May 10, 2010

Ecclesiastical embroidery, huh?

Blog, one of the more unusual experiences I’ve been privileged to enjoy was learning the art of ecclesiastical embroidery. If you had a tangible face, I’m sure I’d see it wax puzzled right about now, Blog. But hang on, here’s how it all went down back in 1979-1982, and what it means for 2010.

And during my story, you’ll learn about these four liturgical stoles that you see here, in the four traditional colors of the liturgical year of the Christian church. (For those of you keeping score, green is for “ordinary time,” the majority of the year; red is for the power of the Holy Spirit, the Pentecost season; purple is for penitential seasons, Lent and Advent; white is for Christmastide, Easter season, certain feast days and weddings.)

My first husband studied for his Masters of Divinity at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. One of the benefits of this was that I was able to partake of the seminary wives’ courses, things like apologetics and dogmatics. Way fun, actually. I also took ecclesiastical embroidery, the art of sewing Christian symbols onto vestments (clothing) and accessories for worship services. I took this class circa 1979, and it was not easy stuff. (By the way, the course is still taking place there these days.)

The difficulty of it is my excuse why it was not until 1982 that I actually finished making these four stoles. Why did I finally get my act together a year after my husband was ordained? All the credit goes to the Milwaukee Brewers. That fall was the team’s glory days, when Robin Yount, Paul Molitor & Co. had their great playoff run. At our parish in rural Fort Dodge, Iowa, I had a lot of time on my hands. So during the MLB post season, while we Milwaukee transplants watched the Brewers ultimately lose in the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, I finished the stoles.

My husband left the ministry some years later, and in our divorce gave me custody of the stoles. They languished in a storage bag for the past two decades. Recently an idea came to me for what to do with these stoles, which took me dozens of hours to embroider (two symbols per stole, Blog) and sew (also very tricky).

Our good friends Liz and Dave are devoted members of a lovely parish, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dousman, Wisconsin. This congregation was founded in 1836, and its first real church, which still stands today and until this year was the sole building of worship for the parish, was built in 1870. That history alone is inspiring.

St. Mary’s takes part in The Haiti Project, a joint effort of the Milwaukee diocese of the Episcopal Church, and has a sister parish in Haiti. I couldn’t think of a cooler home for my stoles than this. So I took these farewell photos of my handiwork and will be donating them to St. Mary’s this weekend. It’s an honor and a privilege, and just thrills me to think they will find new life in a country that certainly needs love and support.

I still think ecclesiastical embroidery is an awesome hobby. If our readers would like to know a little more about the subject, this site has some good information. My stoles are very traditional, making use of ancient Christian symbols, but more contemporary designs are also created using the same techniques.

I’m sure I’m making use of the practice I got during the 1982 MLB playoffs for stuff I still do today, like Herbert G and my sock creatures. Funny how life works, eh Blog?


  1. Very cool! Nice to see those going to good use, too.

  2. Those are beautiful! I often wonder who embroiders vestments and stoles for Priests. (I'm Catholic- not quite the same but similar) and we have had several Priests with beautifully crafted embroidery on their vestments.

    I'm glad you can share these with folks who will appreciate them.

  3. Thanks you guys! I'm a great appreciator of eccelsiastical vestments. They can really be works of art.

  4. I can't understand why someone w/ your talent hasn't been able to cash in on our consumer crazy society? Riches of the soul are most important, but a little extra in the coin purse is nice too! -Lizzy Bee

  5. They are beautiful, and yesterday, the 7th Sunday of Easter, I wore the white one during our celebrations of Eucharist. In the Episcopal Church we call our Sunday worship "mass", "Eucharist" or "Holy Communion". It's very similar to the Roman Catholic mass, but with some key differences. Anyway, they are beautiful and we are happy to have them and will use them with love and reverence. Thanks again! -Fr. Scott Leannah, St. Mary's Church, Dousman

  6. Aw, Liz, you're funny! :-) Don't worry, I've hardly been the picture of's not like I give my books away, for example! LOL

    Fr. Scott, believe me, the joy on your face is something I'll never forget. The privilege was all mine and I'm so glad my handiwork is in such deserving hands now. :-D

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