ASK FATHER: Do I need special training or blessing to make vestments?

From a readerette:

I have a priest that I dearly love who is approaching his 10th anniversary of ordination, and I want to make him vestments. I am an skilled seamstress and embroideress, so that is not the issue. But I am wondering if it is ok for me to make these or do I have to get special training or a blessing from the bishop or something before I make them? I have checked on the internet and in the local library and have found nothing on the subject, I was wondering if you have a source that might be able to help.

First, thanks for using the feminine forms “seamstress” and “embroideress”. English is a wonderful language. We should use more of it more often.

Anyone can make vestments, man, woman, Catholic, non-Catholic, non-Christian. This is not a problem. You don’t need a special blessing from anyone, though I can’t see why you couldn’t ask for one as you begin your work. We should ask for blessings more often, as well.

There is no special training other than, perhaps, experience and helpful tips from others. This would be important when attempting to make something like the extremely difficult cassock. The collars of a cassock and how it falls are tricky in the extreme. I have seen some attempts at cassocks that look hardly better than a flour sack dyed black cut up the middle. Quantum potes, tantum aude!

It would be a really good idea to have at hand a model for your work. Get a good example of the vestment you are trying to make. Ask Father how it is used, how it is supposed to be worn. What pitfalls there may be. Off the top of my head, for example, if you line a chasuble or dalmatic, make sure that you aren’t going to bake Father. The lights in a sanctuary can contribute a lot of heat, not to mention the weather. Your lining might make that vestment a real burden. Also, a lining that is all shiny and elegant and silky and pretty – to your eyes at least – might make that chasuble a chore to wear, as it’s slick interior makes it to slip around or constantly slip back as the weight of the larger, longer, back portion drags it backwards or sideways.  There is one set of vestments that I am inflicted with from time to time – nice to look at, no doubt – that are seriously annoying.  I am constantly pulling them back into positions.

Oh, the horrible hardships we poor priests have to shoulder!

Anyway… if you think you can do the work well, have at! Good luck! Do your very best with the very best materials. Our liturgical worship deserves nothing less.

Perhaps readers here can chime in with more tips.

Please share this post!
Share

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to ASK FATHER: Do I need special training or blessing to make vestments?

  1. iPadre says:

    May I suggest that you ask the priest what style vestments he likes, maybe even see if you can use one he likes as a pattern. I once received a stole, but it was very wide. Looked like something to be worn by an alien in the Star Wars movie. The woman was a very dear friend, who put many hours of loving labor into it and I would never want to hurt the kind woman.

  2. FranzJosf says:

    Here is wonderful book, with careful instructions, on how to make high quality vestments: Vestments and How To Make Them, by Lilla B. N. Weston, published by the Catholic Authors Press. You can find it on Amazon. (Use Father Z’s connection.)

  3. Lutgardis says:

    What a lovely and thoughtful idea, readerette! I will be praying for the success of your sewing project and for your priest friend on the tenth anniversary of his ordination.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    A Warning-it is much more complicated than one thinks at first. In the early 1980s, my mother sewed vestments for a family friend who became a permanent deacon. Now, my mother is an excellent seamstress as was her mother and her mother before her. However the needs of the vestments are not easy.

    Having said that, my mother had and still has great joy in seeing these vestments used. It is a gift to sew, so use your gift.

  5. Gregg the Obscure says:

    “tantrum aude”?

  6. pelerin says:

    May I be permitted to ask a related question to this? Many years ago I remember reading that brocade Bridal Gowns were once donated by brides to be dyed and made into Vestments. I thought this a beautiful tradition and wonder if this is still welcomed and if so by whom or whether the fad for polyester vestments has killed this tradition.

  7. Joseph-Mary says:

    I have not made a whole vestment but have taken plain chausables and decorated them. One can find liturgical trim online. Also have made altar linens. I have friends that make beautiful vestments and it is wonderful to have these specially made holy items/

  8. Charivari Rob says:

    There is one set of vestments that I am inflicted with from time to time – nice to look at, no doubt – that are seriously annoying. I am constantly pulling them back into positions.

    The Zuhlsdorf Maneuver, a la The Picard Maneuver?

  9. momoften says:

    The best way to begin vestment making is to be able to repair and take apart old vestments.
    That you really have a good idea, as well as pattern to use if the old vestment is not salvageable.
    There is some talk about a blog/group that is going to start up a website concerning vestment making as well as all the trappings of liturgical sewing, pictures, resources, information…etc…….
    Pray that someone steps up who will take on this immense undertaking. It is sorely needed as well a great aid to those liturgical seamstresses, and those aspiring to start.

  10. JBS says:

    Stoles really need a crook at the neck. Albs are better with pockets, and should be longer than the cassock (if worn). Roman chasubles, if preferred, are more conveniently tied in the front, rather in the back. Perhaps some fabric from the project can be saved for a matching chalice veil (and burse?).

  11. Bthompson says:

    They have some decent step by step walkthrus abs kits at http://www.everything-vestment.com However, having collaborated with my mother to make my own chasubles, stoles, and such, I’d note that these patterns are best used a model to tweak and experiment with to the taste of the priest. (I for example found the stole patterns too wide and the neck hole of the chasubles too narrow, so we fixed that)

  12. Bthompson says:

    Oh, and as Fr Z mentioned, the main body fabric is totally critical for comfort.

    (Ps, as my first post may have been misleading. I am not yet a priest; my ordination is tomorrow. My preferences developed not from real world use but from testing during the design and sewing process)

  13. Sarochka says:

    Bthompson, may God bless you today, tomorrow and always. Shall be praying for you tomorrow on such an important day!

  14. Former Altar Boy says:

    When I was in Catholic grade school (and attending the Mass of the Ages six days a week), we had to learn about the priestly vestments. Back then we were taught, and our priests wore, both the Roman style (now referred to as fiddlebacks) and the Greek style (more tapered from top to bottom in the back, rather “V” shaped) chasubles. Since good Pope Benedict’s motu, and even during the indult days, I have never seen a Greek style chasuble. Have they fallen out of favor or is that a part of our Church history that has been lost or forgotten?

  15. AmandaL says:

    I have made a few sets of vestments, and my only teachers were trial and error. My thoughts…

    I second the recommendation to repair some old vestments first, if available. Even simple tasks, such as replacing the ties on a fiddleback, give you the opportunity to handle the vestment and examine its structure.

    This “Guide to Vestment Design and Construction” (http://www.sewvestment.com/page/302239) was very helpful first time or so.

    Decent fabrics are not cheap! Make a practice vestment with an inexpensive fabric first! Even a small size one (such as for a young boy who likes to play Mass).

    Always try to make a complete set. Even if this priest doesn’t care to use a maniple, the next priest at the parish may, if it is available.

    Finally, pray for the priest for whom the vestments are intended as you’re sewing!

  16. MacBride says:

    I recently took a class in Syracuse NY on making Latin Chasubles. It was taught by Sister Mary John. She was a fantastic teacher! She also does a class on the Gothic style vestments. She teaches all the accessory pieces as well. Unfortunately she only teaches in the summer, but she does sell a very detailed CD on making the Latin Chasuble. Website is here: https://www.storesonlinepro.com/store/822866/?sitecookie=99415b93370669bf292f288d25df0183

    Good luck!

  17. Reliquary says:

    My sister has been trying for a long time to make a vestment. One of the problems she runs into is finding suitable material. Does anyone know of any sources? Thanks.

  18. OrthodoxChick says:

    I am not a sewer. Put me in the “aspiring” category. But, as such, I’ve done my fair share of googling this topic in order to support my day-dreaming habit.

    “Reliquary”, for material – try this link:

    http://www.churchlinens.com/vestments/

    For patterns, try this link:

    http://www.sewvestment.com/page/302239

  19. Sword40 says:

    The ladies and some of the gentlemen in our group have made Chasuble, Dalmatic, Altar frontals, stoles, maniples, burse covers and chalice veils. They have remodeled may items and some all brand new.

    Find out which style of vestments your priest uses, Gothic, semi-gothic or Roman. Then under Roman you’ll find several styles; Italian, Spanish, French etc. Each has its own characteristics.

    God Bless.

  20. edm says:

    For fabrics, trim, etc. you may want to look here

    http://www.lalame.com/html/ecclesiastical.swf

  21. Elizzabeth says:

    This is timely, I too am a seamstress, and am just about to look into making vestments for our Parish, having newly acquired an embroidery machine. I’m working on embroidery designs, & I’ve investigated fabrics; yes they are expensive if you use the best!
    As for cassocks, yes, one definitely needs the right fabric for it to hang well, and it’s best to do a fitting to make sure it sits well too – not always something a busy priest has time for!! – I learned a lot about cassocks by repairing some for Priests – I was disappointed to find how badly finished on the inside some of the expensive Italian ones are!
    A blog on vestment making sounds like a good idea too. Hope someone brings that off.

  22. MacBride says:

    For religious embroidery designs this is the best site:

    http://www.windstarembroidery.com/Start.cfm?category=50

  23. Vox Laudis says:

    In the 1960s, my late mother took the course to become a liturgical embroiderer for her diocese. I wanted to learn as well, but the head teacher thought 8 years old too young; however, the assistant rounded up some leftover silk/gold/silver threads and bullion and scrap material, and let me work in a hoop instead of in the huge stretching frame the ladies used. I still have my mother’s apprentice piece framed–nine 8″ x 8″ designs, each one different, the type used on chasubles. The first thing that we learned was that much of the embroidery was done on muslin and then appliqued to the brocade background fabric/galloon (the wide trim) and outlined in couched threads so that, if the vestment became too worn to use, the embroidery could be salvaged for a new vestment. Even the couched (precious metal) threads would be salvaged as much as possible.

    The designs at Windstar, especially the vintage ones, are gorgeous, and would certainly lend themselves to the applique treatment–and working them on muslin would keep one from accidentally harming the pricey, beautiful brocade.

    A few ladies in my diocese have salvaged vestments for traditionally-minded priests and deacons. Ebay can be a good source for used vestments if you cannot find any in church basements or people’s attics. (STM, I had a good chuckle at your story of ‘borrowing’ on another post. Unfortunately, disrespect for sacred vessels/vestments has been all too common.)

    If someone would like to start a blog on liturgical embroidery and vestment construction, I would be happy to host it as part of a liturgical arts website (that presently only serves liturgical music).

  24. fishonthehill says:

    A couple of things about vestments…
    Definitely use a set that he prefers and fits well.
    My friend who made all my vestments (since has passed) used a fusible material underneath the saint Andrews cross on my gothics and definitely with Romans used horsehair. Also with heavy metalic materials you will need commercial sewing needles… or they will break! And have the whole thing should be commercially heat pressed before using. My vestments are 14 years old and look brand new. My romans fit so well… they do not include tie strings! All material I purchased at la lame in NYC and my friend, who was not catholic, made them. she made more than fifty vestments and antependiums. altar cloths, etc. I pray for her everytime I use them.

  25. andia says:

    Bless you Father for answering. And all of you are wonderful for helping. I am working on finding out preferences for styles and materials. All of the embroidery will be hand done, so I will need to find patterns that are for handwork, rather than machine. :)

  26. Gaz says:

    Remember to have enough material for the maniple. A matching maniple looks a lot classier than one that comes from another set.

  27. frjim4321 says:

    Homemade vestments should be safe and rare.

  28. OK_doc says:

    Andia:
    One of my favorite sites for ecclesiastical hand embroidery patterns is http://www.needlenthread.com/
    She has some free patterns, a book with more elaborate patterns and tutorials on various stitches used in embroidery.

  29. momoften says:

    Elizabeth Morgan http://www.churchlinens.com has a Embroidery Pattern Catalogue. If I recall it has
    LOVELY old patterns in it for embroidering. Get on her site, and give her a call for it. I think you
    will be please with the patterns. She has numerous other things, including suggestions for embroidery by machine and where to go on her website. She also was invaluable to me when I had to handle linen for the first time. Great Lady to know. Not Catholic, but she works with everyone. There
    are also various sites places and things. The Needlenthread website as mentioned above also has
    some great stuff there as well. Start simply, and see if you can get the help from a seamstress who has already done quality vestments if you have problems. There are some really excellent vestment makers out there, and they are all wonderful ladies as well. God Bless all the people
    who are making vestments and investing their time and talents for the Glory of God.

  30. Suburbanbanshee says:

    frjim4321: So basically, every vestment in the history of the Church, from Jesus’ seamless garment woven by Mary, on down until the invention of the Jacquard loom, was total junk. But when factories were invented, it all became better.

    I really don’t know why you would denigrate local craftsmanship, or the ancient tradition of making vestments and altarcloths in the family or in the parish. But I thought you didn’t like corporations, and here you’re saying that corporations are the only worthy vestment makers. Interesting.

  31. Pingback: Pope Francis, Ecumenism & Witness to Christ. - BigPulpit.com

  32. AnneG says:

    I love seeing an interest in proper vestments, frontally, antipendium, and altar linens.
    So many Catholics I know think these things happen by magic or something.
    Andia, if you have good embroidery skills there are a lot of hand embroidery patterns around. I have an ecclesiastical embroidery Pinterest page and have done things for my parish. Lac is.com has an old book from Brown with hundreds of drawings. I also browse for inspiration and make my own designs.
    We have finished a new set of altar coverings and cannot recommend Churchlinens.com fabric highly enough. It is beautiful, proper colors and quality. Well worth the money, especially if you consider that these items last decades.
    I’ve noticed one thing. Proper fabrics elevate the altar. They draw the eye up and help lift the mind and heart to God.
    Frjim4321, a friend and I made a white dalmatic and stole for her husband, a permanent deacon. He wore it for the first time at the Easter Vigil. Simple, dupioni silk fabric, white and gold, embroidered with a traditional wheat IHS monogram in gold. The Jesuit pastor was a little jealous, said it was nicer than his. So, custom made vestments can be very nice. Just because you know the seamstress and embroiderers does not mean they don’t do quality work.

  33. sporch says:

    St Benet Guild has been doing vestments for over 35 years. Judy Fradl has done the research & wrote a book on the proper design & material usage. An article was featured in “Sew News” about her work. She feels anyone attempting to make a vestment should have proper training & use correct materials. (NO SATIN LINING!!!!!!!!!) Futhermore, she is willing to train ANYONE willing to learn. Contact her at judy@holyfrocks1@tripod.com (She is on a buying trip until 23rd Sept. Will answer upon return)

    Priests at times waited over a year to have her do their vestments even when some one else could do them quicker.

  34. SOSLibrarian says:

    I, too, have been planning to make some vestments (my friend and I would like to make some for a mutual friend who is currently a seminarian, assuming he continues on). One site that I had found that no one has mentioned yet is this one from Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Chapel: http://www.olvrc.com/vestments.html. It includes plenty of information to help you plan, as well as patterns (that will need to be enlarged), and fairly detailed instructions to help you through the construction. And it covers both Gothic (Modified, Standard, and Full) and Roman (Austrian and American) style vestments.

    You may also find this site interesting: http://catholicphilippines.blogspot.com/2010/01/traditional-latin-rite-chasubles.html. It has some scanned pages from the book “Liturgical Arts” which talks about various vestment styles and their histories.

  35. Quilisma says:

    Joseph Braun, Winke für die Anfertigung und Verzierung der Paramente (1904), is a good book. Maybe there is some English edition available somewhere?

Comments are closed.