Friday, January 8, 2021

Vestments - a new stole

In the Episcopal church, priests and other clergy wear vestments. Vestments also adorn the lectern and the altar, and sometimes other places in the main worship area, the nave. These are heavy in symbolism and can be ornate or quite simple.  

Over the years, in various churches, I've made vestments. Some were made with the most exquisite, expensive silk brocades I've ever cut into and others were made with easily available materials, most often silk or wool.

Recently my priest asked me to make a new priest's stole for the church. I am not sure how old the existing stole is but it's very worn and not worth repair at this point. This does not show up in the pictures I have.

the old stole

A stole is a shaped scarf of sorts that is worn around the neck of the priest and drapes to about calf length. It should be quite simple to make, right? I took the old one home to trace onto pattern tissue.

The old one has an interesting back neckline, with a cord inserted on the longer side of the stole to hold it away from the neck. I have no idea if this has meaning or is just a way to keep it away from the body. It looks odd to me. 

I justified omitting this detail after finding many examples online without it. All the previous stoles I've made were made without this detail. This means that the stole fits snugly to the neck. Other garments are worn next under it, so I'm not terribly worried about this.

Of course, it will be easy to add the cord if my priest wants it. He is easy going and I doubt he'll care one way or the other.

Naturally I made the construction more difficult than necessary. This is entirely my fault, as I took my usual approach to sewing. I just jumped in, making design decisions on the fly.

the new stole

I'm lucky to have quite a nice stash of silks from other projects, remnants from clothes as well as previous sewing for my church. This particular stole must be green. The episcopal church follows a seasonal color scheme in its use of textiles with green the most frequently used color. It is referenced as "ordinary times." Generally this green is almost a clear almost-apple green and I always have trouble finding it. Greens can be quite tricky. There are so many different hues of green and they follow popular trends in other textiles. For a while, only olive greens were available, for example. 

I used a variety of green silks in the hopes of avoiding a clash by creating a blended effect. The original stole (and coordinating vestments) included shades of purple too, so I added two shades of purple as well. I'm in high hopes this works!

The process was interesting and actually quite centering for me. I especially enjoyed the design process and my priest gave me total freedom. I also enjoyed adding a little embellishment. 

a little embroidery separating these pieces

Our church organizes much activity around four words: welcome, love, nurture and feed. So I enjoyed adding those on the back side.

Traditionally the stole has a visible cross on the back neck. I think these are often machine embroidered. After making a few samples, I appliqued a gold silk cross (two bias tubes) and added some silk threads to the center. Ok, ok, I made samples after messing up on the finished stole first!

But now I want to make a chasuble to match it. The chasuble is the outer poncho-like garment worn over the stole. The existing one looks quite shabby next to the new stole.

Hmmm...this may be a continuing project.


  1. Just beautiful, the colors and embroidery are stunning!

  2. It look like this will be beautiful. Re the collar standing away from the neck, perhaps a priest at one time had extremely good posture, making the collar uncomfortably rub his neck, and a creative sewist came up with this solution. And the tradition continued without knowing why.

  3. Lovely work. It definitely inspires. Thank you for sharing such inspirational effort.

  4. That is a beautiful stole, and I like your additions of the embroidery that makes it particularly meaningful for your parish. I too, am Episcopalian, and our priest loves the Rose Sundays. About 3 years ago I made a rose stole. Our priest. liked it so much that the next year I made a matching chasuble as well as a veil, burse, short frontal and another hanging. Some of the silk was the most expensive fabric I've ever used, but it all came out very well. Figuring out the burse was the hardest part. Having read your blog for some time, I know you will make a lovely chasuble. By the way, I understand that the stoles with the cord are meant to be worn by an assisting priest without a chasuble, and the cord makes it look a little nicer. Also, with some chasubles the stole with the cord doesn't sit well under the neck of the chasuble. This was explained to me by one of the vestment suppliers.

    1. Thanks for the explanation. We only have one priest right now, but we also only have (had) one stole! These traditions are so interesting.

  5. Your work is exquisite. Such a statement of faith, shown with loving attention to all the details. I'm a Presbyterian minister and wear vestments regularly, with colors according to the liturgical season. Your design of this stole is a parallel to the "ordinary days" of Jesus's life, not one day of which was exactly like another. And the words of grace that you embroidered . . . . well, I envy your congregation to have you among them.

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  7. The stole is beautiful, as is your work and expertise. I absolutely love the creativity and wonderful colors. This a work of art, that is clearly wearable and serving a wonderful, spiritual purpose. Again, beautiful.

  8. What do parishes do without someone like you? I’m sure this will be well appreciated and cared for.