Making Prayer Flags

Prayer Flags are thought to have been introduced over 2,000 years ago by the Bon people of Tibet. As predecessors to the Buddhist religion, their prayer flags did not specifically honor any deity, or group of deities as many think today, but were simply used to relate to the elemental entities, or forces of nature, to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom.

The belief was that the positive affirmations and thoughts of loving good will and compassion of the colorful strips, or rectangles of fabric, would be blown by the wind and spread all over the world.

Each of five primary colors corresponded to a different primary element or force of nature: earth, water, fire, air, and space.

500 years later, the Buddhists of region incorporated many of the same practices and their own interpretation of prayer flags began to evolve into the forms we are more familiar with today.

Our own 'modern' prayer flags, are often without specific religious or political affiliation. They are simply a loving and artistic way to connect our hearts with others and a way of showing loving compassion in the process by both making, giving, and sharing the process of making these bright bits of cloth and thread.

Contemporary Peace and Prayer flags can be also be created by imprinting them with poems, prayers and symbols from the variety great faiths of the world in hopes of uniting them in a spirit of peace and harmony.

And as the winds blow, and nature's changing seasons and natural elements of wind, sun, rain, or snow, will aid the natural process of disintegration of all things.

This is why it is not necessary to create meticulous 'works of art' but more often simply, and fundamentally creative works of heart, instead.

So, unless finished edges are required by a particular project, all of my prayer flags are simply made with raw edge finishes and layers of multiple materials. 

And my goal is to fly as many of them as I can, outside my home as well as inside.  (Artists and quilt makers seem to have had a need to turn them into quilts and magazines therefore encouraged this non-original intent of purpose)

In general, finished edges and stiffer formats are usually considered as regular decorative flags or art banners as opposed to prayer flags, as are pennants and similar garlands used for decorations at birthday parties and other celebrations. 

We honor the past, present, and future of their truest purpose by allowing them to be one with the winds of spirit. One with the ever-changing effects of earth, wind, and fire to alter essence and become one with all that is and will forever be. 

A prayer flag is intended as such, with thoughts and prayers being put into manifestation during both the creation, and the display... and that is why purists believe that even if they are to be hung inside, they should be place in the wind for 24 hours outside to be party of the 'lung ta' or the 'wind spirits.'

Prayer flags can be as simple as little strips of torn fabric whether in the traditional and recognizable primary colors of Tibet,  to any colors you love, to seasonal ones for special occasions! 

They can be made to hang horizontally, or vertically, and can either be tied onto strings or cords to hang singly or in unison with others.

They can also be hung vertically from poles planted into the ground or on hillsides or mountain tops. I hang mine from man-made arches to garlands of rope stretched between two trees, or wind them along the tops of fences and fence posts.

   Our "Sweetheart Tree"

( a nickname for the heart shaped leaves of this Pacific Redbud. And true to its essence of life and change, freezing rains altered its very being and snapped its limbs back to the earth)

These hand dyed silk prayer flags created in my kitchen with dye and steam pots) flew from the limbs of a special tree that we planted in memory of my best friend and her 12 year old daughter, who were killed in a terrible car accident in 1997. 

Terri and I met at Oregon State in 1969 and our families bought property together, built our houses side by side, and each raised 3 children,  as neighbors and best friends for 20 years. 

When Terri and Kelsy died on the way to the Jr. Olympics in Florida, where Kelsy was a National Junior Olympics  running champion, our hearts were broken, but the love and the memories of friendship helped to heal our hearts just as my bright colored little flags sent healing thoughts from our house to theirs. 

Greg, the husband and father, could look out his window and know that my prayers were with all of them, especially himself and his two surviving sons. Sadly, Greg, himself, was killed in a hiking accident at the coast in November of 2014. So many sad and very heartfelt losses.

My heart was once more broken, for our loss of him and his sons and three grandchildren's loss of their last grandparent. 

As I also make "Blessing Quilts" I made sure that each of the grandchildren had a blessing quilt to share my love, and continuing presence in their own young and precious lives. 

Each prayer flag, each every blessing quilt made in memory and remembrance spreads the blessings, and softens the pain each of us carries within. 

To this day, I have only one remaining prayer flag out of this entire treeful. (Fortunately, I did give a few away, and those continue to be in use!) But my own prayer flags on my own tree? Those original prayer flags made and flowed with healing love are all one with nature and our natural world. As it is above, so it is below.

Birds and squirrels loved them and made off with them, and the winds blew many of them away. It is this disintegration of all things that reminds us of the impermanence of this world and that is only through the cycles of renewal that life begins anew, and again and again.

The prayers of a flag become a permanent part of the universe even as the images fade from exposure to the elements.

Just as life moves on and is replaced by new life, those of us who create the flags out of loving compassion renew our hopes for the world by continually creating new flags alongside the fading older ones.

This act symbolizes a welcoming of life's changes and an acknowledgment that all beings are part of a greater ongoing cycle.

I am blessed to have a set of traditional prayer flags sent to me from a friend who was once a well know Oregon quilter, who left her modern life in California, Hawaii and Oregon to become a Buddhist nun and live in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in West Bengal, India.
As Andrea Balosky she wrote a now out of print quilting book, and exhibited quilts in quilt shows. But as Nyima Llaso she teaches young school children in Darjeeling and lives a simple monastic life.

I met her through other online quilting blogs and our quilting group of friends and asked her to join me in a charitable project that I was involved with called the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative.

As one of a group of about 3 dozen quilters in my small group that I showcased on one of my other blogs for The Liberated Quilting Project, she contributed her own art quilts to this cause and earned money for Alzheimer' Research.

This tiny little group was only one of many that supported AAQI, but our little band of quilters alone made and donated over 460 quilts and earned a great deal of money for Alzheimer's research funding. Here, is my own arts area where I am making my donations to AAQI.

I first hung them on my artful thinking bulletin board, near my little cutting area where I designed 75 small format art quilts over the years of care giving for my mom and dad in Alaska.

Andrea/Nyima apologized for their musty smell as they had been through the monsoon season in West Bengal. But they are true treasures of the heart as well as representing the very essence of sharing compassion with another.

Traditional prayer flags, such as these,  have transitioned from flags of peace, and prayer, to flags or pennants of best wishes, often for prayers for miracles, to flags or garlands with simple, and positive affirmations. 

And they are made by modern quilters, and crafters all over the world, now. From homes to sewing groups, to churches and Girl Scout troops. Prayer flags are now considered a universal message of goodwill and positive thinking for our world and all of the people who live here.

At the very top of this page,  is my own prayer arch that my husband built for our back yard. It's a bit hard to see my prayer flags, but they're always flying on it!  Here, it flies high with the simplest of prayer flags (little strips of fabric) sending prayers for peace, good health, and happiness through the winds of time.

A doe and her growing fawn, pause and much to my delight, stayed still for the longest time. I felt such a connection with the doe as she looked straight into my eyes and filled my spirit with connection tot the natural world and all of its creatures.

But once, goes up, almost always comes down. Here are the my simplest of prayer flag strips, once hanging on this garden arch, now already half way down, of perhaps at half mast!

Our little backyard squirrels have become quite adept at taking them down! Such 'nice' little helpers, aren't they ;-   I later found bits and pieces in a giant redwood tree at the corner of our property..the rest no doubt much higher and re-created into squirrel nests.


I make prayer flags for both outside and inside of our home. And I always, always have some flying somewhere!

What better than to use leftover bits and pieces of burlap from our DIY wedding for our youngest daughter, along with vintage crochet bits and bobs, and some of my antique buttons, and add in my own ink jet printed quotations from famous people about love and make a prayer flag garland?

I flew this prayer flag garland from my lofted entry way railings and filled up the hearts and souls of all who entered our home with a bounty of loving good wishes! We needed lots and lots of good wishes with almost all of the wedding being home made, grown, and crafted and somehow it all came together and was absolutely wonderful!

And to have this garland as a symbol of making time for myself and my sewing during such a busy time is a lovely reminder of caring for myself, our home, and our family, no matter how busy things get!

And considering I also designed and sewed her wedding dress with 16 gored panels to create a tea length dress with a complicated one directional nap out of burnt silk..having time for myself was no easy feat but the prayer flags were a joy and a delight to create during such a busy and productive time!

And once, the wedding was over, the indoors garland has already been made,  and I still had a LOT of burlap to use and re-use, what do you do with all of that? 

Well, I made 6 really big burlap bags with pockets and cut off pieces of wood for buttons, I made a lot of Christmas stockings, and.....then, of course....

Using leftover burlap pieces, I made triangular shaped pennants with randomly cut out letters and spelling out and bringing joy to a frosty outdoors landscape this last winter, when below freezing temperatures added a delightful frost to leftover wisteria vines and froze my little bunting shaped flags solid!

It brought back the joy of that family wedding and spread good cheer even in the darker, colder days of winter.

I also created these simple outdoor prayer flags using vintage doilies, buttons, and bits of embroidery to make the simplest and most rustic of prayer flags for a last minute donation to my favorite charity the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative before it closed its doors forever at the end of December 2013.

These simple little circles, remind me so much of mandalas, those mystical circles that symbolize the cycles of all of life and all of our own lives.  I was blessed to be able to receive bits and pits to create them, and to be able to donate them to my own AAQI Quilting project.

I made and donated 25 small format art quilts this past year of 2013, to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI)  inspite of the wedding, the travel, and all of the people I was so busy taking care of and praying for!!!  And it all felt wonderful but oh,  What a Year!

And it felt like a true blessing to not only find time to make and donate them, but to even be able to buy one of these small burlap ones back again. I bought the pink one and sent it to my youngest sister-in-law, who had just been diagnosed with end stage cancer.

I had named this little prayer flag "Blessings of Hope" and that is exactly what she is hoping for. She knew there was no cure for her disease, especially when it is almost always discovered at the end stage of small cell squamous (lung) cancer. But her hope was simply to go through enough rounds of chemo...and have them live long enough to be here for the birth of a grandchild.

She made it to his birth, to travel south from Alaska every three weeks to Seattle for another round of chemo and survived a full 10 months. It wasn't long enough but it was enough to see both of her grandbabies two more times before she passed in August of 2013. (this page has been repeatedly update to be time sensitive)

It may seem very simple, but there is love, and hope, and even great meaning and symbolism in even the simplest of prayer flags that are made with my hands from the depths of my heart. They are truly a bounty of blessings.

Praying and holding positive thoughts for this sister-in-law, and keeping open a space within the field of infinite possibilities, is a small thing, and a huge thing to ask for at the very same time. But that is how life is.

And all we can do is to help hold that sacred space of centering between all that we wish we could have, and all that we might have and then of course, accepting with gratitude all that we were given and blessed to experience.

And for those in need, whether in real life or for Internet blogging friends, I also made prayer flags like these, above for Mark and MaryLou Weidman, (prounounced wide-man) as Mark battled advanced brain cancer.

So, I held my love for this dear man, that I have never met, but that I now know so very much about, in my heart. And I kept that love flowing as positive energy in the background of my conscious awareness.

Sending those prayers and positive affirmations to Mark, to Mary Lou, and to their loving family who surrounded him, every single day.

Mark did pass and he passed with a beloved daughter and granddaughter sleeping on the floor of his room by him and his so loved wife, Mary and one of his brothers close by.  I wept when I learned of their loss, but I was so grateful that they were able to have him, for as long as they did.

My prayer flags are given away to anyone I meet that might be in need and mailed to both real and virtual (online) friends (many of whom I am privileged to meet along the way) who suffer losses or have loved ones in hospitals who face terrible challenges.

And these are probably the quickest prayer flags of all. Raw edge ripping and tearing, raw edge sewing down, and raw edge strips to wave good wishes, thoughts, and prayers to those I cared about. These are the heart and soul of creating prayer or peace flags for others.

For peace is all we pray for when all is said and done. And peace is the center, the grounding, the place of grace that we all crave...the return to our true nature, our true home, a return to the Divine.

These simple flags have brought great joy and love to many as I have made a large number of similar ones from these same bits and pieces.

In 2012, my own brother was rushed by paramedics from his home in Eagle River, Alaska, in a life or death situation and then put into a medically induced coma in Anchorage, Alaska. The doctors did not expect him to live and so all four of us...myself as the only and sister and oldest sibling and two of our three younger brothers (1 brother had to stay in Juneau and care for our bedridden mother in end stage Alzheimer's Disease).

My brother Doug, lived long enough to convince the specialists that he had a chance and so he was medvaced by a special medical jet to Seattle. I had been home for a few days and in those few got it!...I'd made a little prayer flag for his hospital in Seattle.

The first day there, his wife, my SIL fell and broke her hip. I had just enough time to make her a prayer flag, too before being driven up to Seattle to stay with both of them as they went through their medical emergencies and care. I don't have finished photos but they started out like these above.

In 2013, there were multiple natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes there was the man-made horrors of the bombing of the Boston Marathon, and then their was the outpouring of love and prayers and best wishes for its victims.

I saw this photo online, after the destruction of a hurricane in Oklahoma, looking up at the ceiling of an almost completely destroyed elementary school, and I saw a disaster created 'natural' prayer flag left in the remains.

I walked along my beautiful Sandy Beach in Savikko Park, named after my beloved uncle, Robert Savikko, once the mayor of Douglas who was lost at sea during a moose hunting trip with my father and other friends and family members.

A beach where 25 years later after the boating accident many, many miles away up the Taku Glacier region, that uncles, wallet..with identification washed ashore, was found by a beachcomber, and given to my aunt, his widow.

And on my last walk on this beautiful beach following the passing of my mother, after 8 long and challenging years with Alzheimer's Disease and I see this naturally created set of prayer flags.

Fishing Nets that were trapped on the underwater pilings, remains of once was what the greatest gold mine in the world...the Treadwell Gold Mine..on my childhood island of Douglas.  The gold mine that lured my grandfather to travel from Finland to Ellis Island to Michigan and then up to Alaska to mine for gold in 1902.

That enormous gold mine had the worlds first indoor swimming pool, and its own opera house and collapsed after a huge explosion in 1917, the year my father was born.

The ocean water of our Gastineau Channel rushed in and destroyed and covered most of the remains. But at low tide, the pilings become visible and beachcombers find treasures of old broken pottery as reminders of a world and a time that once existed.

I look at them, these naturally created prayer flags, and I see my own burlap and muslin prayer flags created during the summer of 2013, now strung on my own interior 'pilings' of the loft railings in my home and I finally understand why I was so drawn to the airborn railings and my need to fly prayer flags both inside and out.

Museum of Art: Boston 2013

"To Boston With Love"

  I also had the honor to have these three of flags be part of the Museum of Art: Boston Exhibit over the Memorial Day weekend of May 2013 at the Museum of Art: Boston in their Shapiro Courtyard exhibit in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon.

Titled "The Color of Love" and featuring a quotation by the artist Marc Chagall which states:
"In our live there is a single color, as on an artists' palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love."

 If you look carefully, you will see my symbolic representation of a wristwatch merged with what might be the city of Boston, or perhaps even the streets of the marathon. Rather than a face on the clock, there is a swirl representing eternal time.

As my blogging for this project stated:

"For all time is now. Past, present, and future. The clocks stop, the face on our wrist watches spin in the ever continuing cycles of one great 'dreamtime. And yes," time may heal all wounds", but love is the greatest healer of all. It can heal anger, and hatred, and jealousy, and even the desire for revenge."

So, for all those who suffer, all those who have lost loved ones, I created my first little flag for Boston and all those who were so hurt by the horrific events on the day of the Boston Marathon.

The center little prayer flag.....with its required by the "To Boston With Love' prayer flag movement included simple sewn edges for the 6 inch by 8 inch shape ..and with its required 1 and one half inch wide by 16 inches long strip folded and sewn into a binding tie strip...very different from my usual rough and ready for action in the great unknown prayer flags.  But the quilted flag, itself, shares all of that ragged and uncertainty of life made into one unified whole...inside and outside of time.

Hundreds of our prayer flags were strung across the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard over Memorial Day Weekend 2013. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts waived its usual $25 entrance fee in honor of the event and the weekend so as many visitors could view the exhibits as possible.

And then, there was original and very first entry into a national calling our for prayer flags for an installation.

 Prayer Flags for the Entry Lobby:
Oceanside Museum of Art: California 2012

Three of my prayer flags had the honor of flying high at the Oceanside Museum of Art in Oceanside, California.

  The CALL TO ARTISTS  of the OMA PRAYER FLAG PROJECT created a display of prayer flags that greeted all visitors as they entered the gallery from October 14 through December 31, 2012.

Fiber artists were invited to design a unique flag made of fabric and other materials that reflected their current and future hopes and dreams. I made mine with my own painted, raw edge appliqued, beaded, and ink jet printed with quotations on the front and my own original poetry on the backs.

Look at their fronts and notice how even the ragged edges do not match one another, nor even the other side of the same flag. This is the disintegration and the imperfection that exists beyond all of our striving for attainment or the illusions of perfection.

These flags, fortunately, were returned to me after the three month installation and I have them, flying now, in my tiny little sewing nook.And such a joy they are to me, now!

Here, they send prayers to me as I sew and quilt..and there are some days that I need those more than others!  

When an usually cold and snow filled winter struck Salem in the winter of 2013/2014, I made my first fleece prayer flag. One of my brother's had just been rushed by paramedics from his home in Eagle River to the hospital in Anchorage and put into his second medically induced coma with a tracheotomy.

And I wanted to send him love both inside and out to help his during his latest crisis. He went on to have a third severe, life or death case of antibiotic resistant pneumonia, and beat the odds for a third time!

He had been in Oregon since Christmas while his wife has been hospitalized for over 8 months with kidney failure in Anchorage and now in Portland at OHSU...more than once.

She has battled one severe illness after another, and just had a metal rod put in her back in April of 2015 and emergency abdominal surgery on June 7, 2015. Defying all odds, over and over..and yes, I've made her prayer flags, as well!

Sadly, this dear sister in law passed as well in February of 2016. But not before she had a chance to also see her own brand new grandaughter, and all of her children and their spouses just a few weeks before her death. Her loss has left a huge loss in my brother's heart but we continue to talk about her and keep her alive in our hearts and both of us feel her presence whenever we talk or even think about her.

Love lives on, forever and ever.

Many years ago, I began to make a long garland of prayer flags and hanging them..sometimes in public places as a way of bringing the concept into greater awareness, but most often in my own back yard where they bless all who visit. Many ask about them, and I simply say "pick one" and give them a flag of their own. 

"Peace and Prayer Flags, Garlands, Pennants, and Buntings" 

This garland became my own offering of a teaching project for the Mid-Valley Quilt Guild in 2014 which I taught to members of the guild but open to the general public at the Polk County Fairgrounds. 

I also taught members of Anne Gilbert Waltons' Quilting Arts Class at her beautiful farmland and school in West Salem.

 When my husband, Larry, unexpectedly had a stroke on April 16, 2014, I rushed to the hospital to be with him and help our family through this challenging time (wearing two different colors of shoes..must have needed that energy, somehow!!!) 

But as soon as we knew he would live and handle the resulting challenges, and he was safely back home again...I made more prayer flags with blessings and gratitude!

And for me the peace and the prayers that these simple little bits of cloth and thread bring to my heart are as big as they can possibly be...all encompassing, all extending, and fully universal in all ways. And it is such a blessing in my life to be able to create and to share them with others.

And our deep feelings of gratitude and thankfulness for our blessings are such a deep part of the human psyche, the great vastness of the human spirit, across all cultural and political boundaries.

In this same spirit, this essence of wanting to express and leave a mark for our prayers as well as for our blessings, our world is filled with other examples, as well.

(Fair share use google images used below.)

One of these are the use of wells.  First known as "Clootie Wells" (also Cloutie or Cloughtie) these wells are places among the pilgrimages in Celtic locations. They are springs or wells, usually with the growth of a tree beside them as a result of their nourishment, where strips of cloth have been tied to the branches of that tree as part of a healing ritual.

In my childhood home in Alaska on Douglas Island, we have the Treadwell Mine Cave In..a giant explosion made well as the sea waters rushed in during the mine cave in of 1917.

It is a considered a sacred place by many. And while I have not hiked down into the Glory Hole, in as an adult, I still hang special mementos in the trees around the areas..feathers and shells and other bits and pieces as do others.

Another is the "Wishing Tree" such as mine above. I have hung my own small silk prayers flags or in other locations, small strips of cloth.

In other places, people have been known to toss shoes up into the branches of trees. The intent is the same but with a different bit of a twist, of course! 

When you see a tree with either bits of cloth or shoes, you will know that however strange it may look, their are deep feelings and even a sacred place where so many prayers, wishes, or best wishes have been left to become one with nature and all of the universe.


And when the husband, the father, our dear friend of 45 years was killed in a fluke of a hiking accident in November of 2014, I knew that this tree..given as a gift in memory of his wife and daughter..and now growing between what used to be their home and ours would always, always be our special prayer flag tree. And it still is.

This page:

Other recent and associated links on my blog:

Prayers Flags from Mungpoo 

A Special Request from Kelly at IHAN

Prayer Flags for Boston: The Color of Love

 Garlands of Prayers: For Everyone, Everywhere

 "My Valentine of Love"

A Blog Post: Making Prayer Flags for a Class


And besides the fun and joy that making prayer flags, buntings, and garlands for my use and for those that I send them to....

 I am proud to be a member of this group and to support this cause:

Join Us in Visual Prayer

In June of 2011, Vivika Hansen DeNegre started The Prayer Flag Project. She invited people from around the world to to join her in making Prayer Flags. Each flag is created in the artists own style, then hung outside for a while, its words and sentiment dissolving into the wind and being spread to all whom the wind touches. They are a living, breathing, kinetic journal of our hopes, dreams and concerns.