© 2019 St. Martha's Guild, St. John Cantius Church, Chicago, IL

Violet Velvet Chasuble

This violet velvet chasuble was made by the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in O’Fallon, Missouri. It dates to the 1920s. The velvet has an absolutely wonderful drape. Unfortunately the burse, stole, maniple and chalice veil were misplaced at some point and the shoulders of the chasuble had worn bare spots that made this unusable.

Fr. P. thought it would make a great first project for his fledgling embroidery guild. We were able to find a very close match to the velvet. The orphreys were in fairly good shape, so the plan was to remove them from the chasuble, make a pattern from the worn velvet, remake it with new and embroider matching pieces to complete the set.

This embroidery is rather interesting in that the gold passing thread is couched with purple thread instead of the traditional yellow silk. The original gems were awful. Very rough cut, strange milky colors in many clashing colors. A few were missing, so we opted to replace them all with amber and purple Swarovski crystals.

So, let’s start off by saying that velvet is absolutely beautiful. The drape, the way the light hits it, the luxuriousness of it, and the texture. Then I must say that all of us really hate it. This project was very Lenten. It bashed us and shredded us. It made us cry. We bled and blubbered our way through every stitch, or at least a bunch of stitches. 

For starters, those little hairs make sewing a seam a frustrating undertaking. We got the walking foot, sewed the seam, had to rip it out. We basted, sewed the seam, had to rip it out. We tried putting paper around it, sewed the seam, had to rip it out. We almost melted our seam rippers. We sewed the seams by hand, which worked great. Bertha Zeering nodded sagely from heaven.

And, ya can’t iron velvet. We don’t like blobby seams. We played a little with a needle board which is a board with a bunch of needles sticking up out of it. Makes you think of a bed of nails and all the visuals associated with that. In any case, the idea is to lay the hairy side of the velvet over the needles and iron things that need ironing without flattening down the nap of the velvet. It sort of worked but you could definitely see the ‘chicken pox’ made by a bunch of needles ironing down some hairs. We ended up hand stitching the seams down, using, I think, the pick stitch as seen in Rory Duffy’s videos. This tightened up the edges of the seams fairly well. There were some mental side excursions into the art of embossing velvet where you lay the velvet over a metal filigree and iron selective hairs down like this:

Moving on, to make the missing pieces we had to embroider a few pieces on black velvet. These included the cross for the chalice veil, two more crosses for the orphreys on the maniple, two alpha/omega symbols for the stole and another cross for the burse. The repeating was really helpful to bring those couching skills forward.

 

We found that tracing a design onto velvet was pretty weird. Some people recommend the prick-and-pounce method followed by a gel pen (that sounds like something you shouldn’t do to velvet). In the end we traced the pattern using a light box onto linen, basted the black velvet onto that, did a running stitch with thin gold thread over the pencil line and that gave us something to follow on the front of the velvet. I think that may have been faster than the other methods, maybe. At least it was less messy.

This is about when things began to be really fun for me. I love goldwork embroidery. Getting this very old slate frame loaded up again to create the missing pieces for a chasuble – possibly on the same frame used to make them in the first place – well, that was so cool. 

Then there's the whole burse construction. What an interesting item. We made a trip up to Loyola’s seminary library to dig around in one of their burse making books. We picked up bits and pieces of information (rub the edges of your plexiglass along something rough – we chose the sandstone caps on the stairway outside of the Canonry – to dull the sharp edges and corners so they don’t carve holes through your fabric). I do like this particular burse model. It is a bit heavy though, compared to other constructions.

After fussing about not being able to find the right curved needle to help stitch this together over unbending plexiglass, my son grabbed one of my needles and some pliers and fixed my world (again).

One other issue that came up was the need to find new trim that would match the color of the existing embroidery. The gold tones were all over the place and nothing seemed to match exactly. That is, I think, one of the greatest failings with old vestments converted to new. If the colors are off it creates visual discordance; not what you want walking up the aisle to the altar. We were able to get close and then cheat the color a tad by running an orange thread up the center of a rather lemony gold trim. It immediately fixed the problem.

I have to say that it is a really wonderful feeling to get this chasuble finished and back to work.

It even starred (albeit a minor role) in a sweet video. See if you can spot it. Can I just say that I love my parish? Yes, I can.