Saturday, April 6, 2013

Church stitchery and a day's adventure at the convent

The embroiderer friends went on an expedition to north Jersey today, to spend the day at an Anglican convent being shown the most incredible treasures of stitchery, largely silk on linen and on silk, and wonderful goldwork, amazing experience.  This order of nuns includes virtuoso embroiderers, and the laywoman who showed us the workshop side of the embroidery, and the long history of stitching at the convent, is herself a great teacher and embroiderer, full of energy for the art.

Ecclesiastical embroidery is full of significance for the religion, and symbols, which you need to know in order to really get the narrative of the work.  Some of these pieces dated back centuries and are lovingly preserved, and some are works in progress.  The work of one nun, Sister Olga, was amazingly modern in concept, and a tour de force of design. 

I came away bound and determined to teach myself goldwork and fine stitchery as close as my skills will let me to this standard -- well, I'm far off, but I have to get moving on this.

After lunch, where we were the guests of the community, the Sister Superior showed us around parts of the building -- this is a big complex, includes a Daytop center for teen rehab,  and a  Retreat House where there was a silent retreat in progress.  In their library they have a great range -- all the way from Eats, Shoots and Leaves to an enormous vellum and leather book of hand drawn plainsong, which touched this old convent girl's heart, having studied plainsong for seven years.  The other excitement to me was to be up close and personal in the sacristy and on the sanctuary of the big chapel, forbidden territory to women in my youth, except for nuns who cleaned up and organized the vestments and generally tended to the backstage part of the liturgy.

One of the vestments, the one with shamrocks and other Celtic insignia, was made in honor of the ordination of a woman Anglican priest, with Irish ancestry, very moving to see.

Aside from the needlework, there was the interest of talking plainsong with the sister who is a musician, in fact, graduated from the College of Music in the same city where I did my degree at the Uni, and where I was in a student hostel with young musicians she probably knew, same era. 

She lamented the fact that the Church of Rome still insisted on singing plainsong in Latin, since, as she pointed out it works fine in English, too!  She has written books on plainsong, so I listened to her very respectfully.  Another guest, not a religious, chatted about the labyrinth concept, and was familiar with the one at Chartres -- I didn't realize that it was the starting point of the Sant  Iago de Compostela pilgrimage.  I learned a lot today.

Instead of using captions,I'll just pour the pix over you to bask! they're self explanatory except that the book on Goldwork is shortly going to belong to me -- I ordered a copy as soon as I got home. This will be my Summer Adventure this year, I think.


Minimiss said...

What stunning vestments and embroideries. Inspiring work and I can understand your wanting to do wome goldwork. I look forward to seeing what you do. I still can't get used to seeing nuns with no veils.

dogonart said...

Wonderful visit. Great review...looking forward to see what you eventually create.

Isabelle said...

What a wonderful visit. I would like to be here too, to examine closer all this marvelous things

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to see how these influences start showing up in your work! How fortunate to be able to see and hear the stories of these beautiful pieces!
JoyceP in WI