The traditional Tibetan prayer flag is a colorful panel or rectangle of thin cloth in many colors and strung together. Traditionally they are woodblock printed with prayers in the form of text and images. They are often found strung along mountain ridges in the Himalayas to bless the surrounding countryside. The belief is that, as the breeze blows through and around the flags, the prayers are spread far and wide.
BIRTHDAY WISH FLAGS
Last year, in our mama’s group, we used the prayer flag template to make “birthday wish flags.” With pinking shears we cut printed fabric for a background square, and then a smaller square of plain white fabric—either muslin, cut up white cotton sheet, or some such similar plain, recycled fabric. Each person in the group wrote our messages, wishes, thoughts and feelings for the birthday girl onto a piece of white fabric, which we then sewed onto the background piece. We then strung them all together for the words to catch the breeze and bring good wishes all year long. We each have them hung up in some special spot and, nearly a year out, they still make our hearts sing.
During election time in 2012 we participated in an Obama Mama rally and family picnic and were asked to bring a participatory craft. We had already done the birthday flags and thought a flag would be a great project for a large group. For the kids, we wanted to present something that would conjur up hope, pure and simple, rather than a partisan declaration. Kathie Sever, my craft partner, cleverly came up with the term Hope Flags.
HOPE FLAGS AS A PARTICIPATORY CRAFT
We pre-cut a couple hundred background fabrics in a wide variety of patterns and colors. We also pre-cut a same amount of the smaller, white sheets. As a nod to the traditional Tibetan flags using wood blocks, Kathie made rubber block prints that offered Hope themed writing prompts: I am hope… Hope to me sounds like… Hope to me looks like… and, What I can do… We also had some blank flags for people to come up with their own statements.
Rather than machine sew the white onto the patterned fabric, we brought buttons and embroidery thread and needles to sew them together by hand. Kids and adults could write out their prompts using the colored pens, select their background fabric, choose a button for the anchor at the top two corners, and either sew them on themselves, or have us do it for them.
The response was amazing and colorful and thoughtful and hopeful and accessible for all. We then strung the flags from tree to tree for all the messages of hope and commitment and peace and diplomacy to waft on the breeze and spread to all the surrounding countryside. After the rally we took them back to the studio where they now hang the length of the building and from wall to wall. They illuminate the studio still with their drawings, scribbles and words—all serving as clear and continuous messages of hope. And I guess they worked!
MAKE PRAYER FLAGS YOUR OWN
We continue to ponder the prayer flag, birthday flag, wish flag, hope flag as a design that is full of amazing possibilities—each one full of sentiment and love and hope and each one full of ideas for more ideas!
So, whether you are a master seamstress or someone who has never before held a needle and thread, you can whip up a prayer flag to suit your own needs and creative desires. Make it detailed with embroidery and buttons and all the bells and whistles, or make it simple with plain cloth and thread and pen. It’s yours to do with what you like and yours too to share meaningful messages over and over and over again.
Photo above courtesy of Jote.
Bernadette Noll is a freelance writer and the author of Slow Family Living: 75 Simple Ways to Slow Down, Connect, and Create More Joy. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Kenny, and her four children. Find her on Facebook and read more of her work at Slowfamilyliving.com.