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Heavenly Embroidery

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It’s not hard to make the mental connection between embroidery and the celebration of worship. Yet, how is this time-honored craftsmanship relevant to the commercial embroiderer of today?

Throughout history, embroidery and other needlecrafts have been associated with the rich imagery and pageantry of religious ceremony. In the modern church, women still adorn various items methodically by hand, using traditional patterns and techniques, including cross-stitch and needlepoint. It’s not hard to make the mental connection between embroidery and the celebration of worship. Yet, how is this time-honored craftsmanship relevant to the commercial embroiderer of today? Within five miles of my home, there are several religious specialty stores serving a variety of religious faiths in the community. To name a few, there is a chain store named Joshua’s Christian Store, two stores with Jewish oriented merchandise called Judaica and Dreidel , The Baptist Book Store and a shop with largely Catholic merchandise called The Sacred Heart. Any shop of this type is an excellent prospect for your embroidery services, either by direct offering in their store, or by furnishing referrals.

After reading the suggestions for products and services given here, put some thought into the type of services that you would like to offer. Then approach religious specialty shops with a proposal of how you could work together. You may be pleasantly surprised at how well embroidery complements the existing offering of these businesses in your community.

Research Before You Begin

Research the many religious symbols and colors before you begin - there is a lot of ground to cover. Photo courtesy of Morehouse Publishing.

Regardless of the religion, there are ways to begin in religious embroidery with work that is easily mastered by any embroidery professional. Some research will be necessary, for although there are many universal symbols in Christian religions, subtleties exist. For example, the Baptist religion uses a plain, unadorned cross, while Lutherans, Catholics and others favor a more ornate “budded” cross. Likewise, colors have significant, specific meanings in the church year and worship items. Refer to a book such as Symbols of Church Seasons and Days by John Bradner, published by Morehouse Publishing for more information.

It’s relatively easy to get detailed information as well as a wealth of artwork for religious embroidery on the Internet. While much of the available information on religious embroidery relates to hand embroidery, much of it translates easily to computerized work. It’s a great place to get ideas for your new offering, as well as making sure that you are correct in the use of the various symbols.

To begin your Internet research, visit www.webclipart.about.com and click on the Religions tab. Also, use a good search engine such as Google to search for detailed information and artwork suitable for your offering. If you plan to digitize any of the artwork that you find, be sure to read the information regarding permission to use, as the art on some sites are restricted from commercial use. After you have done your basic research, visit the web sites or catalogs for commercial stock embroidery design companies to see how many suitable designs are available.


Simple Things First - Christening or Baptismal Gowns

There are many opportunities for embellishment to commemorate christenings, such as the bibs above. Photos courtesy of The Joy Collection.

Some of the simplest projects can be the most rewarding. A great way to get started in religious embroidery work is by adding personalizations to Christening or Baptismal gowns. Often kept in families for generations, it is customary to embroider the name of each child onto the keepsake garment. The embroidery is applied to the underdress, or slip, of the gown. Because the fabric could be fragile, it is important to follow some precautions when working on these heirloom pieces. Yet don’t be intimidated by working with Christening gowns because it is basically simple work. It always consists of lettering done in white or off-white thread on white fabric. Script styles are the most common because of the formal nature of the gown.

Because Christening gowns are used from generation to generation, take the time to plan the layout of the names with your customer. Even though it is unknown how many children may use the gown, planning the spacing of the names from the beginning will help assure there will be room for many future additions.

This planning and special care required for a Christening gown justify special higher pricing for these items as compared to a similar amount of embroidery on a standard item. Explain to your customer that you will be using a special, very small needle to help preserve the integrity of the delicate fabric, and that you will use a sheer invisible stabilizer. The running speed of the machine will be slow, and the density of the stitching spaced appropriately for a lightweight fabric. After this brief education, most customers understand that a simple name and date on their keepsake gown is worth the price you are asking.

Commemorative Handkerchiefs

A thoughtful gift suggestion is a white cotton handkerchief commemorating a first Communion, Baptism, Confirmation or Bat Mitzvah. Embroider the name and date across one corner. Add a simple cross, Star of David or other appropriate symbol if desired.

Make a sample or two of this item to take with you on your initial visit to the religious specialty shops in your area. Be prepared with your pricing, and offer to leave the sample handkerchiefs for the merchant to display.

Bible Covers and Carriers

Often selected as gifts or presentation items, soft Bible covers or Bible carriers are easy to personalize with names and dates, even the name of a Sunday School class. The fabric can vary, but if it is too heavy to be hooped, simply hoop a piece of self-adhesive stabilizer and finger press the cover or carrier onto the sticky stabilizer.


Children’s Birthday Prayer Hanging

Kathryn Blocker, of Dallas, Tex., asked a local embroiderer to make a special plaque to be hung above her new granddaughter’s bed. In her church, there is a special prayer that is customary to be said on a child’s birthday. She brought in her own fabric and asked to have the prayer embroidered on it. The words of the prayer were customized with the name of her grandchild, and she completed the hanging with a special fabric border and hanging tabs. This would make another wonderful retail item to present to certain religious specialty shops. Here are the words as embroidered on Kate Blocker’s special hanging:

Watch over Kate, Oh Lord, as her days increase. Bless and guide her, wherever she may be. Strengthen her when she stands; comfort her when discouraged or sorrowful; raise her up if she falls; and in her heart may your peace which passes all understanding abide all the days of her life; through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Working With Churches, Temples and Mosques

Send a letter to the places of worship in your area explaining how you can tailor your embroidery services to suit their unique needs. There are many ministries within larger churches, so you should take the time to research the names of the individuals responsible for the larger programs, such as the youth director, choir director, Sunday School director and so on.

Choir, Bell Choir, Youth Groups

The director of the music ministries is a good contact because they work with an organized group within the church. Choirs often use religious symbols on stoles, robes or other apparel.

For example, recently, Embroidery Direct in Richardson, Tex. embroidered fifty T-shirts for a youth choir group. A member of the choir created the artwork, and the T-shirts are worn in certain presentations and on group outings.

Embroidery Direct owner Bob Hurd reports that he also does other embroidery work for churches, including award shirts for church golf tournaments. In fact, these award shirts have become so popular within the church that they have been ordered by many individual members who never participated in a tournament – they just like the shirt!

Paraments and Vestments

These terms may not be familiar to everyone so here are some definitions: Paraments are the altar linens and hangings in the church. Vestments are ritual robes worn by members of the clergy or their assistants at services. This area requires some knowledge and detailed research, but is quite accessible to the average embroiderer.


Some of the embroidery on paraments is large, and some is small, but for the most part altar linens have simple motifs or lettering. If you wish to offer this type of work, contact the Altar Guild director of the churches in your area. Page Kidd, of the Kidd Company, was asked by some good friends recently to make altar paraments for a new church. After the church representatives selected their designs, they were digitized and stitched. Adds Page, "We do a lot of work for our local churches in the area as well, yet not all of it is embroidery. We recently had a new church built in our community, and we took a picture of the church and had the photo with their motto, put on 500 coffee mugs (sublimated). We also laser engraved ink pens for the Confirmands with their name and the Confirmation Bible verse."



A Cope is a choir vestment of dignity, which may be worn by any order of the clergy. It is a long semicircular cloak open in the front of rich material generally matching other vestments in the color of the season. Photos courtesy of A Heavenly Stitch.

Interestingly enough, embroiderer Lynn Smith of Wellington, Colo., became heavily involved in after she married an Anglican priest. After making and embroidering his vestments, his colleagues began asking her if she would make items for their churches.

"I offer very high quality items at half the price of large supply houses," says Smith. Regarding her special niche, she explains, "I price them so smaller churches and missions can afford them. I also make traditional items that are no longer offered by the supply houses."

Even though Smith makes elaborately embroidered products, she has purchased all of the designs that she currently uses, and does not yet own digitizing software. How did she find all of her designs? "I scoured the Internet," says Smith.

Also a gifted artist, you can see Lynn’s offering at www.anglicanpck.org by clicking on Resources, then on Church Linens by Lynn Smith.

Business partners Sue Gaddis and Barbara Broom began creating elaborate vestments nine years ago, and began embroidering and digitizing five years ago. Their business, A Heavenly Stitch, is located in Phoenix Ariz., and its profits support a ministry for single women. For a look at some very inspired ecclesiastical embroidery work, visit their web site at www.aheavenlystitch.com. Be sure to click on the frames for close-up views of the embroidery.

If you would like to try your hand with this type of embroidery, and assembling the garments or paraments as these embroiderers do, consult Sewing Church Linens by Elizabeth Joseph, from Morehouse Publishing. Also, Simplicity sewing pattern # 7950 contains patterns for several items as well as embroidery transfers intended for hand embroidery, but that could be digitized.


First Communion banners and baptismal banners are simple and small, using very basic religious symbols. Usually made on a base of felt, a banner must be made for each and every child who is baptized, christened or confirmed in many churches. A good book on the subject is Banners For Worship by Carol Jean Harms, Concordia Publishing. Another quality reference is The Banner Book by Betty Wolfe, Morehouse Publishing.


There is no reason to undersell your professional services simply because the customer is a church. Chances are good that even at your regular prices, your church customers are paying less for similarly embellished items purchased church supply houses. Yet, if you experiment with this niche’ market, you may find that its rewards go beyond the monetary scope.

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Meet The Author: Deborah Jones
Deborah Jones is a commercial and home embroiderer with 31 years experience in the computerized embroidery field. She is the founding editor of Club Ed, an educational newsletter for home embroiderers, and vice-president of education for Great Notions.

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