Black and Gold Vestments: Making a Chalice Veil
My children were laughing after Ash Wednesday Service. They loved the new vestments and heard all of the buzz throughout the evening. Their comments afterwards went something like this, “Your new set is great. Everyone loved it. Yeah, you thought the white set was great when you made that, and now you want to replace it. And how about that red set for Palm Sunday? That needs replacing too? Why? They are fine!”
My response, “But I did not know what I was doing years ago when I made those sets. They need to be replaced with something better. This black set is different.”
Kids: “”Yeah, we’ve heard that before……… And by the way, how long will it be before you want to replace this new black set? You always love things when you make them, and then later think they need to be replaced………we’ll give the black set about 3 years……….. .”
And there you have it from the family experts on the life expectancy of vestment sets previously made by yours truly. At least, those wise sages are right about the previously made sets.
There are three altar hanging sets in use at my church, made by me, that need replacing. Why one may ask? The reason is simple: a lack of knowledge. The sewing skills were there, but not the knowledge with regards to specific and unique techniques required with vestment making. I’ve been sewing for over 40 years. I have a degree in design, I’ve worked in many fields relating to sewing and design. I’ve worked my way through many projects, but here I was completely stuck.
Learning to make vestments and altar hangings was almost an impossible endeavor. The information on vestment making that exists is limited, lacking sufficient detail to easily proceed. It often takes months, and even years of labor and struggle to figure out the techniques. I admit that three vestment sets in use at my church were made during the time of struggle better know as the “Vestment Dark Ages.”
Thankfully, there also followed a period of Enlightenment. The resources, though often dusty, hidden, and buried in the pages of old books, and bits and pieces of Ecclesiastical History, have been reveled and pieced together to create an understanding of the process. The goal now is to create altar hangings that will survive the “allotted three-year life span,” currently given to vestment sets by the sages of my household. But all of those struggles with learning the craft of vestments making have paid off.
Now the goal is to make that information available to others. There is a dear vestment making friend who has been a patient mentor for years. We now share the same goal. And at her urging and with her encouragement, this humble attempt will be made to help others create beautiful items for the Worship Service at their church. Many of these same items are used by a wide variety of religious denominations.
Making a set of vestments like the ones above is not beyond the means of a seamstress or tailor with moderate to advanced sewing skills. Several of the items are even suitable for the beginner.
The simplest item to make might be the Chalice Veil. The dimensions of the chalice veil can vary. The size used for my church is a 24″ square. To keep the project simple, a plain fabric can be selected, and I will go through making a plain fabric chalice in a few days. For now, the photos are available for this fabric with a pattern.
This example is made using the Black Fairford Fabric available in our online store front coming in 2016. While shown here in black, Fairford is also available in other Ecclesiastical colors such as red, blue, green, bridal white, ivory, violet and gold as well as in two-toned colors.
If you take a close look at the pattern designs in the Fairford, there are two main motifs: the Pineapple and Ogee. The pineapple motif was selected as the central motif on this chalice veil. The two crossed pins mark the center of the pineapple.
I have a confession to make: a piece of Wax Tailor’s chalk, lying on the work table was picked up and used, without thinking, to mark the center lines. Then, a moment of horror struck! What had I done? This stuff leaves wax marks on nice fabrics after pressing. The lines should have been hand basted. Too late!
Fortunately, that wax mark disaster never materialized. Most of it brushed off or wore of in the process of making the chalice veil, long before the iron was needed. Disaster averted. But more caution will be used in future. The tailor’s chalk is fine for seam allowances and areas behind the scenes, but I should know better when it comes to using tailor’s chalk on the main body of a vestment item.
Start at the center. Measure out 12 1/2″ from the center on each side, and place a mark. Use the same steps to mark the top and bottom edges. This will create a 25″ square which includes a scant 1/2″ seam allowance. The finished dimension will be 24″ square chalice veil.
The pattern design in Fairford makes it easy to match the same motif point to obtain straight and even lines for cutting.Check along each line, matching similar motif points to make sure all lines are straight. Recheck all measurements to ensure a true and correct 25″ square is marked.
If you have never worked with true Ecclesiastical fabrics, you are in for a treat. The fabric is so nice to work with. It has a great weight and body, which means it does not shift or move as one is working on it. It stays in one place.
The fabric is marked with the final dimensions of a 25″ square to include a 1/2″ seam allowance on all sides. Be sure to measure accurately, and have your fabric perfectly square, regardless of the size of your chalice veil. After double checking all measurements are 12 1/2″ out from the center and follow the same motif line in the design, it is time to cut. For those using a solid fabric, cut a nice, even square in the desired size. Be sure to keep the fabric on the straight of grain.
Easy so far, right? Nothing more than a square of fabric. The Chalice veil will require a lining fabric be cut to the same dimensions. If a lighter weight fabric is being used, an interlining of some sort may be required to add body. But we shall take that step by step.
Certain vestment pieces are often made in sets: the Chalice Veil and Burse are usually made to go together, as are the stole and chasuble. Looks like there are a few more projects needed down the road. But one step, or rather project, at a time.
Solo Dei Gloria
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