we’ve been naughty or nice, yet instead of giving us a lump of coal and exacting the penalty for our sin from us, He paid it all Himself. We find as we walk deeper with Him that the promised One is actually “an exact representation of the Father” (Hebrews 1:3), perfect in every way.

What we had hoped was Santa, we now see is our good and faithful Father, the Son being His exact representation, come to earth, in a manger, as a babe.

As you prepare for and enter into this holy season of Advent, may You be enabled to see your Heavenly Father for who He really is. Not some fabricated version you have made up to craft a good story, but the real flesh and blood Messiah, God come to us, Emmanuel, the baby King.

Live this week and beyond in the joy of knowing He lives with you 365 days of the year, delights in giving good gifts to His children, knows you completely and loves you unconditionally.

With grace in every stitch,

Jennifer

“For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.”

Isaiah 9:6-7

Sister Letter :: An Aching Beauty

Dear Sister,

I sit with my own handspan wool in my hands, knitting it into an Elder Tree Shawl. There is frost on the ground and a crocheted afghan on my lap. All is quiet in the monastery. I am the only one up this day after Thanksgiving. We are full to the brim here with oldest daughter and her husband, middle son and his girlfriend from Texas and our dear youngest girl. We have feasted on food and laughter, family, games and a puzzle. Today we might just get a tree and decorate it.

But in these quiet moments I’m filled with something that can only be called joy, though it is dressed not in gaiety, though that is certainly part of it. There is also an ache. A fullness so full to overflowing it verges on overwhelm. I cannot contain it all. All. That is a huge word. For it contains all the memories of Thanksgivings throughout the years, of how life is changing, of where we have been, all that has happened in our little family, and even thoughts of what might be to come. I cannot hold all this. It hurts. And yet it is beautiful.

I have long been familiar with this kind of ache. The ache of longing and Beauty. I feel it when I spin wool and knit. I feel it when I put paint to paper. And at various times thoughout the days, sometimes hitting me with such force I name it “sadness” or “depression”. But really there’s joy behind it all, underneath it all, beribboned throughout it all. Joy has an element of ache…don’t you think so?

I believe this is what Mary was experiencing when she “treasured all these things in her heart.” She could not contain all the memories even of her young life, of her encounter with the Angel, of carrying a baby for 9 months even though she had not been with Joseph or any other man, of enduring the scorn of that, of the travel to Bethlehem, the pain of childbirth and now this…this wonder of wonders…a baby King, the Messiah whom she nursed and swaddled. Indeed I felt this aching beauty after the births of my own dear children who are now sleeping upstairs. The hopes and fears of all the years…yes, so many moments. So many fears. So many hopes.

It occurs to me as I write these words that help is contained in this beloved Christmas carol-

“the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”

When I struggle to hold it all, to contain the memories, the hopes and fears, I can remember that I have One who can and does hold it all. That wee Christ child, God come to earth, carries all my, all our, hopes and fears. In Him, they are met and knitted into something exquisite, breathtaking.

I’m beginning to hear stirrings upstairs. Not the pitter patter of little feet as in days gone by. But the thumpity thump of teen/adult feet slowly starting to move. I shall sit here for as long as I can knitting my shawl with this achingly beautiful yarn. Joy in it all. Letting Christ hold it all!

Your sister,

Jennifer

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These letters are written to my knitting and crochet Sisters in the monastery of Life, where we long to live out the call of Christ to love others, live quiet lives and work with our hands. 1 Thessalonians 4:11.

Read here for the very first post & Letter.

Advent Shawl Crochet-A-Long

My favorite time of year is upon us! I love everything from feasting with family to decorating the tree. But my primary goal each year is to make sure I have time to stop and reflect on why we’re even doing all this celebrating. Stitching and sketching are two ways I can unhook (no pun intended;) from the hubbub of holiday activity and simply be. And when I’m able to work a meaningful practice into those creative endeavors, all the better!

So this year, I’m offering an Advent Shawl Crochet-A-Long as well as an Advent Draw. The latter is for those who enjoy sketching in a sketchbook, as I do, and will offer daily prompts from December 1-25th. If you’d like to join in, please check in on jenniferedwards.com in the next week or so to download and print a PDF of the drawing prompts. I’ll be posting my sketches on Instagram, so follow there and consider posting your drawings also!

For the Advent Shawl Crochet-A-Long, here are some particulars you’ll need to know:

  1. You will need 7 colors of a Super Bulky Weight yarn and a size P hook. I have used Lion Brand’s Wool-Ease Thick & Quick. It’s a wonderful yarn with a little bit of wool to add softness and richness to the shawl. I love the vintage looking colors I chose, but you are free to choose any colors you like! Here are the colors I chose:  2 skeins of Fisherman; 1 skein each of Raspberry, Fig, Blossom, Kale, Grass, and Mustard.
  2. Starting Monday November 27th, I will post here on A Knitter’s Grace, the instructions for crocheting the first section of the Shawl. There will also be reflections for you to consider while you are stitching. Check in, each Monday thereafter, for the next week’s crochet instructions. I am also hoping to post short videos demonstrating each stitch pattern you’ll be using. But that depends on our internet service, which is woefully deficient at the moment. The written pattern itself should give you the directions you need to be successful with this crocheted piece. Follow this blog so you can get the weekly blog posts sent directly to your email!
  3. Each section of the shawl has been designed to reflect some aspect of Advent which goes along with what the candles in an Advent Wreath represent. We will be starting a week earlier, crocheting the section prior to that particular Sunday of Advent. This will allow you  to finish the Shawl by Christmas, or even Christmas Eve. This crocheted Shawl works up very quickly! I purposefully chose the big hook/big yarn to offer something that you would not need to feel rushed as you make it. The idea here is to enjoy and savor every stitch.  You will be able to complete each week’s instructions in one or two evenings. We don’t need a mammoth project weighing on us at this time of the year. Just slow, simple stitches, to create something beautiful to wear or give.


Here’s Episode #13 of my Knitterly Arts Podcast introducing the Advent Shawl Crochet-A-Long as well as the Advent Draw. I hope you’ll join me in one or both of these awesome ways to stay connected with the Reason for the Season.

I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! May your time with family be treasured and all festivities full of joy for you and yours!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

Sister Letters :: Silence

Dear Sister,

They say Silence is Golden. It is certainly palpable around here now that our guests have gone. I relish the silence. Our youngest does not.  I must confess that I do miss our oldest daughter and her sweet presence. And as much as I adore a quiet & contemplative space, what happens in my creative mind is anything but quiet.

Much like race horses held behind gates at the start of a race…or a stack of papers held at the ready for flipping through…I feel the tension build during times when creative ideas and juices are not given free reign. Busy times, a full house, and yes holidays, create this kind of containment and boundary around the ability to pursue any of the crazy ideas I may be tossing around in my head and heart. Sometimes I feel much like a wild animal frothing at the mouth, just waiting for the signal to run free! When the gate is opened, or the first paper launched, they all come tumbling out, flying and lurching forward at an alarming speed. I can barely hold it back. Perhaps I’m not supposed to. Or perhaps I need to develop even further discipline to contain the creative horses even when circumstances inhibit free expression.

And so it has been this week: continuing to teach my lovely knit and crochet classes to Sisters wanting to develop their craft, while also giving room for exploring a couple of ideas I’ve had for quite a while. One is a crocheted Advent Shawl. The other is a plan for sketching and drawing through the December days leading up to Christmas. Both are ways for me to focus in on Christ and His Coming, rather than simply give in to the whirl of holiday hustle and bustle. But I fear that I may be creating another layer of activity. What I need is to let go of some things to make room for more thoughtful making and stitching. Would you pray for me in this? Would you pray that I might be able to hear my Father’s voice in it? Even in, and perhaps especially in my creative life, I long to live rightly ordered, so that I might walk this Life in stillness and a slow pace for catching all of the beauty Christ has for me.

What a treasure your last letter was, which you posted on the notice board to me. I laughed and laughed at your account of hospitality gone awry, or at least what we think is so inferior in our attempts at this holy work of offering our home to others. It is not for the faint of heart. Certainly not easy. But I think I would do well to let go of my own expectations of what I have to offer and simply focus on the guests. I am wanting to do this next week as we walk toward the Thanksgiving holiday and on into the Christmas season.

One stocking is done. The next one has begun! These stitches are delicious. Truly, I feel it so! They remind me to slow down. To relish the humble, simple, overlooked elements of life. How is your stitching? Your sketches and drawings? May they reveal the heart of our Father’s constant care and attention.

Your Sister,

Jennifer

Sister Letter :: Hospitality

Dear Sister,

The peregrinos are still here. I call our guests that to help me in the work of hospitality that I am so dreadful at offering. I’m imagining our monastery being visited by the pilgrims who walk the Camino de Compostela, for certainly that is what we all are: pilgrims in the land, walking the Way of Life. Can I not joyfully offer the gift of hospitality to those in need of bed and breakfast as they sojourn here for just a little while? I seem to be able to offer it, but joyfully is the issue at hand.

I’m nearing the end of knitting a stocking for my oldest daughter. I will then begin the stocking for her husband. This is an exciting project for me, as I adore the fair isle pattern with a bit of lacework at the top, trimmed in a beaded stitch. It is, in and of itself, a journey, a pilgrimage of stitches, walking through this glorified sock from cuff to heel to toe and back to knit the actual heel at the end. Then there will be weaving in ends and blocking, the less glamorous work albeit very necessary to the overall piece. Hospitality feels to me something like weaving in ends and blocking. Would that it felt more like the fanciful fair isle knitting. Perhaps our Father can work this in my heart, knitting a deeper love for service into my baskets of wool.

In meditation and prayer this morning, I was reminded that we are to remain in the present moment, enjoying all that God brings us right then and there. When I stay in this posture, I do enjoy our pilgrim hostel much more, finding beauty in faces and conversations. The minute I allow my thoughts to cling to all the stuff sitting around the house, the elevated noise level, the comings and goings, and a sense that I am responsible for all meals, etc…then I am in trouble, resenting the gift I have to offer…hospitality. I am a work in progress, just like my knitting projects. I am thankful that Christ is ever patient with me.

Do let me know how I can be praying for you. I continue to lift up those things which you have entrusted to my knowledge and I ask for His presence with you in each of those situations. May you have a couple of times today to rest and reflect on His love and care.

Your Sister,

Jennifer

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These letters are written to my knitting and crochet Sisters in the monastery of Life, where we long to live out the call of Christ to love others, live quiet lives and work with our hands. 1 Thessalonians 4:11.

Read here for the very first post & Letter.