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  • Writer's pictureJulie S.

Meet Our New Best Friend

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

This is our 70-year-old Cornely chain stitch machine.

We’ve named him Cornelius, and although he is new to us he has already stitched his very first project (the restoration of a chasuble orphrey seen above).

That first little project was quick and painless, but this machine was meant to do amazing embroidery. There's just that little matter of learning to drive it with finesse. For starters we practiced stitching a traditional edging for a vesperale. The vesperale is a felt covering used to protect those very expensive, hand-stitched, pristine, linen altar cloths. Missals of flaming wicks or your basic mundane dust will mess them up in a hurry. And, while these are very practical items, our predecessors beautified them with gusto. We need to make several vesperales for our altars at Cantius. We want to produce beautiful stitches when we do and initially this machine tends to bring out the drunk driver in all of us. What better way to achieve mad Cornely skills than by embroidering the edge of an ironing board cover. Our table is 4' x 8' which should be plenty of practice.

This is a totally crazy machine. Steering happens underneath with a rotating wooden handle. A hook replaces the needle. Frequent oiling is required.

We had to purchase pliers, wrenches and other weird tools. One must crawl under the table to thread the machine—kind of a bizarre requirement, and funny to picture with a nun in full habit pulling off that maneuver.

The patent for this beast is French from 1874, so originally the lovely nuns had to pump a treadle. Ours has a hopped up, digital, variable speed motor to keep everything moving.

Cornelius looks like a cross between a meat grinder and some kind of transformer tank from an action movie. One wants to keep one’s hair tied back securely.

But! He embroiders vestments, just like things were done old school.

This is the machine responsible for all of that lovely chain stitch embroidery that we find wandering so gloriously over our vestments.

We are so getting on that bandwagon.


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