Ecclesiastical Sewing has a request to identify an embroidery design on a UK church’s altar frontal. The only clue is a label mentioning Thomas Brown and Son of Manchester, known for church embroidery in the early 20th century.
The design consists of a border pattern and a scrollwork cross embroidery pattern. The border pattern comes from my collection of vintage embroidery designs. These vintage designs come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and conditions. They must be cleaned up and turned into a line drawing to be used as an embroidery pattern. The cross pattern is a new design created from components of the border pattern.
A scrollwork cross. The cross is a creation taken from part of the vintage embroidery designs. This cross is similar to many vintage hand embroidery designs. Satin stitch would be nice around the center diamond shape and the four dots just outside of that. The Scrollwork could be an outline or stem stitch or trailing stitch. The tiny tendrils could be back-stitched or a small stem stitch. The three clover shapes at the cross ends could be stem stitched and filled with seed stitch or satin stitched. The very center of the large diamond could also be filled with seed stitches. It would take only about 3 or 4 stitches to work this little design up.
The fabric is block-cut to a rough size, review the embroidery design and dimensions determine the embroidery placement, and locate the center. Once the center position is determined, use a product called Dream Weave Ultra and fuse that to the back of our fabric. Dream Weave Ultra is a fusible tricot that adds a bit of body to a piece of fabric. Dream Weave comes in two weights – the regular, and the Ultra. Used both but prefer the Ultra for our embroidery work. Dream Weave should never be used as a stand-alone backing for embroidery.
Each hand-crafted small altar linen received the utmost care, starting with careful pre-shrinking of the linen. This is followed by careful pressing. The linen is pressed while in a slightly damp state. If it is stretched or pulled in any direction without being careful to watch the grainline, the linen can be distorted. Once the linen is pressed, the marking and cutting process begins. Linen is cut by the thread to ensure that one edge is straight. The rest of the linen piece is measured and cut from the straight edge. Hemming is next. The hem folds are based on a thread to ensure they are straight when finished. Hems are folded, corners are mitered, and basted in place. The hem is then stitched in place. The stitching is done with a very fine thread.
This is a pre-cut keep sake baptismal towel that is intended to be given to the parents of a newly baptized infant. For an older child or an adult, one might select to embroider a purificator or lavabo-sized linen. This towel is small so that one gets used to the concepts of turning up linen hems and mitering corners without having to stitch long hems at the beginning.
Linens are an item used every day or every week in the life of most churches. Linens are used for the most sacred and important part of a church service during the service of Holy Communion or the Eucharist. The small church linens or altar linens used in the Divine Service are the Fairlinen which is placed directly on the altar, the corporal, the lavabo towel, and the purificator. Some churches use a small side table that is covered by a Credence cloth.
Carrie has written an instruction booklet for making and embroidering small Church Linens and altar linens. This booklet describes the making and care for the small altar linens used during the service of Holy Communion or the Eucharist. Also included in the booklet is a collection of original and vintage hand embroidery designs. This booklet is our gift to you for subscribing to the Ecclesiastical Sewing email list!
Renaissance Altar Linen – 100% Irish Linen fabric, which is 60″ wide. It feels like a vintage altar linens as it has similar weight and weave. This linen has a nice hand and body and presses well. Small altar linens and altar Fairlinens are made from this pristine white Irish Linen fabric.
Fine linen fabrics are the first step to review when considering making new altar linens for your church. At Ecclesiastical Sewing, we offer an assortment of fine linens, knowing that one linen does not suit all needs.
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Fair Linens are hand hemmed with a simple slip stitch worked in even tiny stitches. The quality of the hand hemming is determined by the number of stitches made in each inch of length, as well as the evenness of the stitching. To aid in obtaining even, tiny stitches, use a single strand of fine cotton thread such as YLI Heirloom Thread which is a 100/2 size, or a similar fine sewing thread.
The measurement of making an Altar Fair Linen – The altar height: measure from the top edge of the altar to the floor. Measure the width of the altar from the front to the back. Measure the length of the altar from one side to the opposite side. Optional: measure the hang from the top edge down the side of the Fair Linen to match the length of an altar hanging.
Altar linens serve distinct liturgical functions: Fair Linen covers the altar, Corporal holds vessels, Pall a square linen stiffened with either cardboard or plexiglass. Purificator a small square linen used to wipe the communion vessels during the sacrament, Lavabo Towel dries hands, Credence Cloth covers a side table, Chalice Veil conceals post-communion, Cere Cloth protects from dampness, Dust Cloth safeguards Fair Linen, and Sick Call Set facilitates individual communion.
The altar in the Mary Chapel allows a closer view of the altar linen. The edge of the linen is cut so that it hangs over the front of the altar by a few inches. This linen edge is embroidered using the colors of white and gold. There is so much white inside this Basilica. The gold provides a much-needed contrast so the altar linen is not lost among all of the other whites of the chapel. The design motifs of the altar linen feature a cross worked in gold embroidery thread, and a wheat and grape motif worked in white embroidery thread. The edge of the altar linen is scalloped with a scalloped or shell satin stitch, making a perfect complement to this lovely Basilica