Friday, June 15, 2018

In Step With Ecclesiastical Sewing

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I half-expected Carrie Roberts to speak with a British accent. That’s what can happen when collaborative efforts go on for months and years on end, without so much as a business phone conversation. Carrie and I have always corresponded via e-mail when working together on some of the most exceptional paraments and vestments on the market.

My wife, Mary, and I arranged a brief, first-time meeting with Carrie on the tail-end of a vacation to visit family. While en route, we passed though the hinterlands of Minnesota, where roads meander among pristine lakes, and where church signs are occasionally spelled out in Swedish or Norwegian.

We finally met up with Carrie at “Studio B,” located in the basement of her daughter’s house. Such is often the case with small enterprises, when space requirements and limited budgets necessitate some creative thinking.

Bolts of brocade, stacked floor to ceiling in a tidy rack, waited in one room next to photography lights and a mannequin. Another room was dominated by a humming, but dormant, embroidery machine. A third room was clearly the main work space, and on its massive table lay proof that Ecclesiastical Sewing is no small potatoes.

Green frontals and chasubles in various stages of completion covered the table. They were the first items created using designs from the new “Sanctified Set,” which are meant to be used during those parts of the the Church year sometimes referred to as “Ordinary Times.” Some of the pieces I saw are going to this year’s Higher Things Conferences across the U.S., but ordinary they are not.

Even though I designed various embroideries for the new set, Carrie, in her usual fashion, pushed the designs beyond their original limits. The embroidery machine – dubbed a “dinosaur” – can certainly do a simple stitch and be done with it, but Carrie considers the alternatives and chooses specific stitches that make the most of threads and natural light – this, so that gold threads shimmer; so that mundane colors glow. For a single, large design, the embroidery machine can run for 12 hours or more. If the result is somehow imperfect, it is set aside and re-embroidered.

But the high standards of Ecclesiastical Sewing are not evident simply in the warp and weft of fabric, the trimming of stray threads, or in the maximizing of materials’ potential. A great deal of thought goes into the confessional embroidery images so that they, too, are subject to scrutiny and change. Being something far more than just pretty or handsome puts Carrie’s products in a category far above what is found in most vestment catalogs, and our collaborative efforts will continue to move in that direction.

My first project with Carrie was in the final tweaking of the Luther Rose brocade – loomed in the U.K., and an exclusive product of Ecclesiastical Sewing. Some sort of unofficial record was apparently set when the design was ready for weaving inside of three months instead of the usual two to three years taken by large design houses. Besides a degree in fashion design and a career in the same, Carrie has also completed courses from Britain’s Royal School of Needlework via offerings at Colonial Williamsburg. She has diligently researched and resurrected techniques that once were the norm in cloistered Europe.

But, no – Carrie does not have a British accent.

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