Please notice that I am separating ‘Stoles’ from ‘Vestments’. That’s an odd thing for me to do because stoles are vestments! There are several 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 chasubles, dalmatics, surplices, copes and mitres and, as well, are used by themselves.
Second, because I am teaching ‘the set-back method’ of stole construction. Set-back construction produces stoles unlike those you’ve seen before. Once you learn this construction method, you’ll never go back to the old ‘pillowcase method’. Your stoles will be clean-looking, tailored and sharp – a signature look. Stoles are both tricky and picky to construct. Constructing stoles – and constructing them well – requires special effort on your part. (Which is why I offer Teaching Stole Kits.) Almost all our other vestments and paraments can be constructed out of a good set of instructions – no kit necessary. Not so with stoles.
Third, stoles are often ‘visual summaries’ for additional vestments. Often we see a stole and the chasuble to match leaps into our minds – or the pulpit fall or the super-frontal or Bible markers.
Fourth, Once you know how to make them, stoles are just plain fun to make. I want you to be able to think about stoles without the distraction of information about other vestments. This is your stole page! Lots of ideas; no distractions; we’re about stoles here! If you want to make the other vestments, go to the Vestment page – but, peruse the stoles first; there are good ideas here!
Note: There is more good information about stoles on the ‘Embroidery’ page – don’t miss it! Stoles are the basic vestment. Stole construction is the most basic vestment-making skill. Some time ago, I had a British priest as a customer. While he was healing from a heart attack, he decided to try his hand at vestment making. He successfully made a chasuble, cope and biretta. He was not successful with constructing a stole. Here is the very best information I can give you about making stoles and yet it’s contradictory information. Stoles are difficult to make – any vestment maker will tell you that – and yet anyone who possesses intermediate skills can make stoles competently. Stoles are deceptive; they look as though they are easy to make – they’re not. While stoles do not require special skills, stoles are both tricky and picky. What can I tell you? That’s just the way stoles are. However! You will only have difficulty with your first stole. After you’ve finished your first stole, you know how to make stoles forever. When I was just starting out making vestments, I didn’t have some kind person to warn me that stoles are tricky and picky. And so, I struggled! I could not figure out why I was having such trouble making an item that appeared to be so SIMPLE!!!! I thought I was just stupid or insufficiently skilled. I had an opportunity speak to The Vestment Guru – a lovely, lovely woman named Mary Lou White – this was years and years ago. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that my difficulties were completely NORMAL! Everyone has difficulty with stole construction. I am very good at getting you through your first stole. My patterns and instructions and my construction method – the set-back method – are excellent! Stick with me here! Oh, boy! Do I ever have lots to tell you! But, I’m going to do it differently this time. I’m going to put the pictures first and all the information later. This way you’ll know where we’re going and then, if you want, you can read how to get there. This first 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 each, they’re expensive.). Do you see that there are no places where the lining ‘pooks’ out to the front? That’s one of the benefits of the set-back construction method. 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? 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. 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. 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. Beautifully done! These next photographs are examples of my Advanced Stole Kits; stoles that you design yourself using fabrics of your choice, adding orphreys, embroidery, fringe and matching or contrasting linings. Advanced Stoles may use orphreys – as in this next group – or they may use embroidery (see the Embroidery page). Some are expensive; some aren’t. Even the expensive ones are way less expensive than ready-made. All are your own unique design. These next photographs are stoles decorated with embroidery – of your choice. All of them are done on Dupioni silk but could just as well be done on the damasks or polyester. There’s a lot to see here! Notice that all the stoles I’m showing you are designed to be worn by themselves – not underneath a chasuble. I bring this to your attention because I only just recently realized that I think they’re too long! I think that a stole worn by itself should be just below the knee rather than mid-calf. What do you think? Notice that all three of these stoles have two embroideries, one on each stole end. This is a very ‘standard’ arrangement. Think about stole end embroideries: I want to break off here and do some work. You have a nice group of stoles to look at here. I want you to look at them as though you’ve never seen a stole before. Really look at them. 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? I think one problem here is the length of the stole. This guy – Terry – is 5’10” tall and wears a 42 jacket. My stole patterns produce stoles that are 53 inches long and hit Terry mid-calf. While that’s a good length when the stole is worn under a chasuble, I think that’s too long for a stole that’s worn by itself. Yes? 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. Go back to the orphrey stoles. When I made these stoles, I was experimenting to see how long stole orphreys should be. Look at the green stole – that orphrey is too long – 22 inches; visually, the stole is over-weighted by such a long orphrey. That’s a mistake. The length of the orphrey on the white stole is correct – 18 inches. Now look at the Dupioni silk stoles with two embroideries – one on each end. Even though we see this very ‘standard’ placement all the time, I think they look awkward! Even if I had I set the embroideries up by 4 – 6 inches, it wouldn’t have helped – they’d still look awkward. 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. 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. I don’t have one of these stoles to show you because I don’t like them however, you can see examples on any ready-made vestment website. (I think our commercial vestment companies like this stole design because the bits and pieces can be recovered from the bits and pieces on the cutting room floor.) 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. 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. Unless I’m mistaken, he’s wearing a rochet over a cassock. There’s a round yoke surplice on the right in the back row. Looks like all the rest are cassock-albs. I have a customer who told me, “You know, before I started making vestments with you, I used to just go to church to worship! Now, I spend a lot of time watching all this liturgy stuff!”