Please notice that I am separating ‘Stoles’ from ‘Vestments’. That’s an odd thing for me to do because stoles are vestments! There are two reasons I did this.
First, because stoles are the BASIC vestment. Christian denominations that don’t use any other vestments, use stoles. In denominations that use a wide range of vestments, stoles are the most frequently used vestment. They’re used with a cassock or cassock-alb, chasubles, dalmatics, surplices, copes and mitres and, as well, are used by themselves. If you’re gonna make vestments, you gotta know how to make stoles!
Second, because stoles are deceptive. Stoles look as though they are simple to construct. Stoles are not ‘simple’. Stoles are not simple because their design parameters are stringent. Stoles are long and narrow which means each stole has several yards of edges; and those edges must be clean, straight and knife-edge.
As well, priest’s stoles must fall straight from the shoulder – the stole should not toe in (the ends crossing at the level of the knees) or toe out (flaring outside the knees).
Excellent stole construction requires 2 things:
An excellent pattern
and an excellent construction method.
There are several stole construction methods: One is to make the entire stole out of a single length of fabric, running the seam down the center back (pretty innovative!). Over time, a visible pressure ridge develops down the center front.
The ‘standard’ method of stole construction cuts the interfacing to the size of the finished stole and the lining and face fabrics 5/8 inch wider all around. The seam runs along the outside edge of the stole all the way around. The seam may be done by machine (right sides together – ‘pillowcase’ method) or by hand. The problem with the ‘standard’ method is that you get a stack of 5 layers right at the edges of the stole. As these five layers are unsecured, over time they slip against each other, the stole edges become irregular and the lining shows around the front edges.
In order to construct excellent stoles, you must have BOTH proper patterns AND an excellent construction method. Thank you, Holy Spirit, I do believe that I offer both!
I teach a unique method of stole construction that I call ‘the set-back method’ that produces stoles that are clean, tailored and sharp – a ‘signature look’. Once you learn this construction method, you’ll never go back to another construction method. And, if this is your first stole, you might as well learn to do it right – the first time!
I offer Teaching Stole Kits because learning the set-back method is a challenge. Don’t misunderstand me here! The set-back method is not difficult; intermediate seamstresses and seamsters are perfectly capable of making stoles using the set-back method.
The challenge comes because the set-back method is unexpected. The set-back method uses techniques that are different from those used to construct skirts and trousers (or drapes or upholstery). The unexpected difference in techniques feels disorienting. But, there comes a point in constructing your first stole when you’ll look at what you’ve done and you’ll say to yourself, “Aha! Now I get it!” At that point, you’ll be hooked! You’ll be making stoles forever!
As many stoles as I’ve made, watching a stole come together during the set-back construction process never ceases to make me smile!
This picture shows three stoles: The one on the right was Kathy’s first stole made from one of my Teaching Stole Kits. (Kathy added the tassels and, they really look nice! Though, at $5.50 each, they’re expensive.).
The stole on the left shows the reverse side of a stole made using the set-back construction method. Do you see how the lining is set back from the outside edge of the stole by about ¼ inch? Because the face fabric wraps around the edge, there is no five-layer ‘stack’ of fabric along the stole edges . The face fabric is snug and stable against the firm interfacing; the stole edges stay straight and clean. There is no shifting. The lining cannot pook out on the edges. The appearance is clean, sharp and tailored – a ‘signature look’.
The middle stole is Kathy’s second stole – her own design – nicely executed – using the set-back construction method. Kathy went directly from her Teaching Stole Kit to build this extremely handsome stole. Kathy is an excellent designer – all she needed to know was HOW to put the stole together! Once you’ve made one stole – your Teaching Stole Kit – you’re good to go. Note the simplicity of the neck/shoulder area – the fit is smooth and the ends of the stole hang straight down – no toeing-in or toeing-out.
This white Deacon’s ordination stole was made by a British customer. The fabric is Dupioni silk (do you see that soft Dupioni gleam?). And, in spite of the fact that I urge you not to make your first stole a work of art, she went ahead and did it anyway. (She had never done gold-work embroidery either!) Notice that even though this stole is tied in a half-knot, it’s nice and long, falling just above the hem of the surplice
If you haven’t picked up on this already on my website, I’ll say it again: I believe that the Holy Spirit wants us to be about the task of making vestments and linens for our parishes rather than purchasing them ready-made. I believe this. One reason I believe it is that the information I need has always comes to me – in a book that falls open to just the right page or, in this case, a stole falls into my hands that is sooooo handsome that I know this is the construction method for us!
I offer you excellent patterns that do exactly what they are supposed to do – and do it well.
Once you know how to do it, these Set-Back stoles are so much fun to make that they become addictive. (They are also as close to instant gratification as it’s possible to get in this mortal life. I can make a nice stole with orphreys and fringe in 6 hours.) People who have been making stoles for years and try my Set-Back Method, change over and never make another stole the ‘old’ way.
I want very much for you to learn this Set-Back construction method and so I have put together Teaching Kits. I want you to be successful in using these kits and so I guarantee them. If you mess up your kit beyond all redemption, send the fabrics back to me and I’ll send you all new so you can begin again. I’m a pretty good teacher so, this hasn’t happened in a long time – but, the guarantee is there if you need it.
Please note: I’m going to be really, really blunt here: I’m sorry to tell you this BUT it doesn’t make any difference how much of an expert you are – even if you’ve been doing draperies and upholstery or making wedding dresses for twenty years, it will be of little help to you. Intermediate seamstresses/seamsters who can reliably stitch a straight seam will do just as well. Please believe me when I tell you: You cannot learn how the Set-Back construction method works by looking at a pattern. If you want to learn the Set-Back construction method, you’re going to have to have the Constructing Stoles instruction booklet and whether you’re an expert or an intermediate, you’re going to have to be willing to put in some time and effort..
I offer Teaching Stole Kits not because the Set-Back construction method is difficult but because learning the set-back method is a challenge. The challenge comes from the fact that the techniques used in the set-back method are unexpected. The set-back method uses techniques that are different from those used to construct skirts and trousers (or drapes or upholstery or wedding dresses). The unexpected difference in techniques feels disorienting. To help you get past this disorientation, I give you a ‘sample stole’ – small pieces of face fabric, lining and interfacing for you to put together BEFORE you even begin you the actual stole. You will find there comes a point in constructing your first stole when you’ll look at what you’ve done and you’ll say to yourself, “Aha! Now I get it!” At that point, you’ll be hooked! You’ll be making stoles forever!
That ‘Aha!” moment happens with both intermediates and experts. In fact, experts seem to have more difficulty than intermediates because experts can’t imagine there may be techniques out there they don’t know about yet while intermediates know they have something to learn. As I say, I’m sorry to be so blunt about this but, I just spent half an hour explaining this (for the 8 millionth time) in an individual email. Maybe if I’m blunt in my website, I’ll be heard.
If you want to learn how to make stoles, you need BOTH a pattern AND instructions! You might just as well purchase the kit.
My Teaching Stole Kits are $40 and are designed (guaranteed!) to teach you how to make Set-Back stoles. Please! You’re learning a new, useful and enjoyable skill; rather than arbitrarily utilizing a piece of fabric that is hanging around in your stash, start out using the proper fabrics. My Teaching Stole Kits contain everything you need to learn the Set-Back method and to construct a simple stole – face fabric, interfacing, lining, pattern and the Constructing Stoles instruction booklet. You get to choose the color of Dupioni silk you want; I will choose a matching/contrasting poly/cotton lining for you.
Not included in the kit are thread (should be the color of the lining) and a spray can of Dritz Temporary Spray Adhesive (which will save you over one hour of basting time).
In your Teaching Stole Kit, you have the choice of one of these first three patterns:
4 inch Priest’s pattern – 4 inches at the bottom hem with a smoothly curved neck and shoulder shape.
Note: The width of the 4 inch priest’s stole pattern may be easily increased to 5 inches. Beginning just below the end of the shoulder/neck curve simply flare each side of both stole ends to the desired width. Do this on all three patterns – face fabric, interfacing and lining. This will increase the amount of fabric required.
Regular Deacon’s stole pattern – straight with a flare to 4 1/2 inches at the bottom hem. Deacon’s stoles are connected at the hip or waist with a chain or 3/4 inch self-fabric tab. They may also be pinned with a handsome pin (www.scripturewear.com). Or, deacon’s stoles may be tied in a half-knot.
For future stoles, you can choose:
Priest’s V-Back pattern - exactly the same as the 4 inch priest’s stole with the same nice, smooth curve along the inner edge and comes to a V in the back that is a good size for handsome embroidery. This pattern is essentially different (and better!) than V-back ready-made stoles. Ready-made V-back stoles are straight along the inside neck edges; the inside edge comes to a V also. I would mention that the necks of human beings do not come to a point in back – giraffes, yes; humans, not so much. My V-back stole pattern fits (what a concept!).
Large Deacon’s stoles - Proportioned for men who wear size 48 jackets or larger and women who wear a size 16 jacket or larger.
Many people purchase one of these patterns along with their Teaching Stole Kits and go right into using it when they complete their first stole.
Note: Both of the above stole patterns require require more fabric – wider and longer – and so are not offered in the Teaching Stole Kits.
All of my stole patterns may be purchased individually for $15 each.
The Constructing Stoles pamphlet may also be purchased separately. It is also $15.
I offer pre-cut stole lengths in the Dupioni silk (ask me for a set of color samples). Stole lengths for the three smaller stole patterns are $12 each; for the two larger patterns, $15.
I also offer pre-cut stole lengths in many of the liturgical damasks, brocades and tapestries (see the ‘Fabrics’ page). Prices vary from $8 to $50 depending upon the fabric.
I offer the special orphreys, trims and fringes to decorate your stoles – we work out these custom designs together, either by email or by phone.
As well, Sue Newman offers embroidery – almost all of the lovely embroidery you’ll see on this website was done by Sue. There is more good information about stoles on the ‘Embroidery’ page – don’t miss it!
If you have a ministry with our military Chaplains, Sue and I offer camouflage stole kits designed to military specifications.
Just in case you hadn’t noticed, I get pretty excited about this stuff. I gotta show you this new embroidery that Sue has done! I just gotta! St. Francis, for Blessing of the Animals:
With little birds on each side of the neck cross. Is this wonderful or what??
Gosh! There’s soooo much to tell you and show you!
There was a time between 1985 and 1995 when we had a strong sewing ministry established in our diocese – both linens and vestments. We have a large diocese – 7 deaneries and 120 parishes. We had a sewing group active in each of our 7 deaneries. I have many happy stories to tell about that time in my life! One of them was our deacon’s stole project. Whenever our priest in charge of deacon’s formation had an ordination (or, ordinations) coming up, he’d call and let me know how many. We made full sets of four stoles for every newly ordained deacon – for years! I’d call the ladies and see who had time available, make up the kits and send them out. They’d do up the stoles and send them to Father Limpert who presented them at ordination as gifts from the diocese. Unfortunately this delightful project was terminated by the next Bishop – very silly of him.
Be that as it may, my point here is that a diocesan stole project is both useful and enjoyable! Think about it!
I want you to know that the stoles on this page represent a learning experience that took place over a period of years.
You know how when you go to a seminar put on by an expert and you hope to learn something new? The expert always brings examples of her most beautiful work. Right? While I enjoy seeing beautiful work, what I really want to see are her mistakes. I want her to say, “Look. See what I did here? This was a mistake. Do you see what it did? Don’t do that!” That’s what I’m doing for you now – showing you my mistakes.
At first, I was accustomed to thinking of stoles as vestments that were worn under chasubles (mostly). Standard decoration was to put either a pair of lovely Christian symbols or an orphrey at the bottom of each stole end.
But, many of the stoles we make are meant to be worn all by themselves. Because the body of the stole is not covered up by the chasuble the stole must be designed differently. When the entire stole is seen, the design must achieve a visual balance. You can’t just go putting symbols and orphreys on the stoles willy nilly and expect the stole to be coherent. (The design of Kathy’s red stole is brilliant!)
These next pictures are of stoles decorated with orphreys – a handsome and traditional look. Orphreys add visual weight to stoles. These stoles show me experimenting with how long the orphreys need to be to achieve the correct visual balance – how much visual weight does a stole need and where should the weight be placed? I was discovering how much is too much, how much is not enough and how much is just right.
The orphrey on the green stole is 23 inches long. The orphrey on the white stole is 18 inches long. I prefer the appearance of the white stole. The big orphrey on the green stole is too weighty. The diagonal orphrey on the blue stole is acceptable because the color carries through so closely between face fabric and orphrey.
(Incidentally, I offer a nice selection of 18 inch orphreys.)
These next photographs are stoles decorated with embroidery. All of them are done on Dupioni silk but could just as well be done on the damasks or polyester.
Here’s another mistake I made: Length. (I sure do wish I had not learned so much by making mistakes!!!) Not until I had all these pictures together did I realize that I think they’re too long! This guy – Terry – is 5’10” tall and wears a 42 jacket. My stole patterns produce stoles that are 53 inches long and you can see that they reach to lower mid-calf on Terry. I think that’s too long for a stole that’s worn by itself. What do you think?
Notice that both of these stoles have two embroideries, one on each stole end. This is a very ‘standard’ arrangement. What do you think about the visual weight and balance question? Look at these stoles as though you’ve never seen a stole before. Does your eye feel any design awkwardness?
Question: Are we putting embroideries on the stole ends ‘because we’ve always done it that way’?
I think we have a design ‘issue’ here. I think we’ve been designing stoles as though all stoles will be worn under a chasuble.
Do stoles that will be worn by themselves need a different design in order to achieve a balanced look?
(There is another stole decoration method that looks awkward – for a different reason: Some stoles are decorated with bands and short orphreys spaced along the entire stole length. I don’t have a picture of this type of stole decoration because I don’t like them but, you can see examples on any ready-made vestment website. I think our commercial vestment companies like them because they can use up the bits and pieces off the cutting room floor.
These decorations are the same on both sides of the stole. When the stole is worn, the decorations are supposed to match across the two stole ends. The problem with the ‘bits and pieces stoles’ stems from the fact that it is the nature of stoles to go crooked within 5 minutes after leaving the sacristy – the decorations that are supposed to match stop matching and look crooked instead. The crookedness immediately catches the eye. The crookedness becomes the dominant feature of the stole. (How often have you wanted to step up to a priest and straighten their stole?) If you’re going to put itinerate bits and pieces on a stole, be thoughtful about requiring that they match across the stole ends.)
My point here is that – in my opinion – stoles designed to be worn by themselves require a design re-do. I think we need to see stoles more consciously and treat their design differently than we treat stoles worn under chasubles. Here’s a pieced stole that is not heavily dependent upon being exactly even. Isn’t this a wonderful stole?
Here’s an embroidered and quilted stole that does match – unevenness will be seen. But, it’s perfectly lovely.
Now look at this next group of photographs; these stoles are still too long but the embroidery placement drastically changes the visual weight. Try to visualize them 4 inches shorter. (The cat’s name is Arthur)
Suddenly, even though the stoles are still too long, the awkward feeling is gone! With the embroidery placed in the hollow of the shoulder, the stole is visually balanced. I love it! Thank you, Holy Spirit!
This placement in the hollow of the shoulder is evocative. We’re acustomed to this look; we’ve seen it many times before. The hollow of the shoulder is where men wear their lapel pins and where women pin a lovely brooch; it’s where we lay a child’s head when we comfort them. This placement speaks to us immediately.
While embroidering a shorter stole for her Priest to wear during hospital visits, a customer realized that her embroidery may be the last Christian symbol the patient sees on this earth. Why put lovely symbols all the way at the end; down there by the Priest’s feet? Why not put them up by the face – where they are seen when we speak to the Priest and when the Priest administers Holy Communion?
Here’s a great picture showing a wide variety of stole lengths and widths. Which would you choose as the perfect length and width for a stole? My choice would be the guy in the front row, second from the right and the priest in the center.
The Warham Guild Stole –
The Warham Guild was a group of churchmen – and women, I imagine – who designed and built vestments around the turn of the century. Their vestment are considered by many – including myself – to be classic – simple, clean, elegant. The pattern for this stole was taken directly from an old Warham Guild stole so its proportions are correct. Note that the neck area is not curved. Stoles that are 2 1/2 inches wide will take on the neck curve all by themselves.
At the time the Warham Guild was active, there were no deacon’s stoles. There weren’t any priest’s stoles either! There were just STOLES! Everybody wore the same stole! The stole worn by the priest at the 8:00, was worn by the deacon at the 10:00 – just turned diagonally. You can see that this would work with stoles shaped like this!
In fact, Allen, one of our cathedral deacons, was wearing almost exactly this same stole two Sundays ago! I hadn’t seen it before and was surprised. Allen’s stole had been made by Watts. It’s 56 inches long and has a 4 inch connective tab that was set 19 inches above the ends. Although Allen is a big man – 48 jacket and well over 6 feet, this narrow stole looked just right on him. I hope to get some more pictures this Sunday.