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Liturgical Linens

Baptismal, Altar Cloths, Fair Linens, Linens for the Mass and Ordination, Purificators, Lavabo Towels, Corporals, Chalice Palls, Chalice Veils, Credence Cloths

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News Flash -

I’m going into my ‘teaching mode’ here:

I have two customers whose parishes recently redecorated their sanctuaries.  Both parishes comissioned new altars.  The new altar in one parish is 54 inches square.  The new altar in the other parish is 67 inches in diameter.   I’m very, very worried about this kind of thing!

 Bigger is not necessarily better!

The single most important consideration about altar linens is that they be clean, fresh and crisply ironed – at all times.

People who design sanctuary appointments need to keep this practical aspect of what they’re doing firmly in their minds.  Huge altars are spectacular!  No doubt about it!  But, that large altar must be vested with linen and SOMEBODY is going to have to wash and iron those linens!  My fear is that very large fair linens doom an altar to being less than pristine.

Question:  How do you go about ironing a linen that is wider than the business end of an ironing board?

Answer: With great difficulty!

I’m able to iron any size altar linen because I have a padded worktable that is essentially a 4 X 9 ironing board.  But, how many people have access to an ironing surface that size?

Unless the parish also provides a large ironing surface, taking care of the linens that vest a very large altar will be so difficult that the linens will not be washed and ironed as often as they should be.

I hasten to add here that linens that are less than pristine is not the fault of us folk who do the washing and ironing!  We love to wash and iron altar linens!  When I began worshiping at our Cathedral, I told my Dean that, if it was necessary, I would get down on my knees and beg to be allowed to wash and iron the altar linens because I love to see the altars of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, clean and fresh and pristine.

The fault is not having a way to iron large linens; not having access to an ironing surface that allows us to do what needs to be done.  If you’re going to have a huge altar, proper facilities for the care of its linens needs to be provided.

End of sermon.

…………………………………….

This medallion was done on the back of a white linen chasuble circa 1915.  Still in good condition!

Medallion

By the middle of the last century the craft of sewing our own church linens had become nearly extinct. During the same time period, ready-made linens became extremely costly. It is a privilege and pleasure to have been involved in the revival of the graceful and grace-filled craft of sewing church linens.

About Linen

I import the linen I offer from Belgium.  I’ve been purchasing the same weight linen from the same manufacturer for 25 years.  The linen is the perfect weight and quality for our fair linens, Mass linens, Communion veils, altar cloths, credence covers, tabernacle hangings – for all liturgical purposes that require the use of fine linen.

If you wish to see samples, I am happy to provide them.  Email me your address at obunny@roadrunner.com.  You’ll receive one sample to be kept as it is and another to wash, shrink and iron out – so you can compare.

Remember as you compare my sample to the linens in your sacristy, elderly linens become sheer over time. They were heavier when they were new.

Linen has three characteristics that should be of interest to you: quality, weight and density. These characteristics help you evaluate the suitability of a particular type of linen for your project.

Quality is not determined by weight.  Linen of substantial weight may be very high quality.  Linen that is sheer may be of low quality.

Embroidery

Weight and density are related characteristics. Batiste (sometimes called handkerchief linen) isn’t just lighter in weight because its threads are slimmer; the weave is less dense.  (‘Batiste’ is the name we give to sheer linen. ’Cambric’ is the name we give to sheer cotton.)

My linen contains 141 threads per square inch and weighs 4.4 ounces.

This piece of embroidery is at least 50 years old but is perfectly fresh.  While it was intended to be used as a chalice pall, it was never made into up.  The padding of the satin stitch is very deep and the detail perfection is remarkable.

Purchasing Linen

As Yardage - $35 / yard - 60 inches wide.

All linen yardage comes to you cut along a drawn thread – both ends.

Any time you order linen from me, I will supply you with the shrinkage factors for the linen – both across the width and along the length. Using these two factors you can determine the amount of extra fabric you need in order to allow for shrinkage. If you know exactly how much the linen will shrink, shrinking before cutting is not a necessity – which makes laying out and construction much easier!

Just for your information, the shrinkage factors on my previous bolt were: Width: 1.02, Length: 1.11.  If you want to cut a corporal that is 21 inches square (before hemming), do this:

Width: 21 X 1.045 = 21.94  Round this off to 22 inches

Length: 21 X 1.11 = 23.31  Round this off to 23 1/4 inches

You would measure the corporal to be 22 inches along the width of the fabric and 23 1/4 inches across the length of the fabric.  When you shrink the piece, it will be 21 inches square.

It’s much easier to work with linen while the size is still in it.  You need to shrink the piece before hemming, however.  If you don’t, your stitches will be loose after shrinking.

As Pre-cut Small Linens:

Purificators – 13″ square – $5.50 each
Lavabo Towels – 13″ x 18″ – $7.00 each
Corporals – 21″ square – $14.00 each

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Note: While the pre-cuts will never be smaller than these dimensions, they are sometimes larger.

I will also cut custom sizes. Please feel free to ask for prices on custom cuts.

As Prepared Fair Linens:

Preparation of fair linens involves four steps:

  1. Cutting to size – making allowance for shrinkage either by pre-shrinking or utilizing shrinkage factors.
  2. Turning the hems and turn-unders precisely.
  3. Mitering the corners.
  4. Basting the hems and miters into position, ready to hand stitch and then, embroider.

The skills needed to prepare fair linens are not very different from those skills we use to prepare smaller linens – corporals and credence cloths.  There is one major difference: SIZE.

The length of fair linens varies from 2 yards to 6 yards.  Fair linens can be cut on the dining room table and the hems folded in your lap.  The process is MUCH easier when done on a large, padded work table using a 4 foot Golden Ruler.

Few of us have the opportunity to make more than three or four fair linens in our lifetimes, we don’t have the opportunity to practice often enough to feel fluent in the process. Few of us have a large, padded surface to work on.  And yet, it seems a shame to deny ourselves the pleasure of sewing fair linens just because we haven’t the time, the equipment or the type of work surface we need.  I do.

I’ll do your preparation for you. Of course, I charge for this service. The cost is $50 for the first two yards (which is 4 yards of side hems, the width of the both end hems and all four corner miters) and $12 for each additional yard or portion thereof. Plus the cost of the linen required.

Preparation includes cutting the linen to size (including allowance for shrinkage), turning the hems, mitering the corners and basting. The linen comes to you ready to shrink, stitch and embroider. (Instructions for the shrinking process are included.)

I also prepare credence cloths. The minimum preparation charge is $45.

Linen Embroidery:

We now have access to an embroideress: Sue Newman.  Sue does the most astounding machine embroidery!

I’ve been watching the quality of machine embroidery work for at least 15 years.  There was a long time when I didn’t think machine embroidery would ever be of a quality suitable for our linens and vestments.  Sue has proven me wrong!  The first thing she did for me was this embroidery – the pall is serving happily at the Cathedral of All Saints.

Linen Embroidery

Please note: This particular pall was improperly constructed.  First, the seam allowances should have been turned to the back.  Second, the linen was shrunk PRIOR to the embroidery being done – therefore, the pall is not as tight as it should be.  Linen used to construct chalice palls is shrunk AFTER it has been sewn onto the Plexiglas – that’s what makes the linen fit so tightly.

Here’s a photograph of Sue’s embroidery placed above the end hems of a fair linen.

Linen Embroidery

This embroidery is a custom design that copies an historic and much loved credence cloth worked years ago by a beloved Altar Guild member.  Sue has an excellent digitizer who does this kind of work.

Here’s another of Sue’s designs:

Linen Embroidery

Sue and I are not ‘in business together’; we work parallel – and I feel blessed to count her as a most valued friend (we tend to get into trouble together.  I thank God that she lives three hours away from me or we’d never get ANYTHING done!)

Anyway, Sue is a very great resource for us!

 

Pall Kits:

I used to offer pall kits that included the Plexiglas insert.  It’s not necessary for me to offer pall kits anymore because inserts are readily available, cut to your size, from Pat Crane: linensbypat@cox.net

The instructions for constructing palls are in my book, ‘ Sewing Church Linens’.  (The ‘trick’ for making nice tight palls is not to shrink the linen until after you’ve completed the pall.)

Linen sufficient for a 9 inch pall is $10.

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While many of my customers are able to work satin stitch, many more cannot.  Here are two patterns done in finely worked chain stitch (about 10 stitches/inch).   Both of these are chalice palls but I’ve used these patterns on fair linens many times.  Both patterns are given in my book, Sewing Church Linens – $18.

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Linen Embroidery           Linen Embroidery

The Golden Ruler and Other Notions:

The Golden Ruler – $20

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This is a must-have item for constructing small linens – purificators, lavabo towels, corporals.

I want to tell you the story of the Golden Ruler.  If you’re interested in making linens, it will make you chuckle.

When I was just starting to teach, I didn’t know how to make linens; I had to teach myself first.  And, as I made my first purificators, I discovered that turning up those little hems by hand was TEDIOUS!!  And, getting those little hems straight was impossible.  And, I thought to myself: “Women have been hemming linen for 10,000 years.  Women are too smart not to have figured out a better way than this!”  So, I began researching.  I looked in my local library.  I looked in specialized libraries.  I contacted textile museums.  Although I knew there had to be a helpful method for turning up hems on linen, I could find nothing.

Our sacristy has a set of vestment drawers.  The bottom drawer always made a loud scraping sound whenever it was opened.  One day, I pulled the drawer all the way out, lay down flat on the floor and reached way back in there.  I felt some paper lapped over the back edge of the drawer.  When I pulled it out, I discovered that it was a pamphlet, published in 1945 by The Spool Cotton Company.  I remember sitting there on the sacristy floor with the sun streaming in through the stained glass windows, reading that pamphlet and thinking: “Thank you, Holy Spirit!”

The technique that makes the Golden Ruler work was in that pamphlet!

What I think happened is this: Linen used to be a commonly used fabric – just like cotton.  Women knew how to work with linen – how to fold hems and turn-unders quickly and straight-ly.  In fact, the technique for folding linen hems was so basic that it was passed experientially from generation to generation; nobody thought it necessary to write it down.  That old pamphlet is the only place I have ever seen an explanation of this method for turning hems on linen.  Thank you, Holy Spirit!

The Golden Ruler comes with our usual hem depths pre-marked and it’s long enough to lay out the hems on a 24 inch corporal all at once.  All instructions included.

A couple of year ago, I did a small linen workshop for a Lutheran parish in Grand Island, NY. When I had finished showing the ladies how to use the Golden Ruler, there was quite a bit of comment about how well it worked – except for one lady, who sat there staring at the sample she had just completed. I finally asked her if anything was wrong? Was there something she had not understood?

She looked up at me and said: I’ve been making the linens for my church for 35 years. Where has this Golden Ruler been all that time?

I recently recommended the Golden Ruler to a customer who resisted purchasing it because she’d been making the linens for her parish for many years and felt comfortable.  But, I prevailed and she bought the Golden Ruler.  A couple of weeks later, she called to tell me: “The Golden Ruler is not a ‘product’; it’s a public service!”

The Golden Ruler not only measures small linen hems to a correct depth, it makes the hem creases.  All you have to do is fold and pin and they’re ready for stitching.  Furthermore, the hems are straight!  What a concept!  Easy, efficient, excellent!  A ‘must have’ item!

Rolled Hems – $12

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I need to tell you about this!  In October I had a ‘bolt from the blue’ (thank you, Holy Spirit!)  I was just standing there, working at my worktable and ZAP!  A whole new idea about narrow hems!  I sat right down and worked it out and it works just fine!  I’ll never make narrow hems any other way!  Essentially, this broadens the use of the Golden Ruler to include a more efficient method for constructing narrow hems (scant 1/4 inch) for small linens.  The method is an adaptation of the method used for rolled hems.  But, rolled hems can only be done on batiste – this adaptation works on mid-weight linen.  My daughter and I worked up the instructions using color pictures.  Because pamphlets containing pictures are so expensive to reproduce, I send these instructions to you as an attachment.  You can print them out if you want or,  just keep them on your computer.  I also have to tell you that this method makes me laugh every time I do it.  You won’t understand this until you do it yourself.  When I showed it to Kelly, she burst out laughing!

Thread - $3

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Look in your local store before ordering. This is Coats Extra Fine cotton-wrapped poly. It’s a very high quality thread; you’ll feel it when you use it. And, it’s the equivalent of #100.  It has a hot pink label on the end.  You can probably get it right there in your own town.

Needles - $3.50 per packet – #10 and #12.

These are embroidery/crewel needles – you can actually see the eye, so threading is easy! Well, I take that back.  It’s easy to thread the #10.  But, even the very fine cotton/poly thread above is tricky to get through the #12. Order in size #10 or #12 (The #12 is VERY slim!).

Embroidery Floss -$1 each

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This is your basic DMC floss. You can probably get it at your local sewing store.

Pins - 25 for $1.50

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I’ve offered these pins for years because they have not been available locally.  Just recently, I’m seeing them in my Wal-Mart and JoAnn’s.  They’re made by W.H. Collins, Inc. They are wonderful for use with this linen because they slip right through those little stacked corners without distortion. I wouldn’t use anything else.  If you can’t find them elsewhere, you can order them from me.

Ready-made Linens

In the event that your parish prefers to purchase their linens ready-made, may I suggest that you purchase them from St. Margaret’s Convent. These linens are constructed by Haitian women and your purchase helps support St. Margaret’s ministries to children and aged women in Haiti. I recommend these linens to you as being beautifully constructed and embroidered using the same quality linen that is offered here.

Please keep in mind that Haiti has undergone – and continues to undergo – severe trials and tribulations.  You order will mean a lot to them.  Please be patient; it may take a bit longer than usual for your order to be filled.

To place an order, write: St. Margaret’s Convent, 17 Highland Park St., Boston, MA, 02119 or call: 781-934-9477.  Ask to speak to Sister Claire Marie and please tell her that Bunny says ‘Hi’.

I would like to draw your attention to a wonderful supplier called Lacis. Lacis carries EVERYTHING to do with fiber crafts. I recommend that you visit this link and that you acquire their catalogue – fascinating reading and you’ll want to keep it around as a useful resource. The people at Lacis are a joy to work with. If you are one of those rare people who are actually capable of doing satin stitch, Lacis supplies all weights of floche. If you’ve been trying to learn how to do satin stitch and wondered why it is so difficult, try using floche rather than the 6 strand embroidery floss.  Floche may not solve all your difficulties but, it will help.

Shadow Work:

Back when I was still attending the conventions of the National Altar Guild Association, there was a lady named Hattie from one of our Florida diocese.  Hattie worked primarily in shadow work embroidery on batiste.  She made the most lovely chalice veils.  (Chalice veils are used instead of the burse and veil.  At the offertory, the chalice is brought to the altar vested in purificator, paten and pall with the chalice veil folded on top.  The chalice veil is set aside until after Communion.  After Communion, the chalice is covered with the chalice veil as an indication to the Altar Guild that the chalice requires tending.  The chalice veil is made large enough to cover the chalice completely, with some soft crushing around the hems.  The antique linen would be wonderful used with shadow work!

I have an old stole protector with a small cross at the center done in shadow work.  I’ve sometimes used this same little cross on purificators.  It’s simple to work and very light and lovely. It’s a four-petaled floral cross.  On the front, the outline of the petals are tiny stitches. On the back, are the characteristic criss-cross threads that give the ‘shadow’ effect.  I must get that out and put it up here for you.

I wish I were a more professional photographer for you!  Both of these embroideries are exquisitely done.  The one on the left is a pall.  The work is highly skilled and highly sophisticated.  The one on the right is a corporal.  The work is also highly skilled but delightfully unsophisticated. These two embroideries hang on the wall over my desk.  I can’t decide which I love more!

 Linen Embroidery

Thoughts

Throughout my 30 years of enjoying this ministry, a major, driving concern has been that we should not lose these crafts.  I’ve always had that concern.  Years and years ago, I taught myself to spin – not so much because I wanted to make my own yarn (although that’s wonderful!) but because I could not bear the thought that we might lose the knowledge of how to use these lovely and fascinating machines – spinning wheels!  (Of course, now-a-days, the craft of spinning is alive and well without any help from me!)  (And, because I didn’t have anyone to teach me the ‘finer points’, to this day, I still spin backwards – but, my yarn works just the same.  So, that’s ok.)

The people I’ve worked with all these years have, from time to time, been kind enough to pay me the compliment of saying that I’m so ‘artistic’ or that, I’m so ‘creative’.  I’m uncomfortable with those kind complements because I know, for sure, that I am neither artistic nor creative.  And then, I realized that the Holy Spirit – all those years ago – wasn’t looking for someone who was artistic and creative – that would come later. The Holy Spirit clearly wanted these crafts revived.  At that time, He didn’t need someone who was artistic and creative; He needed someone who is a competent artisan and wildly inventive.  And, that’s me!  Show me something that can’t be done and, I’m your girl!

But, that work is done now.  Today, we have the lovely linen we need; we’ve found the beautiful patterns again; we’ve reclaimed the techniques and methods.  Now we’re ready for the creative artists!

That’s you!

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Related Pages: Antique Linens | Embroidery Patterns & Books