Ideas for Reusing Older Vestment Pieces

Old vestments are often found in the dark recesses of sacristy drawers, and the question may arise as to what might be done with old stoles and other church vestment pieces. The answers are as varied as the pieces found within each individual collection.

New use for vintage vestments
New use for vintage vestments


When considering remaking older vestments into new pieces, consider first if there was a donor who originally gifted the stole or vestment to the church. Often churches keep records of donated vestment pieces. The next consideration is whether someone within the congregation made the item for the church or clergy at the church. If the donor of the vestments is still in the church would they be pleased to have their gift remade? Does anyone within the parish know the date of the vestment? If it is old, how old might it be? Does the stole have value because of its age, the design, or where it may have come from (a label denoting the designer or the vestment maker).  Is the work hand embroidery or machine embroidery, and if it is hand embroidery, is there goldwork, and what era does the work date from? Should the vestment piece be remade or restored? Or is the piece so old that it has historical value?

Vintage Clergy Stole With Goldwork Embroidery
Vintage Clergy Stole With Goldwork Embroidery

Both of the stoles above feature hand embroidery worked with gold threads. The stoles are no longer in active use and have been retired to a museum archive. But using these stoles as examples, a next thing to consider is the current condition of the vestment. When looking at an old vestment, if the base fabric is solid and sound, without too much soiling as is the case here, these stoles could be taken apart and reused as part of an altar frontal or superfrontal orphrey.  They could become a design feature on a cope orphrey for example, or they could be removed and reapplied as part of a new stole, using the embroidery as a “patch” as was done on this Pentecost Stole. If there is any indication that the fabric or metallic threads have weakened over time, it might be wise to restore threads where possible, then remake the item as part of an altar frontal as there is less wear than vestments which are taken on and off.

Orphrey bands on altar frontal
Orphrey bands on altar frontal


Notice in the above photo taken from one of my vintage church vestment books how the orhrey bands appear to be edged with fringe as if it were a separate piece attached to the altar frontal.  Depending on the stole, this might open up some thoughts or design possibilities for reusing older stoles. The original fabric could be unstitched, and reapplied to a frontal as an orphrey with galloon trim and fringe.  But this would also depend on whether the original stole was cut straight or of the stole tapers, and to what degree it tapers. The purple stole in the photo at the top of the page does taper as goes up from the bottom hem. The taper could be accounted for to a certain degree and still be remade into an orphrey with some careful planning.  The white stole appears to be cut straight and would work much easier in this instance.

Banner with side Orphrey Bands
Banner with side Orphrey Bands

This banner presents yet another idea on how an old stole might be reused.  Care would need to be taken to ensure that a tapered stole would be wide enough at all points to create the orphrey.

And of course, there is always the option to frame a very special piece of church work to preserve if for others to enjoy for years to come.

Maybe some of you can share ideas in how you have reused old vestments, and be sure to include photo links!  We look forward to seeing your creativity and work.

Solo Dei Gloria

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