September 19th – 23rd
My host and hostess, Joe and Kathryn Amato of St. Mary’s Church, Davenport, Iowa
I’ve been eager to get into my website and tell you about this wonderful seminar. I got back last Saturday and, here it is Wednesday and I’m only just now doing it. I haven’t known what to tell you! Something amazing happened and I haven’t quite known what it was! Except that I know it goes back to my earliest experience with this ministry: The sure knowledge that the Holy Spirit wants us to be about the task of making our own altar linens and vestments for our own parishes.
When I started out in this odyssey as our Diocesan Directress, I worked with 7 Sewing Groups of women from many of our diocesan parishes. When our Diocesan Altar Guild was shut down, I continued working through my website – but with individuals rather than groups. This seminar was my first opportunity in 20 years to teach again within a group. Much as I love working individually, working in a group is more better! Really exciting! Dynamic! We need to find a way to build our parish Sewing Groups again. This is what Kathryn was inspired to do when she asked me to come – build Sewing Groups. I want us to work towards this in the future.
As Kathryn and I were setting up the schedule to suit the needs of our 20 attendees, I noticed that we were speaking in terms of ‘beginners’, ‘intermediates’, and ‘advanced’. While I’ve often used those terms before, this time they just felt ‘wrong’ to me! I decided not to use them. Never mind what other talents you possess, if you’ve never made altar linens before, you’re a beginner!
When we work in groups to construct our altar linens – as we are meant to do – there are different tasks to be fulfilled. Some people just love to do the stitching – and don’t want to be bothered with all that other stuff. Some people find ‘all that other stuff’ very interesting and want to know how to do that. Some people really enjoy doing just the embroidery. There’s no beginners here! Just tasks.
And, that’s what I taught – tasks.
For the younger women with children at home, we did stitching; something that can be picked up and set down whenever a free minute presents itself (waiting for the end of soccer practice, or in the dentist’s office). I taught the use of the Golden Ruler, Convent Hemming, and the construction of corners (squared and mitered). These stitchers are the most important ones in the entire Sewing Group and we need as many of them as we can get! They’re the ones that accomplish what needs to be done. That was my first lecture.
My second lecture was on the construction of small linens. I taught the great efficiency of working with linen fresh off the bolt – rather than pre-shrinking. This requires an understanding of how much linen shrinks – the ‘shrinkage factors’ – and how to turn linen shrinkage to our benefit in increased efficiency. I taught how to plan layouts for efficiently cutting multiple linens from one piece of linen. I taught laying out for straightness – very important. Each Sewing Group needs at least two people for this task – they’re the ones who keep the stitchers busy.
My third lecture was on the construction of large linens – again using linen fresh off the bolt rather than preshrunk. We used a large Golden Ruler, worked uneven miters, learned the efficiency of stay-pinning. We applied all of this to the preparation of a new fair linen for St. John’s altar here at my Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, NY (which I’m in the process of stitching up). I brought the linen home – prepared – the corners mitered and the hems basted, ready for stitching.
We repeated the first lecture three times and the other two twice. In the last lecture we learned to make stoles – which was really fun!
Throughout the seminar, I constantly pressed efficiency. Competence and efficiency go hand in hand – with never any compromise of quality. Women in their work are naturally efficient. Anyone who stands in a leadership or teaching position must demonstrate respect for the value of volunteer time. Our parishes are built upon a foundation of volunteer time given with joy to the Body of Christ. Volunteer time is of immense value we must use it with respect.
Efficiency, competence, quality. Time, talent, treasure. Good stewardship.
Five of our attendees (four women and a teenager) were from one parish – St. Martha’s Guild of St. John Cantius in Chicago – Julie, Karen, Michele, Mary Sue and her daughter, Anna. It was this group that set me on my ear! They were involved in a difficult situation and didn’t understand what it was. It took me quite a minute before I figured it out and that very instant caused my whole 30 years of ministry to pivot and take on greater clarity. (Do you know how that can happen? You go along, doing what you do, one day after the next and SUDDENLY some little thing causes the penny to drop; the light bulb to light up and nothing is ever the same again! Like that!)
St. Martha’s Guild of St. John Cantius is a true Sewing Group – a group of women who meet regularly to sew for their parish. These women are all talented. By that, I mean that each of them has substantial skills that are not necessarily related to church sewing. Most people have at least one talent that is not necessarily related to church sewing: Quilters, embroiderers, counted cross stitchers, people who do painting on silk. My customers come to me bringing an immense number of major talents. But, that doesn’t mean they know how to make vestments or linens!
This group of women went to their priest and asked him to give them a sewing project and he directed them toward the rebuilding of a deep, luscious purple VELVET chasuble and stole set. And so, they said ‘yes’ and started on the project. They brought it to show at the seminar.
Here is what they brought – the chasuble is all cut out. I have the camera aimed at the wrong side of the nap – do you see how dark the velvet on the other side of the shoulder seam? That’s the true shade. (It’s that slinky velvet that crushes if you even look at it.)
You can see their talent in the beautiful gold and silk-worked Y orphreys. While this picture may not show it, the gold silk shades beautifully into reds. Each of these diamonds will have a jewel at the center and between each diamond.
I’m sure you can tell that this is a major project and there’s a lot of talent going on here! It’s their FIRST project! When I realized this, I was stunned because they did not appear to understand that they are in way over their heads! Way over their heads! When I asked them about that – they knew! Somehow they had begun a very serious and demanding project having the TALENT to do it but not the COMPETENCE!!!
And, it was that realization that pulled me up short and helped me to re-visualize my own ministry. My ministry is to build your competence. I hadn’t ever spoken that sentence before. Realizing this simple fact helped me to see my ministry more clearly.
I now see that the ultimate purpose of many of the things I have brought to you has been to promote competence: The Golden Ruler, the Set-Back method of stole construction, Shrinkage Factors that allow us to work with fresh linen, Convent Hemming. Each one, through it’s increased efficiency contributing toward the Holy Spirit’s goal that we should be about these tasks.
There were four other women in this group from other parishes ’round about. This purple set turned out to be an excellent, creative and thought-provoking teaching opportunity in which the entire group pitched in to discuss: What kind of lining to use? What kind of seam would be best around the outside edge to prevent the velvet from rolling? Whether to use galloons or a piping along the orprhey edge? How to handle finishing the neck opening? You can only get this kind of no-holds-barred help from a group – a talented group! So many of us work in isolation with nobody to talk things out with! I can’t begin to tell you how intense was the sense of creativity!!!
We went from this ‘free-for-all’ into constructing stoles – a bit of competency the St. John Cantius women didn’t have yet!
And, throughout it all, Kathryn was quietly and competently in the background, making sure of our comfort, providing simple, nutritious, delicious sandwich lunches and drinks.
At the end of each day, it was necessary to spend an hour packing up all the gear necessary to give 4 different lectures and remove it from the building. Katheryn and I simply could not have done that kind of heavy work without Joe to help. And then, to bring it all back and set it up again the next morning.
I am blessed to be strong and healthy. I’m also 80 years old. I need to make sure I get everything I’ve learned in these 30 years out of my head and my hands and my heart and into yours!
In Christ –
Beginning in 1985, I served the Episcopal Diocese of Albany for twelve years as the Diocesan Altar Guild Directress. As it is the prerogative of the diocesan Bishop to oversee the ministry of the Diocesan Altar Guild, the Bishop established our ministry: To reclaim and re-establish the crafts of vestment construction and linen construction within the Diocese of Albany. I did this by offering classes, all materials and support. This project was very well received and we soon had Sewing Groups that met every month established in each of our seven deaneries. I did quite a lot of driving during those years!
Perhaps you don’t understand that, by 1985 the crafts of linen and vestment construction for our churches had been lost. How that happened is a long – and interesting – story that I’ll not go into here. Suffice it to say, when I started out, I had no patterns, no instructions, no nice person to guide me. It was my ministry to reclaim all that information. That’s continued to be my ministry all these years.
At first I carried out this ministry within the context of our diocese. And then, following the publishing of my book, Sewing Church Linens, the ministry became national. While I (somehow!) did not anticipate this consequence at the time I wrote the book, the experience has been a very great blessing.
Although I am retired as the Diocesan Directress, I have continued the ministry here – on line beginning in 1997. I’ve chosen to continue this ministry for a couple of reasons: First, because the people with whom I work are such a joy.
The second reason I’ve continued this ministry is that I believe in good stewardship. I believe that giving of our time and talent is as important as the giving of our treasure. I believe that the ministry of the Church is to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. I believe that our Church could perform this ministry more effectively if we would spend less money purchasing expensive, ready-made linens and vestments that we could just as well make ourselves. I believe that almost every parish has people who are competent sewers, who are perfectly capable of making handsome linens and vestments – if only they had access to proper, reasonably priced materials, instructions and patterns. I believe that these people would gladly give of their time and their talent – if only they had a bit of guidance and support. I believe my ministry is to these people; to provide materials, instructions and patterns and to give guidance and support. I am an outstanding problem solver!
I believed this when I began this ministry in 1985. I believed it in 1997 when I opened this web site. I believe it today in 2014 as I celebrate my 75th birthday and my 29th year of this graceful and grace-filled ministry.
I have a funny thing to tell you: Some of us have intermediate sewing skills (I’m one of these); other’s of us are experts! Sue Newman is an expert seamstress; so is Nancy Marie Marquette. Experts are people who are comfortable undertaking to build Roman style cassocks (the ones with the 33 buttons down the front).
Some months ago, Sue accepted a commission to build a Roman cassock – with capelet and cincture. Here’s her finished cassock (the first one Sue had ever made):
Now, here’s the funny thing: Sue used the Butterick Pattern #6844. The pattern has the pockets facing backwards. When Sue contacted Butterick and asked why the pockets were facing backwards, she was told, ‘that’s the way the clergy like them’. After a bit more research, Sue found that, indeed, clergy did like their cassock pockets facing backward – IN THE DAYS WHEN THEY GOT AROUND ON HORSEBACK! Backward pockets prevent stuff from falling out when you’re bouncing around on horseback! Sue solved the problem by inserting pocket slits so the clergy can get at their inside pockets. I tell you what! The lore that lies behind our vestment patterns is worth the price of admission!
FYI – Sue also mentioned that the location of the seams makes alterations very difficult.
Please note: For the pattern for the capelet, go here: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/costumes/
I hope you enjoy this website!
In Christ’s Love –
We are not human beings going through a temporary spiritual experience.
We are spiritual beings going through a temporary human experience.