Whether Angels Knit

Since childhood I have had a collection of angel Christmas ornaments, and I think that’s part of the reason why I have always had a minor fascination with different depictions of angels. And I have written before about my fondness for lace knitting. So you can imagine that my interest was piqued when I saw these two things combined in the form of a book about knitted lace angels. (Take a look; it’s actually really cool.)

I came across this book while searching the library catalogue for something else, and clicked Place Hold instantly. The book arrived at the library, and it was delightful, full of dainty, ingeniously designed knitted sculptures. But what I hadn’t noticed in the thumbnail picture in the library catalogue is what that angel on the front cover is doing. That’s not just a knitted angel; it’s a knitting angel. The book in fact features angels doing various forms of needlework: knitting, crocheting, embroidering, spinning, etc. It’s all very adorable, but it raises what is honestly something of a theological question for me: Do angels do that kind of thing? Or, to be more accurate about the way the matter presented itself to me: Why do I feel that angels don’t do that kind of thing?

Now, this turns out to be less a question about angels, and more a question about the status and use of different human endeavours. I suppose part of the problem is that it’s hard to know why an angel would need or want a scarf or an afghan or a cross-stitch sampler. But that won’t quite do; if they are beautiful objects, why shouldn’t they glorify God as much as music, which we all know to be an important angelic activity?

Is this a gender thing? Well, depressingly, maybe. I do tend to think of angels as more or less masculine, and needlework as feminine, and I’m not immune to the general miserable tendency to devalue traditionally feminine activities and blah blah blah. (I’d like to pretend that this isn’t a thing, but I’ve realized that nothing is served by that kind of denial, so yeah. Sorry.)

But I also tend to think that a knitting angel gives me pause because for me, knitting isn’t a purely creative activity, or doesn’t approach as closely as possible to “baking from scratch” or creating from whole cloth. As I’ve already mentioned here, for me, needlework is largely a process of following the instructions, often to the letter, rather than of freely inventing, and that doesn’t somehow seem very angelic. But maybe it is? Maybe angels are not particularly creative; they are not the creatures made in the image of the Creator, after all. And they are portrayed as obedient servants; maybe they like following directions?

[caption id="attachment_287" align="alignleft" width="294"]Gabriel, crocheting It’s sheer coincidence that the yarn matches the orphreys on my costume so well. (Photo by Katherine Belyea)[/caption]

I’ve also realized that there is documentary proof of my hypocrisy on this subject. In my defense, I’m not in character in this picture, just in costume. I’m backstage during a production of our parish’s medieval nativity play, crocheting a granny square (one of many I finished during the course of rehearsals).

I do remember feeling that what I was doing was funny, but not especially apt. So I don’t know… what do you think? Could your idea of angels include needlework?

4 Comments

  • Posted March 10, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Great photo. This post makes me think of this hymn: “Angel voices, ever singing round thy throne of light … craftsman’s art and music’s measure for thy pleasure all combine.” I like to think of angels as multi-taskers. 🙂

    Angel voices, ever singing,
    round thy throne of light,
    angel harps, for ever ringing,
    rest not day or night;
    Thousands only live to bless Thee,
    and confess Thee
    Lord of might.

    Yea, we know that thou rejoicest
    o’er each work of thine;
    thou didst ears and hands and voices
    for thy praise design;
    craftsman’s art and music’s measure
    for thy pleasure
    all combine.

  • Posted March 10, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    I did not know that hymn, but it’s lovely! Thanks for sharing that, Julia. There is such good stuff in the hymnals.

  • Posted March 11, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Hmm. What a good question! (And following up on that discussion we had earlier, because of my difficulty with the theological implications of the angel Gabriel being in my story…) I suppose in some ancient and medieval views, some of the orders of angels are devoted to pure glorification and lauding of God, whereas others definitely seem to have functional purposes: turning the spheres of the cosmos, for instance. In the more Neoplatonic strands of thought they can even have a subsidiary role in creation, coming out of the lesser gods in Plato’s Timaeus. That doesn’t seem to be creative in quite the same way; more like your following instructions to create a knitted pattern. They might well knit the cosmos after Divine Wisdom has disposed all things by weight and number and measure …

  • Posted March 11, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Actually, yes! I can almost picture some extended Neoplatonic metaphor about angels knitting together the cosmos. Oh dear. I have to admit I didn’t actually attempt making any of the lace angels from the book, but it’s starting to seem like I should.

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