Tuesday 16 January 2024

Visit to the fabric shops of Rome

Lucy writes: I paid a visit to Rome last week, to find fabric and passementerie suppliers for the Guild of St Clare. The highlight, of course, was my visit to Gammarelli.

I was charmed by the many miniatures on display, ranging from choir dress for a Cardinal to a gold mitre, not forgetting miniature socks for the Bambino.

I had the honour of speaking to Signor Gammarelli, who very kindly showed me a beautiful embroidery sample, made in the Gammarelli studio during the war.

He explained that rules in place at the time meant workers had to be paid by the hour, so his grandfather resorted to asking his embroiderers to create samplers like this in order to keep them occupied. This 1/4 scale chasuble is mounted in a double-sided frame: here is the back.

Naturally I did not leave empty handed! I have some beautiful samples of hand-woven lamé, as well as some Spanish style braid for use in our vestment repairs, and a long length of violet silk damask with cotton lining to go with it: this will be used for teaching vestment making skills, in our Travelling Stole kits.

My peregrinations round Rome in search of fabric suitable for liturgical use didn't end at Gammarelli's, of course. I also visited Lisio, a very well-known fabric supplier near the famous Spanish Steps.

The fabrics here are not made for liturgical use; they are mostly for soft furnishings and upholstery. However among them are damasks and silks with floral designs which are appropriate for vestment making.

I was served by a charming man who had almost no English, so we had to rely on my few words of Italian and very rusty Spanish. Despite these limitations we had a lovely chat. On learning of the work of the Guild of St Clare, he showed me his cuttings book, including this:

The fabric for Pope Benedict XVI’s mitre in this picture was supplied by Lisio, and the fabric is on display in the shop (in a different colourway):

They also provided the exquisite hand-woven silk, gold and silver jacquard seen in this report about Cardinal Sodano, and the sample is also still in the shop.

The welcome was as warm as that which I received at Gammarelli: nothing was too much trouble and the proprietors delight in showing off their treasures, whether or not a sale is likely.

With my eyes open for anything useful for the Guild of St Clare, I did pounce upon, and purchase, a silk remnant, going (relatively) cheap, as it has been discontinued.

Stitchers both secular and ecclesiastical will love a visit to this jewel box of a shop, as I did.

It would be strange to visit Rome and not make a pilgrimage to at least one of the great churches here. Although most of my time has been spent on fact-finding (or fabric-finding) for the Guild of St Clare, before I began I went to visit the Santo Bambino of Aracœli.

This is a replica of the original 15th century statue. Devotion to the Bambino is so great that letters arrive from all over the world, addressed to him. They are placed in his chapel in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

My main purpose in making this visit during Christmastide was to make my homage to the relic of the Manger, at St Mary Major, almost my last stop. It was the most moving experience, the magnificence of the reliquary strangely at variance with the wooden remains visible inside.

It was a rewarding trip in every way! Those joining me at a Guild of St Clare event soon will be able to enjoy the first fruits of it. It's essential that these resources should be widely known and supported so I am planning to put together a list of ecclesiastical textiles suppliers, which we will put on the website.  Let us know if you can add to it!

Friday 12 January 2024

Online booking open for the February Sewing Retreat

 Our February Sewing Retreat, to be held once again at St Joseph's House of Prayer and Retreat, can now be booked online through the LMS website here.

We are delighted to welcome Fr Edward van den Bergh Cong. Orat. of the London Oratory as our chaplain. Many exciting new projects and commissions will be getting underway, including repairs to the beautiful banner belonging to the Catholic Police Guild, which usually hangs in Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane.

All our welcome: previous experience of sewing is not necessary. Come and join us for a weekend of prayerful retreat and creative service to the Church; book your place now!

Friday 8 December 2023

This Advent, make a donation to the Guild of St Clare

The Guild of St Clare repairs and makes vestments for the Traditional Mass for priests and religious communities. To this end we have 'sewing retreats', educational workshops, and sponsor candidates for the prestigious Certificate Course at the Royal School of Needlework. All money donated goes directly to this work: all our work is done by unpaid volunteers. We pray for all our donors at our retreats; benefactors who give over £100 will also receive one of our beautiful bone china Guild of St Clare mugs, with the Vestment Mender’s Prayer on it.
Please consider supporting the Guild.

Friday 1 December 2023

Making Miniature Dalmatics at the Royal School of Needlework

We are delighted to announce that online booking has now opened for our annual day course at the Royal School of Needlework next year, which this time is making miniature Dalmatics. Our tutor will be Heather Lewis, RSN graduate Apprentice, who is very kindly preparing this especially for us. Vestment-making does not feature on the RSN's regular schedule of classes and this particular course represents a unique opportunity to learn how to make one of the more exciting and challenging pieces of the traditional High Mass set.
The date is the 16th March 2023, and the course will run between 10am and 4pm. Tea and coffee are provided; you will need to bring a packed lunch, or you can visit one of Hampton Court Palace's cafes. The cost is £155 (there is a supplement if you would prefer to use ecclesiastical brocade to make your Dalmatic.) Places are strictly limited so don't delay in reserving your place.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

South Africa’s Bayeux Tapestry

 Ancilla writes: This time something a little different for us. It is not liturgical but a great example of perseverance and taking the time to preserve history. 

Located within the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa is a famous tapestry depicting ‘Die Groot Trek’ or 'The Great Trek'. In 1836 and onwards Dutch settlers located along the coast travelled northward into the interior of South Africa. They styled themselves as “voortrekkers” which can be interpreted a number of ways: ‘pioneers’ being the most obvious chioce but also ‘pathfinders’ and 'those who trek ahead' gives more depth to what they did in settling in the interior or South Africa and the perils that came with it.

The tapestry was designed by W.H. Coetzer which began to be stitched in 1938 by nine women. It contains 3.3 million stitches highlighting these years of South African history and especially the role played by women in it. The tapestry took eight years to complete and consists of fifteen panels spanning the length of a long room.

What is admirable is unlike so much in our factory paced modern society this piece took years to complete. It must have seemed like an endless job at times. This quality is also seen in the Guild of St Clare. That is not to say that every piece we work on will take eight years! Rather that quality and prayerfulness is put into the projects. Both men and women are re-finding the path of how to make and mend liturgical items; though only the Holy Angels are counting the number of lovingly placed stitches we do. 

Friday 10 November 2023

November 2024 Sewing Retreat: report

Our November Sewing Retreat took place last weekend at St Joseph's Centre in Ashurst, near Southampton, a warm, welcoming and deeply Catholic place where we were made to feel completely at home. Our chaplain was Fr Stephen Morrison OPraem of the Norbertine community at Peckham, who very generously managed to spare the time from his very busy parish to be with us. 

Our three Low Masses, celebrated by him, were of course celebrated in the Premonstratensian rite. I love to see the small differences between this and the more commonly celebrated Roman Rite. He also led us in the Rosary, and Sung Compline each evening. Fr Stephen is a highly accomplished musician, and it was a joy to see our paraliturgical devotions celebrated so beautifully.

We had a number of repairs to execute. One red and gold chasuble has a very worn velvet orphrey, which has now been removed and replaced by a new one. 

Significant darning is needed on a semi-gothic chasuble, which the owner has asked us not to patch (we have strengthened it on the reverse, however). 

We have a clerical cloak for re-lining; and work is continuing on a beautiful white embroidered humeral veil - all the stitches holding the metal threads down have perished and every one needs to be replaced.


Fr Stephen had brought a black velvet chasuble with goldwork orphreys; it's in almost perfect condition except on the front at the seam, which was opening and needed to be secured. 

He also brought a cassock from his own sacristy, used by one of his altar servers. Some of the seams were opening, particularly down the front and round the armholes. Fr Stephen repaired this himself, displaying considerable skill with the sewing machine.

We are also undertaking a number of commissions. Under construction at the retreat were two burses, a chalice veil, a chasuble and a maniple.

Fr Stephen's talks were on the subject of evil and our struggle with it: on the love of God, and our love for him and our neighbour. He preached most movingly at our final Mass, celebrated on the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost: "If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole", and drew a parallel between the action of the woman in the story and the work of the Guild of St Clare. 

Booking is open for our next Sewing Retreat, also at St Joseph's, between 16th and 18th February 2024. Our chaplain will be Fr Edward van den Bergh, of the London Oratory. Places are strictly limited so don't delay before booking your place!

Friday 20 October 2023

Museum Vestments: Amazing Tapestry and Opus Anglicanum

 Ancilla writes: Having recently had the privilege of going on pilgrimage to Italy I will present over a couple of posts some of the vestments I had the pleasure of coming across in museums. 

I had decided to do the Vatican Museum and knew it contained a piece of English work which I was excited to see but more about it later as the first set of vestments I came across were stunningly beautiful. 

The gold colour of the vestments shone brightly through even after all these years (and even with the annoying lighting and glass which made things difficult) and it must have been awe inspiring to see these being worn on Feast Days. The idea that what is happening must be important because of the clothes the people are wearing really comes through with this set. 

There was a plaque providing information for each piece. All are tapestry in silk and gilded silver made sometime between 1593-1597. The coat-of-arms seen on the Cope are of Pope Clement VIII.

After these I was getting near to the end of the museum since the gift shops were popping up and I began to worry I had somehow missed the Opus Anglicanum which I had so wanted to see. Then it appeared: The Vatican Cope. Produced in England between 1280-1300 and made of red silk twill with extensive embroidery containing various scenes and figures of Christianity.

I had seen photos but being up close made me understand the great beauty and skill of Englishwork. Wow. What surprised me is that is has this delicacy about it, a feel of lightness, almost playfulness. Maybe when England and its people were children of Mary and honoured Her, She imparted to them some of Her joy in Annunciation. May Our Lady of Walsingham help us make beautiful vestments and embroidery again!