The irony of the title ‘Holy Stitchers’ is certainly not lost on our fantastic band of volunteers who help ‘make do and mend’ to a whole range of items including Cathedral vestments, Guide sashes, kneeling pads and Alms bags. The group of 10 volunteers meet every Thursday morning at 2 The Precincts to tackle the latest challenge the Cathedral has brought them.
There are only five Stitchers in today but I’m told that it is rare for all ten to be in at the same time which is probably just as well as it would be a bit of a squeeze even though they sit round two very large tables pushed together. Stitching stalwart Joan Craggs, the longest serving member of the group has been working her magic with a needle and thread for the past 20 years.
‘We all have a different set of skills and complement each other, Ursula is a superb embroiderer, a couple of us are dressmakers, another at patchwork… And I’m very good at tacking!’ quips Audrey and sends the group into spontaneous laughter. And this is how the morning goes, busy hands and lively chat punctuated with laughter.
‘It was quite a task and they soon came to be known as the perishing palliums!’ laughs Joan, ‘ of course it’s an ongoing job, the sashes are shared but each guide gets their own pallium and we’ve just made another six to present to the new guides.’
Fifty alms bags followed and the group experimented a bit with those. Photographs were printed onto the material and then embroidered over and the results are so stunning that when they were displayed at Open Evening they were inundated with people wanting to buy them.
The life-size figures that adorn the crib every Christmas are also dressed by the Holy Stitchers.
‘We repair the outfits or create new ones if they are beyond redemption. The layout is changed every year so we have to adapt the clothes to help battle the elements. For instance, we pin the outer garments firmly to the undergarments so that they won’t be blown away when the wind is gusting. We check on them every morning while the crib is on display and make any adjustments as we go along.’
Making new vestments brings it own set of challenges, a gift from Romania of heavily patterned brocade was a nightmare to work with when it came to matching the pattern but in the end there was only one out of the set that didn’t fully line up. However, repairing a heavily damaged cassock belonging to one of the Virgers prompted one of the Stitchers to embroider a card and place it in the pocket of the repaired garment bearing the words,
‘Rend your heart and not your garments’