Bowled Over by a Stole Protector
Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Oh, my, the stole protector! What a humble little piece of practicality – well, maybe not so humble. And that is the part that has my soul contemplating deeper things.
But before we get to all of that, if you are unfamiliar with these, the stole protector is a narrow strip of white linen that is folded over the edge of the stole and basted in place, inserting a washable layer between neck and vestment. When it gets grimy you replace it with a clean one and carry on. We use these a lot at St. John Cantius. Our priests hear 500 confessions each Sunday. Several of the priests distribute the Holy Eucharist at each Mass. Stoles are everywhere.
We have a big box of stole protectors. It was a bit of a shocker the first time I pulled the lid off. There are over 100 of them and they are not just plain napkin-y strips to be slapped on a stole in a preemptive strike against ring-around-the-collar. These were exquisite labors of love, hemstitched, and festooned with hand crafted lace – hours and hours of bobbin lace, tatted lace, crochet lace. And all of this just to collect neck grime?! Who would do that?!
Well, the good praying nuns would do that, happily and often as it turns out, and I have over 100 of them as evidence.
The St. Martha’s Guild is on a mission to restore and retrieve the knowledge and skill sets of these master needlewomen. We are curiously poking our noses into all of their projects, and the projects keep showing up in new corners – like the embellished stole protector. It is fascinating to see the creativity and innovations in their work. The only duplicates we have are the cheesy mass produced versions that we relegated to the bottom of the box.
I am really digging this particular one with the diamond shapes adding some pizazz. Anna and her mom and I have set out to decipher the pattern and take a stab at it. We decided to add a third diamond so there is a center area in which to embroider the traditional cross.
I have been crocheting away on it during my subway commutes (it fits easily into my purse). For some reason people feel freer to start a conversation with a woman wielding a crochet hook, but how do I explain what this thing is exactly? I can just say I’m making some crochet lace. It might be a much more interesting conversation if I give more details on the project though.
And that prompted me to stare at this project more deeply. The dear nuns could have spent these hours on chasuble embroidery or making lace for a surplice, but they didn't; instead they opted to invest their time in the embellishment of the humble stole protector.
One day, as the string ran through my fingers, I had this strong impression that this was my opportunity to fling my arms around the neck of Jesus. It was the perfect mechanism to root my soul more deeply into the theology of our priest standing In Persona Christi. I would totally make one of these if it was going to hug my Dear Savior’s neck.
So now I am parading these beauties before you in all of their eye-candy glory to see if I can tempt you to grab your little crochet hook, or your tatting shuttle, or your bobbin lace pillow and jump into the party. Sure beats granny squares.
I will post the pattern here once I have worked out the kinks. In the meantime below is a YouTube video showing how to prep the fabric with hemstitch holes to receive the crocheted lace version.
Also, these stole protectors are folded in half lengthwise to sandwich the stole. Typically a cross is embroidered at the center, but if you move it down to center on the folded protector the cross will be happily visible instead of folded in half – something that never feels like the right thing to do. This one has been washed so often that the red has faded to a lovely rose color.
And about that washing. The first time we went at it we pulled the protectors off of a bunch of stoles. They were pretty grimy, so two of our ladies went at them with soap and toothbrushes. It was a long, laborious labor of love. Seeing the tragic look on our sacristan’s face was a special moment. He was absolutely aghast to discover that we had spent so much time on them. Turns out he simply drops them into a bucket with some Biz and hot water and leaves them there for a day or two. Good to know.
Here’s the full gallery.