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 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.

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

But I Can Knit!

My husband stood there gawking at me, unsure how to proceed. It was an awkward moment but there was a slight smile on his face. You see, I had made the coffee early that morning, as I always do when I come downstairs. He had gotten me a new coffee maker, as the old one (really really REALLY old) had fallen apart. Literally. It had been the kind that needed a paper cone-shaped filter. This new one required a paper basket-shaped filter to be placed down into a removable plastic basket.

I had made coffee in this shiny new red coffee maker for several days now. Delicious hot coffee to wake me in the morning. This particular morning it seemed to gargle and spurt a wee bit more than usual. There was some kind of water or brownish stuff leaking out the bottom, but oh that could be explained by a little spillage as I poured the water into the reservoir. I wiped it up. No biggie. Poured myself a cuppa. Good stuff.

But when my husband came downstairs, he stood there asking – Honey…what happened here?

What became evident to everyone standing around by this time (son and daughter too!) was that, whoever made the coffee that morning had forgotten to put the plastic basket into the gizmo. With only a thin paper holding the coffee as it brewed…well…you can imagine.

My son just grinned, got a cup of coffee, and went somewhere else to laugh. Hubby cleaned up the mess. I grabbed my knitting and sat down. Yeesh.

The thing is…things like this are happening more often as I get older. I know, I know…51 is not old. But I seem to be having little glitches of memory, temporary spots of insanity every now and then. For now, they are cute, funny, laugh-off-able.

Later that afternoon, sitting in the living room with my son as he did college homework (he was home on break that week), I was knitting the lace pattern on the yoke of a new sweater. Well, actually I was realizing that as I had stayed up late the night before in a lace-knitting frenzy, I had made a mistake. One little mistake that led to the last four rounds of knitting being off and therefore wrong in one section. When I realize things like this, I put my knitting down and get up and do something. I chose to fold laundry, to put dishes in the dishwasher, pick up stuff and put it away. As I do all this, I ruminate…shall I tink back four whole rows? Shall I just frog it and hope that the cotton/linen yarn will hold their stitches enough for me to get all two hundred and ninety some-odd stitches back on the needles? Should I put in a life-line? Or could I just unknit each stitch down to the fourth row below and re-knit it back up as I do for a dropped stitch? And then could I do this for about twenty stitches AND keep it in the lace pattern, complete with yarn overs, k2togs and ssks?? Hmmm.

I returned to my knitting, with a plan sorted out in my head. I would try the latter idea picking out each stitch with a crochet hook and if that went awry, I would frog it all back to before the offending lace errors. Carefully, ever so carefully, reading each stitch up and down the four vertical lines of rows and following the lace pattern, I unknitted and reknitted, repurled, and made all the stitches, one by one, as called for. I surveyed the resulting fabric and blurted out without thinking –

“D#%n, I’m good!”

Now I’m not one typically taken to such flowery language so you can understand my son’s surprise at this exclamation! I stood up, did a little dance (something to the tune of “I fixed my knitting, I fixed my knitting!” and sat back down to utter these words with some volume:

“I may not be able to make coffee properly, but I CAN FREAKIN’ KNIT!!!”

There is hope, when I am actually old, and can’t remember where I put my teeth, that I will still be able to knit, purl, k2tog, psso, yo, ssk and all the rest!

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“A life in knitting is a life worth living.”

I just thought of that.

You can quote me on it. 🙂