Needlework at St Margaret’s

Needlework at St Margaret’s

Written in November 2011 by Diana Byott.

The altar frontals and pulpit falls currently in use were made three decades ago by a small group of ladies of the congregation.

The hangings then in use had been desecrated by Vandals, and the Friends of St. Margaret’s started to raise money for their replacement.

Elizabeth Hammond from Harrietsham who held classes at the Medway college of design was commissioned to design and oversee the work, two carloads of ladies attended the first session and I remember the feeling of being Press ganged because I could sew!

We were introduced to a group of Chatham ladies working on wall hangings to cover concrete walls in a modern church. These reflected Chatham’s history and among the saints was a minesweeper and a submarine. It was the method they were using that we were to study, the making of each part of the design as a separate motif and as each was finished they were assembled on the background and stitched into place.

We had been shown the designs for our church and Ethel gamely took on the white pulpit fall finishing this but sadly died while working on the green one. I later had the privilege of finishing it. I look upon it now with its olives,ears of wheat,Turkey oak,mimosa,pistachio nuts,almonds and peach and remember Ethel.
The rest of us had to learn to handle gold thread and gold kid(fine leather with alayer of gold leaf applied to it) The gold cross was first to be made and the most difficult.
It was designed to reflect the pattern on the four vertical posts that supported a screen which stood behind the altar at this time, and was painted dark blue with a zigzag pattern in gold. It was about two metres high.

The base of gold cross was built up of layers of yellow felt diminishing in size with each layer giving it a three dimensional effect like the posts. The top layer is made of many small sections using different types of gold threads and small shapes of stiff card covered with gold kid. We each had to practise making several and only the better ones were used!

All the prepared sections were then sewn onto the felt base, and I was given this job, it was a real labour of love using curved sewing needles.

Meanwhile Pam Bailey started on the white and gold altar frontal which took many months to complete, and Nancy Duncan and Margaret Simmonds any myself learned to make leaves for the green altar frontal,the theme being “Flowers, fruits and leaves from the Bible” these included cedar of Lebanon, mustard, coriander, and myrtle.

I had task of sewing all this together and doing background embroidery, while Nancy and Margaret, with Louise Twyman started on the red with its flames and the purple hangings.

We had to work on big frames and they were difficult to get into a car boot. Once we had learned what to do at the classes we worked on our pieces at home as much as circumstances allowed.

Eventually after two and a half years and a cost I believe of some £1,200 we had them finished, but by now it was becoming obvious to us who had worked on the gold cross that if put on the screen as intended it would not be visible when clergy stood in front of it and it would be rubbed by their backs each time they passed close to it, damaging the gold leather, so after some persuasion by us embroiderers the P.C.C. finally agreed to have new blue velvet
curtains suspended from a curtain rail under the east window. Velvet curtains were made by a member of the church who had done this professionally and I was able at last to sew the white pigskin cross and then gold one in position.

No lectern falls were made at this time as we had the heavy carved Victorian lectern.

The current green,white and purple falls must have been donated but we were missing a red one until I made the latest one in 2011 incorporating the fragments of gold thread, gold kid and purple raffia I had kept.

Just for the record

In 1985 St.Margaret’s Church was 650 years old and a pageant was held, and some historical costumes were made out of old curtains donated by the congregation, the biggest challenge and greatest achievement was roman armour made from old leather jackets.

1987 A new banner was made for Mothers Union.

1999—2000 Millennium Communion rail kneelers With the rood screen carvings as our inspiration. The dragon was my special project.

2002 The Queen’s Golden Jubilee, Nancy Duncan suggested pew cushions, and by now we had a team of kneeler makers who continued until all the old sawdust filled ones could be dumped.

2004 The then Vicar asked me to make new altar linen, specialist fabric for this had to be ordered and I made a new cover for the 12 foot long altar table and 3 long runners to fit it. The table was reduced in size when the reordering was done so all the covers and runners were
altered to fit.

2005 The Yew Tree cross arrived so the blue velvet curtain with gold cross was taken down and in 2007 it was put on the green altar frontal in place of the “flowers and fruits” one.

2011 The new Red lectern fall was made.


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