I started this shawl in June, 2003, shortly before AIDS Lifecycle 2.
I had just finished my travel shawl, a blue silk shawl handspun on a drop spindle as I roamed around Southeast Asia on a quasi-pilgrimage, letting go of my past life and considering what came next. I knitted the travel shawl in a counterclockwise spiral as I wandered–which, in Wicca, means letting go, undoing.
On my return, I needed a new project, so I decided to make a companion piece–a clockwise spiral that would help build my new life, the things I most valued.
So, I began the spiral shawl.
This is my own design. The finished shawl is 68" across, and is a "ring shawl"--fine enough to be drawn through a woman's wedding ring. It contains about 2300 yards of 2-ply yarn,...
The yarn is 50% bombyx silk and 50% merino wool, from a commercially prepared top I bought at my local fiber shop, The Golden Fleece. It measures 40-50 wpi and 8500 yards per pound (500+ yards per ounce!). That's about the thickness of a pin, or a thin sewing needle.
The complete shawl, from design to completion, took 15 months and 350-400 hours of work. (!)
I knitted this shawl to celebrate a return to daily life, after returning from my travels/pilgrimage, and knitted into it the things I felt were essential to a good life. It's a "prayer shawl".
It is a circle, a spiral in eight segments, with eight patterns in each segment. (On the left is shown one full segment.)
In Buddhism, eight represents the Eightfold Path; in Wicca, it represents the Wheel of the Year, the cycle of the seasons as they pass. So the eight-by-eight motif is, as they say, "an auspicious number".
The next two patterns represent light (plain stockinette stitch) and darkness (openwork star pattern). In Wicca, light and dark are not oppositional, but complementary: they follow each other in a cycle, day after day, year after year. Sometimes one is greater, sometimes lesser, but both are always present. The complete victory of one or the other would destroy all life.
So this section is partially about balancing the light and dark in our lives--remembering that joy and sorrow follow one another --but also about remembering that there is dark and light in all of us. To deny the darkness is to destroy the light. So one must accept that there is darkness--and light--in everyone. That prevents us from ever seeing another being as entirely evil (or entirely good). Light and dark, in balance.
Getting metaphorical, the spiral shawl represents an inwards journey to enlightenment: the four elements in balance, then recognizing the balance between light and dark (good and evil, sorrow and joy). These are all external. The two internal values are action--the bridge between the outer and the inner--and then, finally, at the very end, the center--compassion. That we come to the center at the end, on the edge of the shawl, closes the Wheel of Life, beginning the cycle anew.
I spent a lot of time meditating on the components and values of "a good life" during the 15 months and 350+ hours I worked on the shawl....It is indeed a "prayer shawl", in every sense. I hope you've enjoyed the tour.
Earth: “Drooping Elm Leaf”, from Barbara Walker’s A Treasury of Knitting Patterns
Air: “Quatrefoil Eyelets”, ibid
Fire: “Chinese Lace”, from Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns
Water: Adapted from Suzanne Lewis’s Knitting Lace
Light: plain stockinette stitch
Darkness: “Starlight Lace”, from Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns
“Right Action” and “Compassion” are original to the author, as is the overall shawl design.
Shawl design, images, and text all © Tien Chiu, 2004.