Earlier this year when I prepared to dedicate a worship stole I made for my brother in his memory, I talked to some of his ministry associates about how much I enjoyed creating the piece. There was so much meaning in planning, weaving, dyeing and sewing a stole that would be used for something as important as a church worship service.

I could see Dave’s former associate, Marla, a Lutheran Deaconess, sitting there thinking during the conversation.  “You know,” she said smiling, “I could really use a stole for the Advent season.”  And so it began.

I told her I’d be happy to make one for her.  It would mean a lot, since she and Dave had successfully partnered in a collaborative ministry at St. Paul’s.

It took a few weeks, just to think about the design, but I finally settled on a dyed warp in blue (those are the Protestant colors of Advent).  Over the summer, I painted the warp with three colors of dye and was struck at how much it looked like water, so I quickly named the design “Living Waters.”  While Advent was the goal, this stole could easily double for baptisms.

One of the challenges in making a deaconess stole, is that it is worn across the body and pivots on the hip downward toward the leg. It needed a dart, but it couldn’t show.  So I played around and finally settled on a dart inside the stole which would be covered over by the extra fabric.

I used one of Marla’s other stoles to make sure the dart was deep enough to pivot properly.  It ended up being about an inch.

For the symbol, I settled on a spiral I had seen on the Canadian deaconess website.  The spiral indicates outward movement and activity, something all deaconesses are known for.  They are very active in their communities.  And as the spiral moves out, it bursts forth in love, hence the symbols on the outside.

I used some pale yellow stash yarn and dyed it a deeper yellow on my stove one afternoon. Then I made a crochet chain and stitched it on. The biggest challenge was finding a proper fabric for the spiral bursts.  I wanted metallic, but it was September at the time and nothing was out for Christmas yet in the fabric store.  I wandered for a long time, and then I found it.   Pleather!  Can you believe it?  That cheesy fabric from the 70s was exactly what I needed.  I cut it in triangles and glued it with fabric glue.

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I attended worship services at St. Paul to celebrate the First Sunday in Advent.  Marla talked about the stole and even let people touch it (although she joked that she doesn’t usually encourage that sort of thing). But handwoven fabric begs to be touched and she got that.  It was a great morning to see the stole on the altar.  I know Marla will make good use of it in her abiding ministry.

I’ve been away from this blog for a number of months.  It’s been a Spring that has left me at a loss for words.  In fact, “loss” has been something I was forced to confront on a number of levels.

The most heartbreaking was the death in late March of my older brother Dave, a vibrant 55-year old Lutheran pastor who was taken very suddenly by an aortic aneurysm. It’s hard to explain how devastating this has been to the entire Smith family. He was deeply loved.

If you’ve been following this blog, you might remember that about a year ago, I posted some pictures of my preliminary work in making a worship stole for Dave based on the season of Pentecost.  It was some woven shibori work I decided to tackle.

I finished the stole last Fall, but Dave was between calls, meaning he was not serving a permanent congregation at the time. He was an interim for a short time and he wanted to wait to receive it when he found a new church home. I kept the stole in my drawer waiting for that day.

It never came.  When he died, we placed it near him at the visitation; then the Bishop brought it up to the altar during her funeral sermon. That was in April. 

When we neared Pentecost, I decided it would be a shame for the stole to go unused.  I called the church he served for most of his ministry and last Sunday we dedicated it to St. Paul, Sharon Center, Oh.  I presented a powerpoint of slides similar to those in last year’s blog post.


Pastor Judy McGuire took off her own stole and put on Dave’s.

 Then we said a prayer and wiped away some tears.  It was a wonderful tribute on a beautiful June Day.

I’ve been away on vacation but prior to my departure last week, I was very busy exploring a technique which is new to me in weaving and dyeing.  Undoubtedly, many of you have heard of woven shibori, a Japanese dyeing technique that Catherine Ellis so brilliantly adapted for the loom.

During the painted warps workshop, Kathie Roig mentioned that I might want to think about trying shibori using paints or dyes.  I began to get a vision in my head for a worship stole for my brother who is a Lutheran pastor.  An upcoming dye day at the Cleveland West Weavers gave me the opportunity to plan for a sample to explore the possibilities.

First I warped up the loom with a combination of rayon and cotton with the idea that I would weave the pattern threads in a pointed twill in five different treadlings with plain weave in between.  After it was finished, my brother David and I could choose the most effective look.

The entire project was based on the colors of Pentecost; the tongues of fire could be dramatic. So I wove the cloth and then at dye day I chose two different yellows to dye the open cloth.

The purple threads in the cloth separate the different treadling patterns. The small green threads are the pattern threads thrown from a separate shuttle to create the pattern later.

After the dye was set, rinsed and dried, I pulled on the pattern threads to draw the cloth into a tight gather.

Then I had to soak the cloth again in a dye activator.  After an hour or so, I took the cloth out to my picnic table where I applied a thickened red dye to the tops of the folds to create a dramatic pattern. Here it is just waiting to be revealed.

Shibori is a process that takes patience.  After this top dye is applied, it must set for at least four hours, but I wanted to be absolutely sure, so I wrapped it in plastic, had dinner, went to bed, off to work the next morning and then came home to rinse it thoroughly and let it dry outside.  Then the threads were cut and pulled out.  I was so pleased.

You can see that the treadling changes show an enormous difference in each pattern.  Plus the fact that on the right side, I changed my weft from an 8/2 cotton to a flake cotton.

Dave chose the pattern on the lower right and I concurred.  I think it will made a dramatic presentation of Pentecost and other special liturgical days when he is on the altar.

I now know what will occupy my loom for July.  I will post the final project when I finish later this summer.

I was enchanted while in church yesterday.  I would love to say it was the pastor’s sermon, but alas it was the hymn after his message.  I think the greatest theology can be found in old hymns. This is the second verse in the hymn “Let Streams of Living Justice.”  If you’re a fiber lover, you will be so pleased.

For healing of the nations,

for peace that will not end,

for love that makes us lovers,

God grant us grace to mend.  

Weave our varied gifts together;

knit our lives as they are spun;

on your loom of time enroll us

 till our thread of life is run.  

O great weaver of our fabric,

bind church and world in one;

dye our texture with your radiance,

light our colors with your sun.

I have a special place in my heart for church architecture. Everything has meaning–the stained glass windows, the iconography, the symbols on the altar, even the layout of the sanctuary.  It represents the divine and the incarnation and it’s a comfort to pause each week and consider the larger picture of eternity.

One particular sculpture in my husband’s church has delighted me over the years.  Probably because I’ve never seen the Virgin Mary depicted in such a way. 

Who knew that Mary was a spinner?  If you look closely, she is spinning fiber from a distaff on a spinning wheel while Jesus and Joseph work at their carpentry. I love the implication that she created yarn in the midst of being mother to the Messiah.

I can’t say that my spinning or weaving reaches heavenly heights, but it’s nice to think that fiber was part of the daily rhythm of the Holy Family.