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Exciting embroidery – an update from the sewing bee

Written by sewing bee volunteer Esther Dean.

Many moons ago – in what seems like a different age – before our lives were turned upside down by the pandemic lockdowns, the sewing bee and Palace embroiderers were looking for a new venture. They had embroidered postcards, kneelers and bishop badges. What could they now do, to give something to enhance the Palace and that could be a project for the whole community and also for their own enjoyment? The idea emerged that we should make and embroider a new altar frontal for the chapel.

Then COVID struck, we were all isolated in lockdown and could no longer meet up together at the Palace. The idea of the frontal had been mulling around inconclusively now for some time. With time on my hands, marooned in my own home, I started to think about ideas for the design of the frontal and how and what embroideries we could incorporate. What should the overall design be? What should be the subject of the embroideries be? Could we make use of the bishops’ badge which had been lying unseen in a cupboard for years.

Esther with her embroidery

Using an old sheet laid out on the floor, I played around with ideas for the design, and in to my head crept the vision of the diaper pattern of the bricks in the Tudor Courtyard. It seemed a good basis to start from. The bishops’ badges were quickly discarded as they did not seem appropriate for this project, they still await their moment in the sun. Many ideas for the embroidered motifs were running around in my head, possibly using the postcards that we had embroidered using parts of the palace architecture and gardens. Time in lockdown dragged on.

Then came the moment of the first lifting of the lockdown and some of us could meet up to share our ideas. We made several trips to the chapel to measure, then remeasure and then double check the size of the frontal. We had a wonderful day, full of laughter, in the carriage room using lining wallpaper to make a full-size template of the frontal, complete with its diaper pattern. From this we could work out where we should put the embroideries.

Esther's embroidery piece

Next, we needed to find a coherent theme for the embroidered motifs. They should reflect the sacred nature of the project, so every motif should have either a biblical or religious reference. But what should the integral theme be? Heads were put together and an organic theme emerged. The gardens of the Palace are so full of beautiful plants, it was difficult to make choices. Once again, we isolated with a series of lockdowns. It gave time to consider all the wonderful plants in the gardens, and look up any biblical or religious references and then make our choice. Many happy hours were then spent drawing and colouring the chosen images.

We still had not found the fabrics with which to make the frontal, so we had a trip to Watts, the ecclesiastical supplier near Westminster abbey, which is full of wonderful things. We also visited John Lewis furnishing fabrics for further inspiration. Finally, after a great deal of cogitation we settled on two fabrics as suitable both for the embroideries and the hanging of the frontal.

An embroidered motif for the altar cloth

We then collected together all the ideas, fabrics, drawings for the approval of our masters, before we could at long last go ahead with the actual making, embroidering and construction of the frontal. Vicky did valiant work converting her measurements to the chosen fabrics so that they could be cut up and distributed to our embroiderers and eventually used for the very complicated construction of the frontal.

At long last we have met up in person, motifs have been chosen, silks sorted out and this blog is to be continued to report on progress.

The sewing bee continues to work on the altar cloth project. To learn more about the project in their upcoming presentation on 11 August in the great hall.