Thursday, April 16, 2009


"Behold, I will renew the face of the earth"

Easter Monday. The day after the Resurrection. THE RESURRECTION! As I drive past a graveyard, decked out with palm crosses, I can't help but think, I am so glad I believe in the resurrection. I don't know how people have the courage to survive without it.

I don't believe it in some kind of vague way either. I know it is true. From my earliest childhood, I have just assumed the reality of the resurrection in exactly the same way as I took sunlight for granted.

Perhaps I should say sunlight streaming through stained glass windows. I used to attend daily mass with my father at about 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning. I was very young, somewhere around four or five—before I was old enough to go to school. I remember how peaceful it was, especially on spring mornings after Easter. One of my earliest memories was of a priest who had died, and was being waked at the small chapel where we attended mass. It is only strange to me now that it didn't faze me in the slightest; It wasn't till I was older that I developed a fear and loathing of death and all other things scary.

At the time however, I felt peace and perfect confidence that the old priest was being provided for in death, and it seemed to me to be an "all's right with the world" moment. It never occurred to me that death might be alarming.

Easter Monday. Today I drove down to New Jersey to hear a talk by a married woman who hangs out with an order of Episcopalian Nuns and does embroidery with them. She brought a garbage bag full of old stuff that is used in ecclesiastical needlework. Gold. Silver. Silk. Linen. Precious metals and fibers.

She told us how silk is a hollow fiber, and how it catches the light and reflects it. Why those elaborately embroidered vestments and altarcloths could catch the sunlight outside, and the candlelight inside and play games with it. Sometimes a single element like the 4 inch lamb representing the "Agnus Dei" (shown above) would require the work of three different craftsmen; a wood carver to make the base, a silversmith to make a bas relief of details like the head, and an embroiderer skilled in the use of gold and silver threads to make the body.

She talked about the balance in the lives of the nuns; and how similar their attitude was to some of the Asian needlewomen she had also had the good fortune to stitch with. Stitching was a part of their life, as was gardening and other chores. They stitched for the allotted time every day, then put it away until tomorrow. And tomorrow is always there for them! Many of them live to 90 or 100 years old.

The close contact with nature afforded by the gardening chores gave an exuberance and style to their work that made the designs dance and sing.


Anonymous said...

Karen, who is this lady? Though my daughter's still young, my wife and I had long been interested in getting her involved with this kind of craftmanship at some point. - PM in Somers, NY

Karen Anderson said...

Dear PM,

The woman who gave the lecture is Carol Homer. She spoke at a meeting of the Bergen (New Jersey) Chapter of EGA (Embroiderer's Guild of America.)

I saw her yesterday, and she gave permission to publish her name; she teaches and gives lectures and can be contacted at

Check back soon, I'm going to put together a more detailed post on Ecclesiastical embroidery; thanks for your interest!