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.2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 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.5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,7 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

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 Letters


In the spring, I had the pleasure of having lunch with a dear friend, whom I don’t get to see very often. She doesn’t live too far away, but it’s enough to make seeing one another regularly, quite a difficult task, not to mention our very full and sometimes frantic lives. I dared to breathe to her a vision I’ve had for a few years now. I shared the not-so-organized, nor all-thought-through dream of living in or creating what I called a “knitting monastery”. As I described this place where sisters would live together committed to a rule of living which included prayer, meditation, daily work and service, her eyes got bigger. I figured she might be interested in a life dedicated to serving God and others through creativity, but not so much to raising sheep, spinning, knitting, crocheting, and stitching of all kinds. She and I are both artists, of the paint and pen sort. But she dared to admit to me her very similar visions of a monastic life devoted to working out art and life as entwined and part of a regular routine. My heart leapt within me to find such a kindred spirit! And we have been writing letters to one another ever since, addressed Dear Sister ______.

One pretty major glitch to our vision is that we are both married and have children. Though we often long to run away to a monastery and actually live a singular life of devotion, we really do love our husbands and families and desire to understand how to bring this singularity of mind and heart to our home lives as well as to our creativity. We each are feeling a need to have a rightly ordered life, one in which we can fully engage in loving and serving our families and others while also devoting ourselves to the call on our lives to create, be that paintings, sketches, or stitches. We are still working this all out, and it is in the Letters to one another that so much is sorted out, if even in the admitting to one another that our lives are out of control and we feel tossed about by the busy-ness of our lives…not quite the single purposed life we long for and imagine our monastery to offer us.

I am starting here, today, blog posts in the form of Letters to my Sister. These are not the actual letters that my friend and I share via email. They will include some of the thoughts and wrestlings, hopes and desires of a woman who longs with everything she has in her to live life fully, to have a singular vision of devotion in my work as an artist and knitter as well as in my life as wife and mother. I know, theoretically, that all of life is Beauty. Everything from the painful to the pretty, the mundane to the magical, is given to us by God to live and love with open hearts and willing hands. I know in my head that it is all, every stitch of it, used by our Father to create the fabric of our lives, which only He, the Master Designer, has in mind. My job is to say, like Mary, “behold the handmaiden of the Lord. Be it unto me according to Thy will.” Couldn’t I do this better in a monastery? Wouldn’t this job be easier away from it all, working and serving through the knitterly arts? My sister friend and I are coming to realize, or at least concede that it would likely not be easier at all. Wherever we go, there we are! And so we write to one another of our struggle, of the whisperings we hear from our Father encouraging us to stay the course, to remain in the monasteries of our homes and be faithful to work of our hands, be it drawings or dishes, laundry or stitches.

This first Letter is short, to simply introduce the dialog and get the conversation going. In many ways, YOU are my sister as well, and to you I write these things for your thoughtful consideration and perhaps encouragement. We are all in this together. We are stitching our lives even as the Master Designer knits and weaves His Beauty into everything. May He bless the work of our hands!

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Dear Sister,

How delightful it was to walk by the Common Room notice board and see your note to me there! I have read it with relish a couple of times now and am so very thankful for your honesty, your openness about your particular struggles. They seem to resonate with my own. Being so busy really does seem to hurt, doesn’t it? How can we stop this? This rat race feel to our lives? I hear you as you unpack the myriad of things that vie for your time and attention. Being mothers is a full time and a half job! How do we fit in the making and creating we long to be about? Could it really be that we are better mothers if we devote time and space to being the artists we were made to be? On some level we know this is true! But oh how easy it is to think that the real important work is piled up on our washing machines, or that we should be available to our kids 24/7.

I haven’t any definitive answers on this. However I do have some thoughts. Right now though I need to hop in the car to pick up our daughter from high school. So I will write to you later and post the letter to the Common Room notice board. Thank you again for writing! It is so encouraging to know that someone else desires to hold all of life, the laundry and the knitting, as an offering to Christ, or at least as a way to slow down enough to hear Him, instead of rushing through our lives.

Your sister,

Jennifer

Trying to Find the Words

I’ve been trying to find the words, but they just won’t come. I sit with knitting in my lap, needles clicking on socks, a sweater, and I swoon. No, maybe “swoon” isn’t the word. It’s a feeling like that though…of love and adoration, for the color, the texture, the yarn, the process of hands moving, producing a fabric.

But there’s something else too, that the word “swoon” doesn’t touch. There’s memory, of past times when I sat making the very same stitches but for my children, or when I was healing, or for gifts for friends, or knitting with my mom or my daughters.

And then there’s focus. A settling down and into a rhythm I would prefer to spend my days. A pace that isn’t frenzied. A repetition of hands that allows my mind to muse and sort out the days events. An anchoring activity that no matter what else is going on, this, these stitches remain the same. And I can do these simple stitches, one after the other, and eventually accomplish something, SOMETHING at least!

All this you say? In the stitches of knit and purl? Well, yes. And yet, so much more. Can the love of knitting be put into words? Perhaps not. Perhaps that is why knitting is wordless, soundless, except for the clicking of needles, the faint swishing of hands.

Perhaps not every knitter swoons. I imagine sometimes the women of past generations who knitted out of necessity, may have just knitted to be knitting and “swooning”, or whatever that feeling is, wasn’t a part of the process for them. But I’m sure some of them did. And perhaps they too couldn’t find the words to describe it.

I’m seeing now that there are a few words here. As little as they may make sense, I have found some words to begin to describe the swelling of my heart, that fullness of contentment, as I knit. Sometimes I even have to put my knitting down just to revel in it without moving the needles, to try to pin down exactly what is going on there as I knit. But then it shyly scoots away and only revisits again when I’m lost in knitting…

…no words, just the clicking of needles and colorful yarn running through my hands.