Above: supplies used in goldwork and ecclesiastical embroidery, including silk, hammered gold and silver sequins, jewels, and gold thread. The egg-shaped thing in the upper left corner (top photograph) is a silkworm cocoon; the white cloud next to it is unspun silk.
To my surprise and delight, the post on Ecclesiastical Embroidery generated a lot of interest. Someone asked me about the lecture I attended, and with her permission I am listing the name and e-mail of the lady who gave the talk, and does the goldwork. Her name is Carol Homer, and you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The lecture was sponsored by the Embroiderer's Guild of America, Bergen Chapter. I highly recommend the guild for anyone who has an interest in needle arts. Here is their website:
After the first lecture (mentioned previously) I had the privilege of visiting the convent of St. John Baptist in Mendham, NJ which was a cultural experience beyond my wildest expectations. We were able to see some of the most beautifully embroidered vestments, and even preliminary sketches and samples.
The Convent is Episcopalian, with what I would describe as a very "high-church" spirit. Their patron is St. John (the Baptist), and their symbol is the lamb bearing a banner with the inscription "Ecce Agnus Dei"; after the exclamation of St. John upon seeing Christ: "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world"—John, 1:29
The nuns are wonderful, and they have been custodians of some glorious illuminations and embroidery from the early 19th century, much of it done at the convent. Though they no longer do the embroidery, they are committed to encouraging the study and preservation of the examples they have.
As a Roman Catholic, this experience was very moving to me. More and more I am discovering that the Catholic Church in America has almost no tradition of rich artwork, either musically or visually. Some have contended that this is because the American Church was almost entirely populated by poorer immigrants from Europe, especially Ireland. The Irish tended to associate rich vestments and glorious music with Anglican England, and as a result avoided it like the plague.
I'm not sure if this is the main reason or not, but it is true that some of the best collections of sacred artwork (other than the "Munich glass" that still graces many church windows) are not found in primarily Catholic sources. Whenever I see such a beautiful collection so diligently cared for, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude; sacred art is our salvation both culturally and theologically.
The vestments in their possession mostly date from about 1890-1930. One was a cope representing the seven sacraments, each portrayed with an angel, on a circle about a foot in diameter. Picture a black velvet half circle about twelve feet across, decorated with seven golden discs each bearing an angel and a symbol of a different sacrament, and you have a pretty good idea of what it looked like.
A cope is the elaborate cape used in celebrations and solemn processions of the Blessed Sacrament such as Benediction. Usually it has a separate piece (shaped sort of like a shield) in the center back which has a tassel on the lower point.