Friday, December 30, 2016

Little House in the Big Church

Photo courtesy of

Copyright © Edward Riojas

This isn’t about Laura Ingalls Wilder, although it could have been, had Pa attended something other than a Congregational church. This post takes a quick look at things common in some churches – specifically paraments and vestments – things that would have been decidedly lacking in Congregational churches back in Laura’s day. Even among men of the cloth.

One might assume that pastoral vestments and church paraments are meant solely to pretty-up a modern sanctuary, but there are often back-stories involving common-sense practicality overlaid with deep symbolism. When the former became less of a concern, the latter became more important. Altar cloths and coverings, for example, were originally used to keep the Bread and Wine free from dirt, condensation, and falling plaster. Vestments were used not only to identify those in the Office of the Ministry, but also to show that they, too, needed to be “covered” by Christ’s righteousness. They still do.

A new collaboration with Carrie Roberts, who heads the fledgling Ecclesiastical Sewing enterprise, has reminded me of the depth of meaning within church visuals, and coupled with it comes a discipline in which I find myself a novice at best. Roberts is no blue-haired, altar guild lady. She holds a fashion degree and has a deep interest in the historicity of sanctuary cloths. While machines largely produce the embroideries that her company offers, Roberts has received instruction in hand embroidery at Hand and Lock and the Royal School of Needlework, both based in London, along with the Williamsburg School of Needlework.

During our initial correspondence, words like “frontal” and “superfrontal” and “orphrey” and “galloon” and “drops” were thrown about with seeming abandon, and it was up to me to catch on. I was approached by Roberts to create exclusive designs for her enterprise. Both of us understand the need for confessional designs that are well-conceived and produced. If you happen to be Lutheran, it's probably best that you keep watch for what will soon come of our collaborative efforts.

Our first project is a set commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Church. We could have slapped Luther’s Seal on a nice embroidery and been done with it, but we envisioned something a bit more historic and a lot more confessional. It is a bit too early to show the finished products which Ecclesiastical Sewing will be offering, but suffice it to say that, yes, there will be Luther’s Seal, along with the Six Chief Parts, and the VDMA Cross – a device used by the Hanseatic League back in Luther's day. The four letters of that cross are shorthand for “The Word of the Lord endures forever.”

Ecclesiastical Sewing offers various fabrics (one of which I had a small hand in designing), embroideries, patterns and the like for all paraments and vestment applications, including chasubles. And speaking of chasubles, the fancy vestment has  humble origins in a rather ordinary, poncho-like, Roman cloak – which wearers fondly referred to as “a little house.”

1 comment: