Prayer flags have been around for thousands of years, but today’s fiber artists are putting their own spin on the ancient tradition. A growing number of artists are using these small but meaningful flags as an outlet for expressing their hopes, dreams, and concerns—and the design possibilities are endless. You can use shibori techniques, sun printing, stencils, embroidery, and much more. In Jane LaFazio’s article below, featured in our March/April 2012 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, read all about Vivika Hansen DeNegre’s inspiring Prayer Flag Project and learn how to create your own prayer flags (Vivika is the editorial director of Quilting Arts and Modern Patchwork magazines, and Quilting Arts TV).
Prayer Flag Project: On a Mission of Hope, by Jane LaFazio
The tradition of hanging prayer flags is ancient, dating back thousands of years to India and then to Tibet and Buddhism. I’ve always loved the Tibetan prayer flags that you often see hanging in people’s yards and on their porches.
The most common prayer flags are block printed with Buddhist imagery on a rectangle of loosely woven, brightly colored cotton, and strung together in groups of 10. They are always in the same five colors and hung in the same sequence. A little research informed me that the colors represent the five basic elements and should always be hung in order, from left to right. Blue signifies space, white: air, red: fire, green: water, and yellow: earth. This type of prayer flag is sold commercially throughout the world.
I often purchased prayer flags and hung them outside, not thinking too much about their purpose, other than that they were pretty and it made me feel good to see them. Then, my online friend, Vivika Hansen DeNegre, posted a notice about starting The Prayer Flag Project, and invited people to join her in making prayer flags as a “living, breathing, kinetic journal of our hopes, dreams, and concerns.” I signed on immediately.
The Prayer Flag Project is a blog (theprayerflagproject.blogspot.com) and a Flickr group, where anyone who makes a prayer flag can participate and post their work (Editor’s note: While the blog is still accessible, the last post was in 2016.). At Vivika’s request, I took over the blog. Our goal for the project is, as Vivika wrote, “spreading positive hopes and prayers for peace, compassion, and creativity beyond the borders of our own little world.”
The definition of a prayer flag, in this context, is a piece of cloth approximately 5″ × 8″ that is decorated with an image(s) and/or text that has special meaning to the maker. Making and hanging the flags is a way of speaking an intention out loud and expressing it visually, tangibly—a way to keep the important things in life within view. The flags hang outside for a period of time, and I love how they fade and tatter as they are affected by the wind and rain.
Sometimes I have an objective before I start a flag. Other times it develops as I stitch. I find making these flags almost meditative.
Some of my flags were for specific people who were going through a difficult time. Other flags were for a trait that I wished to embody. Still others were for far-reaching hopes: a starving country, or a universal wish such as peace, hope, and love. These flags have become sort of a journal of my life, and they all share the common theme of leaving the world a better place.
I remember learning in high school that we breathe in a considerable number of molecules that once passed through Leonardo Da Vinci’s lungs, and I’d like to believe that the wishes on my prayer flags, carried by the wind, will be shared with others in much the same way.
How to Make Prayer Flags
1. Cut pieces of fabric to 5″ × 11″. Use materials you already have on hand.
2. Fold the top down on each piece of fabric and stitch in place to create a 3″ sleeve, making the flag surface 5″ × 8″.
3. Paint, stitch, applique, or collage the flags.
4. Add words, journaling, or symbols as desired.
5. Thread the flags onto a string or cord and hang them outdoors so the breeze will catch them and spread your intentions.
Make a flag every day, once a month, or just when the spirit moves you.