What Makes a Shawl a Prayer Shawl?

Understanding the Purpose and Intention of Knitting Prayer Shawls

To knitters who aren't familiar with prayer shawl knitting, it may seem that a shawl is just a shawl. There is actually a difference between knitting and giving a shawl and knitting and giving a prayer shawl. It is, for the most part, about the intention.

What Defines a 'Prayer Shawl'?

Knitters who are knitting prayer shawls will tell you it's a different process than simply knitting a garment. It all starts with the intention of the knitter to infuse healing and good thoughts as well as prayers of protection into the shawl.

Prayer shawls are typically prayed over throughout their process of creation and are also blessed when they are finished before they are given to the recipient. This can be done in a formal ceremony if the shawl is being given by a group affiliated with a church. The individual who made the shawl may also pray over it before giving it away.

The person who receives the shawl is also likely to be prayed over when the shawl is presented to them in person.

Symbolism in Prayer Shawls

Prayer shawls are often knit with a symbolic pattern or use colors of yarn that are meaningful to the religion of the person giving or receiving the shawl. For instance, stitch patterns with multiples of three are common in prayer shawls knit by Christians because of the idea of the Trinity.

  • Some stitch patterns that involve threes include 3x3 ribbing and Trinity Stitch.
  • Blocks of three stitches and three rows of knits and purls can also be alternated across the knit fabric for an easy and meaningful pattern.

    In Judaism, a prayer shawl that is traditionally called a tallit is very common. There are rules regarding the design and construction, yet a knitted tallit is acceptable. Typically, made in blue and white, some knitters include short phrases of inspiration as well. Every tallit includes fringe, or knots, tied in a specific manner in each of the four corners.

    • It is also common for groups to meet at the Temple to knit healing prayer shawls for those in need.
    • Many faiths, including Judaism, use a wedding prayer shawl as a symbolic garment.

    Other religions may include a tradition of making or wearing prayer shawls and not all of them are knit by hand. However, as anyone who has ever shared a prayer shawl will tell you, they can extend beyond religious boundaries. The point is in the intention and love, caring, and comfort are universal truths for many people.

    Prayer Shawl Patterns

    A fascinating book for anyone who is interested in the process of making prayer shawls is "The New Prayer Shawl Companion: 35 Knitted Patterns to Embrace, Inspire, & Celebrate Life." It includes advice on setting the mood for your knitting sessions as well as giving and receiving the shawl. Like the book's authors, Janet Severi Bristow and Victori Cole-Galo, you might also think about starting a prayer shawl ministry in your faith community.

    Patterns for prayer shawls can be deeply symbolic, though you can use any of your favorite shawl patterns and create them with the right intentions.

    There are many patterns to choose from, here are a couple to get you started.

    • Infant Trinity Stitch Prayer Shawl - Designed for a baby, this pattern can easily be adapted to fit adults as well. The simple trinity stitch is a popular choice for knitted prayer shawls because of the symbolism within the Christian faith.
    • Offset Shell Crochet Prayer Shawl - If you're inclined to crochet, this beautiful shawl pattern is a fantastic choice. Again, the number three makes a repeat in the pattern.