Even before Covid, the church at St Ives had planned a complete revamp of the interior. Retired minister Heather Walker, who joined the church 8 years ago, was part of the team to oversee the reordering. Heather is a member of Artserve, a group dedicated to promoting the arts in worship; Artserve encourages participants not just to buy things ‘off the peg,’ but to commission unique pieces from craftspeople working in different disciplines. Among the original art and craft that the team at St Ives decided to incorporate in their revamped interior was a large banner, to hang on one of the blank walls at the front of the church – and Heather contacted me.
The banner team rather liked my design Fire, Water, Earth and Air, and felt it would be lovely to have something with a similar inspiration that would also tell their church’s story, and reflect its work in the local community. In ‘normal’ times I would have gone to visit the church, seen the setting, and had a good long chat or two with the team, but of course we all had to do everything remotely. We spent several weeks discussing different concepts and formats; sketches went to and fro, were pored over by the team, then amended to reflect new ideas as they arose. Slowly the idea emerged of a central Celtic cross, surrounded by vignettes reflecting the different aspects of the church’s setting, history and work. I did a full-size drawing of the final design, photographed it and sent it to the team, and was given the go-ahead to start the work.
I couldn’t find a Celtic cross that was exactly the shape/size/proportions that we wanted, so I designed one specially. The vertical panels pick up the Fire, Water, Earth and Air themes:
• the flames in the first column, as well as symbolising the Holy Spirit, represent the fire that swept through the church in the 90s; to everyone’s amazement, as they surveyed the damage, a tortoiseshell butterfly fluttered up from the interior. At the top of that column is John Wesley, who visited St Ives in 1774, lighting the spiritual fire of Methodism in the town. Underneath him is the original church building, since replaced.
• the church stands next to the River Great Ouse, which is featured in the second column, along with the iconic stone bridge that spans it, and examples of both the humble and seagoing barges that plied their trade on the river for many years. The church’s own baptism font is shown at the bottom of the column.
• the earth theme is represented in the harvest scene to the right of the cross, the sower underneath, and the bread and wine of communion.
• air is symbolised by the breath of the Holy Spirit in the worship panel bottom right, and the church chose Love Divine by John Wesley, to the tune of Blaenwern, to echo the old saying that Methodism was born in song!
I don’t think I’ve ever done a single project that incorporated so many different techniques: piecing, appliqué from the front, reverse appliqué, fusing, fabric painting, satin-stitch appliqué, invisible machine appliqué over freezer paper, machine quilting, free machining … We also wanted the design to reflect the church’s ecological emphasis, in the river and the pastoral scenes, and the multi-ethnic nature of the town. The market scene at the far right was very important, as the market is the beating heart of the town, so I spent a good amount of time getting it just right; that scene alone took easily a fortnight to research, design and stitch, and uses over 100 different fabrics.The banner was safely delivered a couple of weeks before Easter, though of course most of the congregation haven’t had the chance yet to see it in the flesh. The rest of the reordering of the church interior is going well, and with the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions, let’s hope it won’t be too long until they can!
Over the past 15 years I’ve designed and made many large banners for churches, and quite a few of them are shown here. If you’d like to talk to me about the possibility of making a banner for your church, please do get in touch.
Quite a few of the banner designs are also available to buy, so that you can create your own version for your own church. The designs are traced full-size onto dressmakers’ tracing paper, and come with basic instructions on the best methods for assembling the designs. As these are all hand-traced, and so take a little while to produce, they aren’t sold through our online shop; just e-mail me for details.
I also offering a one-day workshop on planning, designing and stitching your own church banner; this is ideal for a church stitching team, or for a group of churches in an area to run together. It’s not a stitching day; instead, we cover the whole subject of creating your own design, including: • different ways of getting inspiration • brainstorming and mind-mapping ideas • exploring symbolism (of images, ideas, colours etc) • creating moodboards to help you refine your ideas • strengths and challenges of working in a team • avoiding pitfalls • choosing techniques • working with different fabrics • hanging methods
Please contact me with any enquires and for more information.
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