I would like you to go to this link:
Thank you, Anne, for bringing this lovely article to my attention!
There is more important vestment information on the ‘Embroidery’ page – don’t miss it!
Ultimately: The beauty of our vestments is determined not by cost but by the excellence of of our design and the competence of our workmanship. The use of rich, luscious (expensive!) fabrics is only one way to achieve beauty.
Our liturgical colors are a significant consideration for vestment makers. The more we understand about our color traditions, the richer our designs will be. As we begin to speak about vestment construction, I’d like you to take a few minutes to visit an excellent website that discusses our liturgical colors. This site was put up by a priest in my diocese and I think he did an outstanding job with it. I hope you enjoy it and find it as useful and informative as I have.
If you are thinking about learning to make vestments, I’d recommend that you ‘surf around’ and look at the designs that are available ‘out there’. I’d suggest that you pay particular attention to the vestments you DO NOT like! Figure out WHY you don’t like them. You might even begin a file of vestments you find of interest – and a file of vestments you don’t care for at all! You’ll learn a lot very quickly.
It used to be that our clergy wore either a black suit or a black cassock. For religious services, a surplice and stole were worn over the cassock. Or, if the Eucharist was to be celebrated, in place of the surplice, clergy vested in an alb and amice.
The alb is a white ‘night-gown’ sort of a vestment with a simple neck opening that either buttons or ties. The amice is a ‘scarf’ made of a white linen or cotton/poly. When properly put on, the amice settles around the neck in puffy folds that give an attractive ‘finish’ to the neck of chasubles. The amice also serves to protect beautiful vestments from being stained and damaged by skin oils, make up and beard abrasion.
The cassock-alb is a huge convenience! It not only replaces the alb and amice combination, it serves also as a cassock. One, single vestment takes the place of several vestments. Cassock-albs are convenient – not traditional.
Cassock-albs were invented in the 1950s. The first pattern appeared in Beryl Dean’s books. Cassock-albs worn by clergy are usually white or off-white but are sometimes seen in gray or light blue. The same pattern made up in black fabric is called an ‘Anglican Cassock’ (as opposed to the Roman Cassock with the 37 buttons up the front).
Its convenience literally catapulted the cassock-alb into instant success and has gone on to be utilized not only by all manner of clergy but also by servers, acolytes, lectors, vergers and choir – just about everybody wears a cassock-alb (except Dean Kriss who calls them ‘the dreaded cassock-alb).
Because just about everybody wears a cassock-alb, my pattern is a ‘Master Pattern’, containing 4 patterns: Child’s medium, two adult sizes and an extra-large. My intent is to allow parish seamstresses to generate a suite of patterns to fit everyone – from smallest acolyte to largest server.
This Master pattern set gives you the information you need to adjust the size properly. Children’s patterns aren’t just smaller than adult patterns; the proportions are different. The same is true of extra-large. You need to see how the proportions vary and my patterns give you that information – as well as patterns for both hood and stand-up collar.
As you can see from the pictures, the cassock-alb pattern is double-breasted: There are two fronts; one of which crosses under and attaches inside the opposite shoulder; the other front crosses over and attaches outside of the opposite shoulder. The outside attachment may be Velcro or two covered buttons – for a more ‘custom’ appearance. Cassock-albs may be worn straight, with a rope cincture or with a wide ‘cummerbund’. (People who wear a large jacket size are ill advised to use a rope cincture or cummerbund; better to leave the slimming pleats to hang freely.) The cassock-alb neck opening may be a stand-up clergy-type collar or a hood.
The cassock-alb fashion statement is the four pleats that extend from the shoulder seams all the way to the hem. (Actually, there are only 3 pleats; the front edge placement gives the appearance of a fourth pleat.) Slender people wear a cincture well. Cinctures tend to make us larger or hippy folk look like bags tied in the middle. Good liturgy does not require that we use cinctures that cause us to not look our best!
The cassock-alb pattern is so useful within our parishes that I should think these patterns would be given out to clergy upon graduation from seminary.
Keep in mind that the cassock-alb does not give the protection from skin oils, make up and beard abrasion given by the alb and amice combination. If you have valuable vestments, it’s advisable for clergy to set aside their cassock-albs when those important vestments are used.
My 60 inch polyester ($17/yard) works well for cassock-albs. It’s wrinkle-free and holds a crease nicely (I do prefer top-stitching those pleats). Colors are white, off-white, deep blue, violet, Roman purple, rose, dark green, medium green.
A number of my customers have used the Sew Classic Amaretto from JoAnn’s. I find that it pulls a bit. There is another fabric which a number of my customers are trying out. This is a 45 inch 100% silk broadcloth! Go to www.thaisilks.com Enter the product #019C-000 for the winter white or #019C-154 for black. Take notes and report back.
I offer the heavy cotton insert lace to place above the cuffs and hems.
Many clergy prefer the alb and amice combination (and our clergy really should use them to protect important vestment sets). Not only does the alb-amice combination protect valuable vestments, it gives a ‘finished’ look to chasubles at the neck – the same way a handsome scarf ‘finishes’ a jacket or coat.
The information about albs and amices is contained in my reprint of a 1945 pamphlet put out by J.& P. Coat’s-Clark’s O.N.T. Threads. It was written for the Roman Catholic Church (and high-church Anglicans). Other instructions include cincture, stole, maniple, chasuble, burse, chalice veil, cope and humeral veil. The full title is ‘Vestments required for Holy Sacrifice of Mass and other Sacred Functions’.
This is a full, formal ‘Cathedral Surplice’, full with long sleeves. I took this pattern from the Vincent book ($12). Vincent was a British tailor who lived during the 1890s during the time when we were trying to figure out how to transmit clothing patterns. The most amazing inventions came out of these attempts – fancy rulers and such. Lacis carries some of the books –and gear. Vincent successfully invented a method for transmitting vestment patterns accurately. He went on to publish many specific books of patterns – men’s and women’s outerwear (and underwear), children’s clothing, military uniforms, men’s suits and shirts, women’s dresses and blouses, servent’s uniforms. I highly recommend Vincent’s vestment and clergy-wear book. He gives many, many vestment patterns. (Vincent also took himself very seriously and so is often very funny.) Anyway, Vincent’s Cathedral Surplice pattern is excellent.
I offer the deep, scalloped heavy cotton lace to put at the bottom hem and the insert lace to place above the bottom hem.
While this is an old and traditional pattern, I don’t like it at all BECAUSE it is extremely awkward to construct the four-piece yoke. This is, however, a popular pattern because the gathering can be replaced by wide pleats – which many clergy prefer.
It is generally felt by our clergy that the selection of shirts and blouses offered by our commercial vestment houses is lacking in style. And yet, there is no selection of clergy shirts and blouses in the pattern catalogues either.
It is possible to remove and re-make the collars of ready-made shirts and blouses so that the shirt or blouse will take a clergy collar. This method does not work with all ready-made shirts and blouses. Nor does it work with all types of clergy collars.
It does work though! And, when it works, it’s wonderful!
This is a small pamphlet written by a friend, Noel, who is clergy. Noel is about a size 3 and is a stylish person. She shops for pretty blouses and converts to collars to take her clergy collar. She always looks like a million dollars!
I used to have a male priest in the next parish north of me who preferred Brooks Brothers shirts – often striped. He took his shirts to a local seamstress who converted the collars to take his clergy collar. He always looked like a million dollars!
Here’s how I work this pattern: Because it doesn’t work with all types of clergy collars, I send it to you as an email attachment upon request. You look it over. If it’s what you want, you pay me $5. If it’s not what you want, you delete it and we’re square. Fair enough?
I don’t know why but, during the 3 decades around the turn of the last century, a number of books written about linen and vestment construction. While the authors may never have met each other in person, they were contemporaries; they knew of each other and refer to each other from time to time. Lilla Weston’s patterns use Vincent’s pattern method. They all were aware of the Embroidery Pattern Catalogue and use the patterns from it.
From the beginning of my ministry in 1985, I’ve been a collector of ‘The Old Books’. As you begin – or continue – constructing vestments, you may want to begin a library and so, I offer the reprints. The pamphlet I mentioned under Albs + Amices is one of them. The Embroidery Pattern Catalogue is another. My Church Laces book is another. The Girls and Vincent are five more.
Vincent is the great pattern-maker of the period. I use his patterns today. My cathedral surplice pattern is a Vincent pattern. 120 years later, Vincent is still a great and useful resource. I recommend him highly.
The Girls: Lucy Mackrille, Hinda Hands, Lilla B.N. Weston and Maude R. Hall. Among vestment makers, these are historic names. I drew heavily upon the information in these books as I was learning. They gave me an appreciation of how much fabrics changed after the Second World War: 45 inch wide fabric was the maximum width. There were no man-made fabrics. Of the four, Lucy and Lilla are the most widely useful – with Vincent, of course.
This little kit teaches you a method for decorating vestments and banners. The method is both simple and beautiful. The method fuses decorations to the fabric. Here are two pictures from Cheri:
Years ago now, I was asked to produce a HUGE laudian frontal to be used at the consecration of a Bishop. This celebration took place in a large rented hall. An altar was made just for this celebration – only for this celebration. The HUGE laudian frontal would be used just this once and never again. Hmmmmm.
Understanding that this HUGE laudian frontal would never be used again, I went into ‘simple’ design mode. I cut a separate flannel lining that was simply thrown over the altar. The frontal itself was of 60 inch white Dupioni, seamed along the selvedge edge to make the HUGE laudian. I cut 36 large stylized crosses and cut them out of gold lame’. I cut many, many yards of 1 ½ inch wide gold lame’ and many, many yards of 2 inch gold lame’. I fused the 1 ½ inch lame 24 inche above the bottom edge and then fused the 36 crosses below that line – evenly spaced (sigh) and then fused the 2 inch lame along the line of the hem. Lots of math and careful measuring in this HUGE laudian frontal! Then, I cut ½ inch off the bottom lame strip. The fusing sealed the bottom edge of the frontal – no hem necessary!
This HUGE laudian looked wonderful – for which I thank God! And, don’t you know, that one-time altar went over to the Cathedral to become the nave altar – and the HUGE laudian went with it and was used until it fell apart 8 years later. Sigh.
This Simple + Beautiful Kit, while it isn’t for everything, is a really good trick to have up your sleeve.
Instruction booklet – $15
Unlike stoles, chasubles are not ‘tricky’. As long as you have a good set of instructions that also make you aware of the ‘issues’, your first chasuble will turn out just fine. In my booklet ‘Constructing Chasubles and Dalmatics’, I make every attempt to tell you what those issues are.
What are some of those issues?
Because the single biggest error is cutting the neck opening too large, I’m going back to that again: I think we’ve become so accustomed to ‘the cassock-alb look’ that we just do not see the really unattractive gappiness at the neck opening. The problem is that chasubles go on over the head. A neck opening large enough to fit over the head is too wide to contain the stole – there is a gap on both sides where the stole does not fill in the open area. The back neck of the chasuble almost always falls below the back of the stole so there is another gap. You don’t see this gappiness in the commercial catalogues (I suspect a clothes pin in there somewhere). If you make the stole wider to fill the gap, the stole doesn’t fit smoothly. It’s this ‘gappiness’ that the amice covers – nicely.
Another alternative is to make the neck opening smaller and insert an invisible zipper in the shoulder seam at the neck edge.
There are more considerations but that list is long enough. My point is this: It’s really helpful to know about these things BEFORE you begin the design process. A chasuble is not a household item. If it doesn’t turn out just right, you can’t, sort of, ignore the short-comings. This chasuble is going to serve in the church and be worn by a priest at God’s holy altar. Many chasubles as I have made, I still find that constructing such a thing is scary. (It’s scary if you are making the chasuble out of inexpensive fabrics. It’s REALLY scary if you are using expensive fabrics!)
Thirty years ago, when I made my very first chasuble, my priest had purchased pure silk damask at $100/yard (an unheard of expense back then). Scared me half to death! Did I make mistakes? You bet! Gracious!
And, as I struggled with that first chasuble – knowing NOTHING – I vowed that, if I could help it, nobody would have to struggle like that again.
That vow became the beginning of this ministry I have now. The moment that chasuble/stole/maniple set was installed in the sacristy, I began to write. And, I never stopped writing – every problem I faced, everything I learned has been written down. At least once every week, some nice person calls or emails me with more good information. And, I knit that information into my booklets.
I admire this very simple chasuble/stole set because of the obvious excellence of workmanship – smooth, even, graceful. This chasuble is unlined which means there must be a way to finish the neck opening so that it is both attractive and smooth. Sue has used single-fold bias tape. Nicely done!
My chasuble pattern gives you an infinite number of widths and lengths.
A pet peeve of mine is the sacristy that contains only one size of chasuble. That’s a pet peeve for me because it limits our design expression. Wide, long chasubles say one thing – heavily penitential or highly festal. Narrow, shorter chasubles say something else entirely – less formal. In their simplicity, smaller chasubles are perfect for the hot days of summer. I like a chasuble that goes from the crook of the elbow to the crook of the elbow with nicely pressed cassock-alb showing – like French cuffs showing below the sleeves of a jacket.
If you surf around looking at chasuble designs, you will see many chasubles with yokes around the neck and shoulder area; these ‘yokes’ are an alternative to finishing the neck opening with bias tape or cut bias fabric. These ‘yokes’ are external facings! They allow you to build an unlined chasuble with an (relatively) easy neck finish (the necks openings of chasubles cannot be finished with a facing). Using a bias binding as Sue did on the chasuble above, gives a very nice finish; a yoke is another alternative – more festal.
Cowls and other chasuble neck treatments are designed to be another method for dealing with the gappiness around the neck opening.
There are many cowl styles and special collars; surf around and you’ll see them. There is no single ‘standard’ cowl pattern – I wish there were! What I have to offer to this confused state of affairs are some basic parameters. As long as you understand that you’re going to have to do some mock-ups, you’ll do just fine.
Patterns for dalmatics (and tunicles) are simple; the patterns are front and back; sleeves are not set in. The only difference between front and back will be the size and the shape and placement of the neck opening. Variations in style are mostly in size – width and length – and either straight or flared through the body. Sleeves may be widely flared or straight and simple.
It’s my experience that the most helpful thing a deacon can do is to look around to find a dalmatic they like. If they can also find a pattern that FITS them, that’s the best. The pattern for dalmatics is so simple that you can usually take a pattern right from the existing vestment.
The Dalmatic pattern I offer is designed to be as simple as possible. Changes can easily be made to this very simple pattern.
Elizabeth Smith brought to my attention a new ‘wrinkle’ in dalmatic design (actually, it’s not a NEW wrinkle; it’s a traditional design that’s been around for centuries). This ‘wrinkle’ leaves the entire side seam of the dalmatic open. When Elizabeth told me this, I thought she was nuts! I could not feature such a thing! Wouldn’t the dalmatic get crooked – or fall off??? Here is a photograph of two dalmatics with open sides.
You can see that the open sides would allow these dalmatics to fit people of widely differing sizes! This would be an excellent design for a parish that has two dalmatics and four deacons – of various sizes. (If you get concerned about shifting, a simple small tie may be placed at the underarm.)
Whether we’re talking about chasubles or dalmatics, a major consideration is the stability of the chalice; that the chalice containing the consecrated wine should not be tipped over – an important concern! Chasubles that are very wide have an awful lot of extra fabric being waved around near the chalice. Dalmatics with wide – and often stiff – sleeves can easily knock over the chalice.
These photographs show the significant advantage of these ‘open side-seam’ dalmatics – the sleeve does not place the chalice at risk. You can see how the deacon’s arm is disengaged from the dalmatic sleeve as he reaches for the chalice.
(I would mention here – and this may be a fussy point – that the sleeves of those two dalmatics should have been pressed flat before the service. The sleeve crease causes the dalmatic sleeve to break badly, disrupting the line of the vestment. As I say, a fussy point.)
If you’ve never made a dalmatic before, I would mention that your biggest surprise will be the cost of gallooning (the narrow banding trim that covers the raw edges of orphreys). The traditional orphrey arrangement for dalmatics is two narrow orphreys from shoulder seam to just above the hem with one band across the upper portion and one or two across the lower portion (these bands may be called ‘clavi’). The orphrey arrangement is the same for front and back. When you add up the number of inches of galloon required to edge all these various orphreys and then multiply that by the cost of gallooning – you will be quite surprised. Having said this, please know that there are other orphrey designs that are perfectly proper for use on dalmatics and tunicles – that require far less gallooning! I just don’t want you to design a dalmatic using the ‘traditional’ orphrey arrangement only to be surprised by the cost of the galloon – and have to re-do your whole design.
Pattern and Instructions – $30
This pattern – which is new to my website – has an interesting story attached to it. It was designed by Bidwell Drake (a multifaceted lady who specializes in needlepoint www.BCDdesigns.com). Bid’s Verger’s Gown pattern was originally available from The Vergers’ Guild of the Episcopal Church (www.vergers.org). There came a time when C.M. Almy decided to offer ready-made verger’s gowns – using Bid’s pattern.
Go to www.almy.com and enter ‘verger’s gowns’ in the search box. Almy’s verger’s gowns are beautifully made of high quality fabrics AND their ready-made price is quite amazing! Well worth the money! I highly recommend that you purchase this excellent vestment ready-made from C.M. Almy!
This sounds like a success story for everyone involved! However, it doesn’t suit Elizabeth Morgan whose ministry is to reclaim the vestment making crafts and to maintain the availability of the patterns! For this reason, and with Bid’s approval, I’ve picked up this pattern and offer it here – for a couple of reasons:
First, because the Verger’s gown pattern is also the pattern for a priest’s or bishop’s chimere – to be worn over a rochet (Lilla Weston’s book gives a pattern for the rochet).
Second, because it is not unusual to see verger’s gowns in a wide variety of colors and ornamentation – individual and custom designs which require a pattern.
A cope is a long cape; usually dramatically ornamented – but, often quite plain. While I don’t know that I would be quite comfortable watching this cope process up the aisle of my Cathedral, I do love it! It doesn’t matter whether I, personally, am ‘comfortable’ with it or not. What matters is that I am capable of identifying the quality of Nancy Jane’s design and the excellence of her workmanship. This cope is called ‘Creation’.
I love this cope!
This striking cope from the Holy Rood Guild is very plain and very narrow. Note that the shoulder shaping:
As with chasubles and dalmatics, I recommend that you surf around. Go to www.holyroodguild.com and look at their copes – magnificent!
Go to this website: www.stnicholascenter.org They show – and offer the pattern for – a nice cope that has a ‘capelet’. Also shown is an interesting mitre shape – with pattern and instructions.
In my opinion, the very, very best fabric for copes is Dupioni silk (perhaps not for a plain and narrow cope). Dupioni silk has a characteristic ‘crispness’ that lends itself beautifully to copes – it causes the cope to flare and to move gracefully – it doesn’t just drape and hang there – it really moves! It’s active! And, the colors are jewel tones – luscious. And, I highly recommend that Dupioni silk copes not be lined; lining only damps down the crispness. Dupioni silk copes are light to wear and cool – so very different from the usual copes that are heavily lined with satin and oppressive to wear.
Some people like a cope to have a hood. I don’t care for hoods because they crush when hung in the closet. Pressing is very awkward on such a large vestment. I much prefer a gracefully shaped shield which may be elaborately embroidered or made of a brocade or tapestry. Here’s a perfectly lovely cope decorated with pieced quilting. I love this cope! Do you see how it flares?
There are quite a number of ways to construct copes; the commonest being the semi-circle cope: you piece together three lengths of fabric to form a large rectangle and then cut a semi-circle out of it. The two outer selvedge edges form the front of the cope. The problem with this pattern is that it cannot be made to fit people who have wide shoulders – unless you use a very, very long morse (the connecting piece between the two fronts).
My cope information contains descriptions for several cope construction methods. The one I like the best is the shaped-shoulder cope pattern – like the white one.
An inevitable problem with copes is that within the first three minutes after leaving the sacristy, they have slipped and gone crooked. The shaped-shoulder cope stays where its put – even if the morse is not fastened, the cope remains stable. This is very good!!!! The shaped-shoulder cope is a five-piece pattern. Any width of fabric may be used; the pattern adjusts readily from being extremely full to being very slim.
Mitres are special liturgical hats worn by bishops. While many people believe that every bishop’s cope must have a matching mitre, that’s not liturgically correct. Bishops need a simple white linen mitre for ‘every day’ and a single ‘golden mitre’ to be worn on special occasions.
The special bishop’s hats are spelled ‘mitre’. The diagonal seam that joins two hems is a ‘miter’.
Ah, mitres! You know how, when your priest asks you to make something, you say, “Sure!” thinking, “How hard could it be?” And then you go to do it and it’s
Enough to make you crazy? Have you had that experience yet?
I said ‘Sure!’ to the request for 6 mitres…Made me crazy! When I finished them, I called a mitre-maker friend to tell her my odyssey. She let me go on for a minute or so and then interrupted me: “Wait a minute! You’re telling me that you made SIX mitres all at the same time, one after another? Are you INSANE? I’m going to come up there and slap you!” She’s a really good friend! And, she’s right. Once again I was caught doing something I didn’t know how to do and, although I had a good friend who would have given me good advice, I didn’t think to ask her. Don’t do that!
However! I learned a lot. Here’s a picture of my 6 mitres (and Lucy):
The fabrics here are the ‘wedding ring gold’ Dupioni silk and the orphreys are Perkins’ cloth of gold. Simple and inexpensive. I wish I had asked Sue to put embroideries at the bottom of the lappets. Next time!
I used one of Beryl Dean’s mitre patterns (her ‘Method 1’). I came to think of this pattern as ‘The Origami Mitre Pattern’. Notice that there is no seam at the sides – where mitre seams are usually located. The seams are at the center back and front – covered by the orphrey. The entire outer covering of this mitre is made of a single rectangle – cleverly folded and seamed. If I hadn’t been making six of them, I’d probably have enjoyed myself more!
The ‘innards’ of my mitres was flexible .03 styrene rather than the buckram that is frequently called for in mitre patterns. I covered the styrene with a layer of cotton quilt bat and a sturdy white cotton/poly – both washable and reusable! And, if necessary I could stitch to it. The question was: What do I do about lining? I didn’t use a lining! Nor do my mitres have a headband.
I had help and advice from a darling girl named Lucinda who is a designer and makes dance costumes. She had made a mitre with a ‘skull cap’ on the inside – just two rounded, curved pieces that form a cap which rests on top of the head. I used that pattern, cut it out of cotton/poly and basted it to the lower edge of the mitre. This ‘skull cap’ can be readily removed for washing (the inside of mitres get very messy!). As well, the size of each mitre can be made smaller by opening up the basting on the skull cap and inserting a layer of fleece behind it.
Here’s a picture of another lovely mitre made by Amy. It may have been made using the Origami Pattern. You can just see the center front seam that she’s covered nicely with embroidery.
What a lovely mitre!
Ready-made mitres are extremely expensive! Mitres – by their very nature – easily become soiled and stained. Few mitres are designed in such a way that they can be washed or dry cleaned successfully. This is a box that we need to get out of! We need a reliable mitre pattern that is either cleanable or so easy to construct that, when it becomes soiled, we can just discard it and make another.
What I would like to do is gather a symposium of skilled mitre makers and close them up in a room for two or three sessions and work this problem out!
We don’t yet have the information, patterns and instructions that we need for mitre construction. Both Eve and Tom, who are my mitre wizards, are sources of help, I haven’t pulled the information together yet. The patterns I offer are good, basic patterns but, we can do better! Meanwhile, I can send you the patterns I have – which are as good as they get.
At least half of our Christian parishes are located in hot climates. At least half!
Some years ago, I was blessed to be asked to travel to a parish in a very hot climate to present a seminar in linen construction. While there, I was invited to attend the blessing of a new parish church. For this event, I wore a light cotton dress and pretty sandals. The day was very hot. The new church building hadn’t the walls put on yet so, it was open (mercifully). The building was jam-packed with people standing all around the outside of the building. It was very, very hot!
The Bishop wore his civilian clothes, a cassock-alb, chasuble and stole and his cope and mitre (all made of white damask with heavy gold silk lining). I cannot imagine how he stood wearing all that gear – and, the service was fulsome! Every verse of every hymn was sung – with great joy! One hymn was sung – all the way through – twice (during the offertory).
The Bishop had to have lost 10 pounds that day. Dehydration to that extent is dangerous. I felt so sorry for him, as well as much impressed by his stamina.
There has to be a better way. And, there ARE better ways!
But, my experience is that we’re pretty inflexible about how vestments SHOULD look. And, never mind that our clergy are suffering.
Before we can begin to discuss ‘a better way’ to vest our hot climate clergy, we – and our clergy too – need to get our minds into the mode that will accept a better way.
That’s what this little pamphlet is about – liturgically sound – albeit ‘unorthodox’ – alternatives to heavy, hot vestments.
Vestments are the handsome liturgical garments worn by our clergy, servers and choir. Paraments are the handsome liturgical hangings that add depth and beauty to our sanctuary appointments: Pulpit falls and Bible markers, burse and veil sets, frontals and super-frontals, Jacobean and Laudian frontals, dossals and riddles.
Pulpit falls are constructed exactly like frontals – same principle. This little pamphlet is like a primer for constructing frontals. If you know how to make a pulpit fall, you know the basics for making a frontal.
Bible markers are two handsome lengths of decorative fabric that decorate the lectern holding the Bible. Bible markers usually match the pulpit fall and any other sanctuary hangings. Sometimes the lectern is in the shape of an eagle and the eagle holds the Bible, between its outstretched wings; the Bible markers fall between the eagle’s body and its wings. Bible markers are made the same way we make stoles; if you know how to make stoles, you know how to make Bible markers.
The tricky piece – of course – is the burse which requires two pieces of Plexiglas or styrene of the correct size. ¼ inch Plexi is too thick – it will make your burse clunky. Lighter weight Plexi is often available at Home Depot. If you can’t find it there, contact Pat Crane LinensByPat@cox.net Pat provides both burse boards and chalice pall inserts, cut to your size – 7”, 8” and 9” square.
Many people begin the construction of a burse and veil set without first looking carefully at the chalice the burse and veil is to serve. Too often we just ‘make it like it was last time’. The size of the burse should be in scale with the size of the chalice – just as the size of the chalice pall should be in scale with the size of the chalice. A large chalice with a too small pall or burse looks awkward. The same is true if the pall and burse are too large for a smaller chalice. Your eye will tell you whether the proportions are correct – or not.
There are many ways to make burses; this is an easy way.
A ‘frontal’ covers one side of an altar – the front. The fair linen covers – either entirely or partially – the two ends of the altar.
A ‘super-frontal’ is a short frontal – usually about 9 inches long. The super-frontal may stand alone or it may cover the top portion of a floor-length frontal.
A ‘Jacobean frontal’ covers three sides of an altar – the front and the two ends – leaving the back open. Jacobean frontals give the appearance of a laudian frontal without the bulk. The fair linen used with a Jacobean frontal covers only the top of the altar – the ‘mensa’. A fair linen that hangs down at the ends interferes with the graceful draping of the frontal.
A ‘laudian frontal’ is a huge throw-over cover. The operative word is HUGE!!! As with the Jacobean frontal, the fair linen covers only the altar mensa.
Of course there are variations on the frontal theme:
‘Altar cloths’ that cover the top of the altar and hang down on the two ends – but not in front.
‘Belts’ of various widths that hang down the front of the altar – part-way or all the way to the floor. There can be one centrally located or as many as four or five. (‘Belts’ are such a new invention that the Church hasn’t developed a Latin term for them.)
Both altar cloths and belts are pretty self-explanatory – face fabric and lining with an appropriate interfacing as necessary (not fusible).
Over and above the construction issues, the major issue with frontals is storage. Frontals and super-frontals present no storage problem at all – there are many ways to store frontals and super-frontals so they take up very little space.
HOWEVER!!! Jacobean and laudian frontals are THE VERY DICKENS to store! Mostly, they can only be stored folded – which means that SOMEHOW they’re going to have to be pressed before they are put on the altar.
If I may be so bold as to offer some opinions here: Don’t use a Jacobean or laudian frontal unless it is to be the only frontal used on that altar. Or, unless your parish has a space large enough to store them without folding them.
My Cathedral of All Saints has a Lenten laudian used on the nave altar for Holy Week; it was constructed by the most wonderful European vestment maker. It’s made of the very finest light brown linen fabric with handsome applique work. It must be stored folded. The fabric is linen. The altar is 39 inches tall, 36 inches wide and 120 inches long. Do the math: This laudian frontal measures 114 inches wide by 198 inches long. Over 3 yards wide by 5 ½ yards long. It is both lined and lightly interfaced. I repeat: This laudian frontal is stored folded. The fabric is linen – it wrinkles badly. It must be pressed before use! There is a large oriental carpet at the bottom of the steps up to the high altar. This oriental carpet is barely large enough for me to lay out this entire laudian frontal (lined and lightly interfaced). Armed with my steam iron and 25 feet of extension cord, I crawl over this laudian frontal on my hands and knees with my steam iron huffing and puffing – in front of the high altar. Perhaps you can understand that doing this – in front of our Lord’s high altar – feels incredibly inappropriate!
Storage of Jacobean and laudian frontals is a huge problem!
St. Paul’s Church in Albany also has a very large altar and has many laudian frontals – at least one for each season. St. Paul’s is a very large, modern church. For reasons I don’t understand, there is a huge ‘back stage’ area – a very large space behind the lovely rood screen that stands behind the large altar. In this space is a very large table – the same size as the altar. The laudian frontals are neatly stacked up on this table – rather than being folded and stored on a shelf or in a drawer. St. Paul’s laudians are stacked on this table, one on top of another. They never need pressing. Good idea! It is a fact, however, that whichever laudian is wanted next is always at the bottom of the stack.
What I’m saying here, folks, is this: When your priest comes to you and suggests that a laudian frontal would look nice on your altar, ask him/her how it will be stored, where is a large enough space to press it and who did he/she have in mind to do the pressing?
The single most important thing to know about making frontals is that they are generally so large that you must have a large worktable to handle them. And, you must have a wall space long enough and tall enough to hang them so they can hang out or sag as much as they are going to. There’s no sense spending all that time and effort only to have the frontal sag against its weight and go crooked within two weeks of completion.
In my many years as an Altar Guild member in the Episcopal Church, I have had some experience with the tabernacles – in many parishes. I have participated – under clergy guidance – in the tradition of emptying the tabernacle of consecrated bread and wine on Maundy Thursday. At this time, the linens and hangings in the tabernacle should also be removed for washing and ironing.
Some tabernacles are designed to be cleansed once each year. Some tabernacles are not designed with cleansing in mind. It is my sad experience that these tabernacles become decidedly unclean. Which, of course, is unacceptable.
In the early months of 2013, Sue and I began working with a lovely man named Al. Al is a member of a large – and very handsome – Lithuanian Roman Catholic parish in New York City. Al is a doctor and a lay person. With the delighted support of his fellow parishioners, Al set about making all new vestments and paraments – still an ongoing project. Part of this effort involved setting their large and ornate brass tabernacle to right – which had not been cleansed for decades.
After the careful removal of the Blessed Reserved Sacrament, Al removed the tabernacle to a work space and completely dismantled it. The walls had been pieces of wood to which silk fabric had been glued; those were discarded. Al removed the old varnish, polished the brass within an inch of its life and re-varnished all the sections.
Construction of interior fittings – walls and hangings – came next. Al carefully made light-weight cardboard templates for each tabernacle wall – one of which is curved. Using his templates, I cut pieces of .03 styrene and sent them to him to verify the fit. They fit perfectly. When I got them back, I covered each one with – washable – silk. (Linen is my preferred option but his priest specified silk.)
These pieces simply snap into place. The ceiling and floor pieces hold the wall pieces secure.
These pieces can easily be removed for cleaning. They are soaked in a basin of sudsy water, rinsed under the tap, patted with a towel to remove excess water and set to dry in a sunny place. Easy! Al even ordered an extra set to have in reserve.
There are also new silk curtains for the inside of the ‘front door’. Here are some pictures:
There’s a similar tabernacle in my Cathedral sacristy waiting for the same care.
I was contacted last summer by a young man – a fine carpenter – who had accepted a commission to build an altar, Bishop’s chair and tabernacle for a new Episcopal church in Texas. He contacted me to purchase linen for the interior of the tabernacle. He had cut pieces of wood for the walls, ceiling and floor of the tabernacle. He planned to staple or glue the linen to the wood pieces (which would, of course, make cleansing impossible). You may be quite sure that this nice young man and I had some discussion about his plan! This wise young man changed his mind and agreed to use Plexiglas instead of wood. He had the Plexi cut to size and sent it to me. I covered the Plexi pieces with linen and sent them back to him. He called me after he had delivered the altar pieces to Texas and told me that the priest was particularly delighted that the interior of the tabernacle was designed to be kept immaculate.
The process of covering the Plexiglas or white styrene pieces is not difficult; it’s essentially the same process we use when we make chalice palls. You cover the pieces with un-shrunk linen. After construction, you wash the piece. The linen shrinks to a tight, even fit. Easy. Any embroidery is done before construction and must be washable. The next time we do this, I’d love to see a gold sunburst cross centered upon the back wall.
Tabernacles really should be clean.