Posted on Sat, Apr. 26, 2003

Hand-knit embraces
Prayerfully, knitters fashion shawls for the sick.

For Julie Tampa, it combines the best of the long-ago times with her grandmother and the spiritual needs of friends and neighbors.

Tampa, spiritual director at St. Peter's Church in the Great Valley in Malvern, has organized a group of knitters to make prayer shawls for people facing medical procedures.

Her group is one of hundreds across the country who have taken up needles and yarn to make shawls.

The program was born in 1998 when Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo were attending programs at the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn. The women decided that care, concern and knitting could be combined in a shawl that could be given to people in need.

"Shawls . . . made for centuries - are universal and embracing. They enfold, comfort, cover, wrap, give solace, warmth, mother, hug, shelter, and beautify. They are symbolic of inclusive and unconditional loving. Those who have received these shawls have been uplifted and affirmed, as if given wings to fly above their troubles," Bristow writes at the Shawl Ministry Web site.

Tampa, 40, was taught knitting at age 10 by her grandmother. "I still have the first scarf I ever made," she said. But she put knitting aside after marriage and motherhood took up her time.

Knitters are quick to find one another, it seems. Tampa found out about the prayer shawl program while attending a spiritual training session in Washington. Prayers and blessings are recited before work begins.

"I knit one shawl and gave it to a woman diagnosed with cancer in our church last year," Tampa said. "Apparently she wore it all the time and visitors reported how much she liked it. That's when I thought maybe this is a ministry our church could take up."

After a single mention during announcements in a Sunday worship service, 15 women showed up for the initial meeting. Now they meet once a month to knit and have lunch. They have completed several shawls for parishioners and nonparishioners alike.

"This is not just knitting a sweater for your husband in front of the TV," Tampa said.

The core group now includes an 80-year-old woman and a 12-year-old girl - and Tampa's 11-year-old son has been known to try his hand.

"I figure anytime you can have 80-year-olds and 11-year-olds in the same room knitting and praying it's a good thing."

Information on how to begin your own group, knitting and crochet instructions for the shawls, and suggested prayers are available online at .

Contact columnist Lucia Herndon at 215-854-5724 or


Julie Tampa leads a group that knits prayer shawls at St. Peter's Church in the Great Valley, Malvern.

Julie Tampa leads a group that knits prayer shawls at St. Peter's Church in the Great Valley, Malvern.


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