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The Victorian chapel altar cloth

Written by Esther Dean, sewing bee volunteer.

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 Bishops’ 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 the sewing bee volunteers should make and embroider a new altar frontal for the Chapel.

During lockdown, ideas for the overall design of the frontal and what the subject of the embroideries should be were mulled over. Eventually drawing inspiration from the Palace garden, it was decided that we should embroider many of the different plants that grow there, all of which should have some biblical or religious significance.

Once lockdown was over, we all got together and joined by the Wimbledon Craft Group we all chose our particular plant motif and set to work interpreting it in our own way and style.

The embroideries finished, we then set about what turned out to be the mammoth task of actually putting the frontal itself together. After much cogitation, measuring and laughter, we spent several weeks in various rooms in the Palace working on it. The rooms were open to the public and we had a continuous stream of visitors whose interest and enthusiasm for the project was very encouraging.

Now that the frontal is ready to be hung on the altar in the chapel, we hope that all the people who visit the Palace will be able to appreciate and find inspiration in the hard work and enthusiasm of all those who contributed to its making and that it is a fitting 21st-century gift to the chapel.

We have drawn up an information sheet on the frontal with notes on each plant motif, plus the name of its embroiderer, any biblical or symbolic references and notes on its relevance to the Palace. There is also a plan of the Palace garden noting where all the individual plants used in the frontal can be found.

We need to say a big thank you to all those volunteers, staff, our donors, the wider community and anyone who added a stitch. They have contributed their time, abilities, talents and enthusiasm to the making of this frontal which we all hope will be an exciting and stimulating new addition to the Palace.

Discover the references and symbolism of the embroidered plants.

Plant map

Learn more about the altar cloth project. 

Learn more about volunteering at Fulham Palace

From the sewing bee to the garden, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved at the Palace.