My maternal grandmother was, by trade, a “Kloeppelerin”, a person who made what we call in English “Belgian lace”. The lace isn’t specifically Belgian, of course. That’s simply the name we use for it. My grandmother was Austrian, then Czech, then German, thanks to Versailles and later to Mr. Chamberlain’s “peace in our time”, but’s that’s another story. My grandmother’s work found its way onto the vestments and altar cloths of Roman churches throughout her area. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this sort of lace, it is made with strands of thread wound around wooden shuttles (in German a “Kloeppel”). Each piece of lace will use anywhere from about 10 or so shuttles to countless numbers, depending upon the width and complexity of the piece. Oma taught me the basics of this lace making, and I treasure her lace making pillow (the round bolster which holds the pattern and the lace as it is woven), antique shuttles, and secret pattern cards called “lace letters”, in German, “Kloeppelbriefe”. I can only imagine the spiritual exercise it must have been to work a length of lace destined for an ornate alb or fine altar linens. My mother once gifted a round piece of lace my grandmother made to the Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock. They treasure the work to this day, and use it solely underneath the monstrance when the Sacrament is exposed in their chapel. What an immense honor.
As many know, I am a ferocious knitter. I generally have one project going and several others waiting in my knitting bag. Recently, I started attending regular knitting evenings at our local yarn shop here in Lafayette. I’ve met a wonderful group of knitters just as entranced by fiber art as I. The group are working on a community project afghan composed of 24 12-inch knitted blocks, each different. The blocks are designed by knitters from America and Canada. Together they form “The Great North American Afghan”. Ideally, each knitter has chosen 1 block for the project. Since some blocks still remained unclaimed, I have taken two. I completed my first one, a New Mexican design with taupe and brown pinstripes. Leafing through the pattern book yesterday, I chose my second block to be completed in taupe and purple. At first, I mistook the block for a Greek key pattern. When I got it home and read the interview with the designer, I learned that I had chosen the block of blocks, not realizing.
The block was designed by Anna Zilboorg, an Anglican solitary in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Contemplating the spiritual dimensions of the Chartres labyrinth, a walk through which was the culmination of medieval pilgrimage, Zilboorg pondered what it may be like to knit such a labyrinth. The center of the maze, Zilboorg points out, is the symbolic New Jerusalem. Upon completion, the designer suggests to walk spiritually through the just-knitted labyrinth, moving one’s finger across the bumpy knitted pathways into the center. What first caught my eye as an homage to Greek design, has turned out in fact to be a complex spiritual exercise.
The designer is very clever, mapping out the pattern of the labyrinth pathways. The instructions themselves are a labyrinth. The entire project is puzzle. Understanding the procedure to the knitting took quiet and meditation, envisioning the knitting in order to wrap the mind around the plan. After quite a time of imagining, the enlightenment set in, and it all made sense. There are hidden concepts in the knitting not described in the pattern but which present themselves as necessary to complete the work. What a joy to unravel this first puzzle. As I embark on this knitting journey, I expect to find more hidden surprises within in the labyrinth. Our spiritual walk is not always an easy one. There are hidden turns and puzzling events we must navigate, but in the end, the reward is great.
As part of creation we ourselves are creators. Our human creativity is proof that we indeed share an image of our own Creator, and through such creation, whether it be the fabrication of objects, painting portraits, playing music, planting a garden, keeping house, etc., we are made to glorify God in our work. In knitting, we usually anticipate the completion of the project. In the case of the Zilboorg labyrinth block, I look forward just as much to the discoveries I will make along the paths during its creation. As the chorale text proclaims: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan!