Knitting and Praying for the Russian Soul

I’ve spent a lot of time knitting and fretting and praying over situations in Russia, and here we are again. 

For me, the act of knitting is oddly intertwined with Russian culture and its wildly volatile social fabric. My favorite story about knitting – and prayer – involves a Russian woman who went to her priest, feeling spiritually out of whack. The priest told her to sit in front of an icon for an hour a day and just silently knit. She did that, and soon enough, she was spiritually right as rain. I’ve followed that advice many times in the last twenty or so years, knitting and silently, wordlessly praying. 

For a time, I knitted and prayed for my soon-to-be-adopted son, a tiny, malnourished little boy abandoned by his birth parents and left in the custody of an orphanage on the Arctic Coast of Russia. While I waited for a date to leave on what would become the most momentous trip of my life, I knitted. I made hats and scarves for the children in this orphanage, one after the other, soaking up my stress and my hopes and my worries. Then, while I waited to leave on my second trip to bring my son home, I knitted again, this time making adult sized scarves for the orphanage staff, the kind souls caring for my son. I knitted and prayed that all would go well, that we would be able to bring home our little son without all the hassles and things-that-could-wrong. 

I had reason to knit and pray a lot during those trips. The government of Russia is not friendly to strangers. My husband and I were under constant surveillance while we were there. Moments after we checked into a hotel, the CNN broadcast froze on the TV screen (the better to hear you with, my dears). When we met our adoption facilitators, men suddenly appeared out of nowhere to intently listen in, finding out where we were going and where we were staying. The hotel in Moscow had a Red Army watching and listening post in the lobby. The hotel maid felt free to come in and check on us without knocking, without asking. 

On the way out to the airport to leave, we were stopped and asked for papers at 4:30 in the morning. After my husband and our new baby and I passed passport control at the airport, my ten-year-old children were held back as the officer took her sweet time checking data base after data base, making sure they weren’t Russian adoptees leaving illegally on American passports. Hundreds of people were held up behind us as we stood on the other side of the border, waiting and hoping our children would soon step over the border after us. I have never been so relieved as the moment the door to that big Lufthansa jet slammed shut and the plane pulled away from the gate, taking us to the safety of the West. 

But that wasn’t the end. When we visited a toy store in Times Square in New York, a man appeared out of the blue, snapped my son’s photo, then disappeared just as quickly. A friend and I were very obviously followed in the Washington, D.C. area. Several times in the last 17 years, I have felt under surveillance and followed here in Knoxville. 

But in juxtaposition to this harassment by the Russian government, I also have stories of pure Russian kindness and humanity. My adoption facilitators took wonderful care of us and gave my son gifts out of their own pockets. One of them asked me to explain the concept of Christian baptism as we stood on a street corner in St. Petersburg. She listened intently and earnestly. 

On the tarmac in Arkhangelsk, an Aeroflot flight attendant saw me holding a baby in the cold wind, at the back of the line, and whisked me up to the front and up the steps to the plane to keep him warm. As I stepped off the airport bus onto an icy tarmac in Moscow, a number of arms suddenly reached out to steady me, to make sure I didn’t slip and fall while holding my precious new baby against my chest. 

This is the Russian soul I now pray for as I sit and knit through the terror of the Ukrainian invasion. I pray for the Mother Russia who loves her babies and children and doesn’t want them to even get cold. I pray for the kind of Russian people who work in the orphanages at low pay and terrible hours and do the best they can with little resources. I pray for the boys aging out of the orphanages in Russia and sent straight into the Red Army, because that’s what happens to the little boys who don’t get adopted and are turned out with no job skills. 

I pray for the extraordinarily brave Russian people taking to the streets to protest their government’s completely unwarranted invasion of a neighboring country. Things do not go well for those who speak out against the Russian government. I pray for the Russia that could be, the Russia that just wants to live in peace and have enough money for food. 

As I sit and knit today, I pray that the evil yoke of oppression will soon be lifted, both from the shoulders of Russia and of Ukraine. I pray for the good that is in Russia to prevail. 

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, a collection of interrelated short stories about knitters and those they meet through knitting and sharing prayer shawls. 

Copyright 2022 Cynthia Coe

The Beautiful Simplicity of One Knitting Project At A Time

I’ve often had as many as four or five knitting projects going at a time. I’ve had my “main” knitting project (usually a sweater) and my “travel” knitting project (something simple and mindless – usually a dishcloth or place mat I can work on in the school pick-up line).  I might have another project or two that involve lots of counting or an intricate pattern that requires complete silence and absence of all distraction, something you can’t work on while maintaining any social skills at all. 

But lately, I’ve discovered the beautiful simplicity of only having one knitting project going at a time. Maybe it’s the revived pandemic scares. Maybe it’s the implosion of the schools (again). Maybe I’m just figuring out that focusing on one thing at a time is crucial to my emotional well-being during this stressful time.

Whatever the reason, I’ve quite enjoyed working on one knitting project, rather than have several knitting projects scattered all over the house and in my car. I seem to enjoy knitting more when I don’t feel like I’m struggling to get one project moving along, with six others in an unfinished state. And – duh! – I get projects finished much, much faster when I direct all my efforts towards one project. This gives me a sense of accomplishment, seeing a completed sweater, shawl, or cowl I can immediately wear and enjoy, and on a regular basis of every week or so.

We’ve all seen the memes online, ridiculing ourselves for having way too many knitting projects (or WIPs – works-in-progress). Maybe it’s time to listen to ourselves and realize that more is not always more. For every WIP that’s left languishing in a work basket, there are unfulfilled aspirations and a sense of giving up. You don’t need that, not when you have enough stress in other areas of your life.

Enjoy your knitting. Enjoy that one project you chose and for which you have high hopes. Feel good in a few short days or weeks about what a great job you did on that one sweater you worked on to the exclusion of all other crafting projects.

Appreciate the simplicity and quiet time of meditative crafting that knitting gives you.

Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, a collection of interrelated short stories about knitters and those they meet through knitting and sharing prayer shawls. 

Copyright 2022 Cynthia Coe

Knitting in Florida

After a long, long hiatus from blogging, I’m back! After some major upheavals in my life*, I’m now a proud parttime resident of Florida – and still knitting. My knitting projects have given me an hour or so of quiet, peaceful, solace every day during this past awful year, and for that, I’m profoundly grateful.

As I packed my car for the trip down to Florida this past week, I – of course – made sure I had enough knitting projects for my time here. I had just gotten two project kits, bulky weight yarn for a cowl and a scarf. Those would be good, easy, do-able projects for my time in Florida – or so I thought.

But when I arrived, knitting scarves and cowls in bulky weight yarns was the last thing I wanted to do. The temperature was in the high 70s here in Florida, with the sun shining and the beach waiting for me to take a nice long walk in my bathing suit. I didn’t even want to touch heavy wool, much less hold it in my lap while I knitted. Those projects got stuffed back in my suitcase within minutes.

But I still wanted to knit – just something light and at least somewhat “beachy.” I settled on some lightweight, DK weight wool yarn in a cream color with blue speckles. I started a shawl project, but really, I’m “knitting-just-to-knit” with this project. I want something that weighs next to nothing, can be tucked into a beach bag, and requires little or no thinking on my part. 

So I’ve happily worked on this small, lightweight project for a week…until this morning. The temperature dropped like a brick. As I walked along the beach this afternoon, hugging myself against the cold wind, the cold water licking at my bare feet, I thought, “maybe that scarf project with bulky weight yarn might not be such a bad idea.”

Stay warm and keep knitting, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, a collection of interrelated short stories about knitters and those they meet through knitting and sharing prayer shawls. 

Copyright 2022 Cynthia Coe

*My husband of 37 years was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in May of 2020 and died in December of 2020. I sold the family farm, moved, and had huge responsibilities to deal with. And…I suffered writer’s block for the first time ever. Back in the saddle, I hope!

How the Pandemic Ended My Yarn Snobbery

I was a “yarn snob” for about two years. After discovering the joys of buying high quality wool, alpaca, and even silk yarns online, I gleefully knitted cardigan sweaters, pullovers, shawls, and small blankets out of the finest yarns on the planet. Of course, I also had to discover hand washing of all these lovely fibers. My crafting budget took a hit, too.

Then came the pandemic. Within a couple of months, supply lines to all these wonderful all-natural yarns came to a screeching halt. Two companies from which I had previously bought wool yarns closed or sold out. Another subscription service supplying all kinds of wonderfully squishy yarns struggled to get products out of South America. I bought up lots of yarn on clearance or going-out-of-business sales, but my days of buying wooly goodness in the form of knitting yarn were clearly over.

But my knitting was still in high gear. With reduced schedules and lots of free time around the house, I imagine I wasn’t the only one doing more knitting than usual this past year. I imagine many people took up knitting as beginners, too.

My own demand for readily available yarn quickly veered off towards good old-fashioned acrylic. Frustrated with shipping delays for the so-called “luxury yarns,” I found that I could click a couple of buttons or swing by the big box craft stores and get all the synthetic yarn I wanted. 

And is acrylic so bad, after all? I think not. It’s affordable. It’s durable. Projects I made from acrylic yarn twenty years ago still look great. And I can throw them in the washing machine AND dryer without experiencing total disasters. Yes, acrylic yarn is a by-product of the oil industry, but at least it’s used for a good purpose. Right? 

I still love to wear my warm wooly sweaters, especially during these Dogwood and Blackberry Winters of our Appalachian Spring here in Tennessee. I don’t enjoy hand washing the things. But I sure do like going out to the mailbox and getting new acrylic yarn just days after I order it!

Happy Knitting, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, a collection of interrelated short stories about knitters and those they meet through knitting and sharing prayer shawls. 

Copyright 2022 Cynthia Coe

Knit Generously – Knitting for Charity

I was in a fabric shop recently when I heard a woman at the cutting counter say this to the clerk: “I want something as cheap as possible. It’s just for charity.”

My immediate reaction was “ugghhhh.” In one respect, I get it. You have your own bills to pay, but you still want to donate your crafting skills to a good cause. You may need to spend as little as possible to make a gift for someone else. But it’s all in the tone of voice, and I had the distinct impression that this woman thought those on the receiving end of her charity crafting didn’t quite deserve anything but the cheapest, lowest quality materials for her project.

It all goes back to the purpose and intention of a gift. Do we go cheap and give as little as possible, even if we could afford much more and much better? Or do we give the best we can afford, thinking about what those receiving our gifts will appreciate?

This is not to say that inexpensive yarns can’t make great charity gifts. I’ve knitted numerous hats, scarves, and prayer shawls using clearance sale yarn or even remnants from other projects. But each of these items were gifts I could be proud to share and present to someone, anyone. I’ve knitted little hats for kids in an orphanage in a cold place, so they could go outside wearing cute, cheerful knitwear that might help them feel good about themselves and let them know that someone, somewhere, cares about them. I’ve knitted prayer shawls for cancer patients and nursing home patients in bright colors to cheer them up and help lighten their emotional burdens. 

My rule of thumb for all of these projects: knit generously. Make a knitted project someone else would truly love to receive and wear. Use yarn you’d use in making something for yourself or a loved one. Because when we knit for charity, we knit for someone who needs to be loved. That homeless person receiving the hat, that nursing home patient receiving a shawl might not have anyone else but you to knit for them and show them someone cares.

Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of the newly published book The Prayer Shawl Chronicles. The story “Hats for Orphans” in this book is based on her experience in knitting hats for children in Arkhangelsk, Russia.  Available in paperback and on Kindle, included in Kindle Unlimited