Liturgical Mending

 If you’re a clergy wife, the wife of an acolyte, or even just a woman who was unable to hide from the priest the fact that she sews, you’ve probably had to do some mending of vestments. They get a lot of wear and tear and you also may inherit old vestments from someone else that are not in great shape. Considering how complicated and expensive they are it can be daunting to even think about much less do. I am by no means an expert or even very accomplished at this but I thought I’d share the little bit I’ve learned over the years.

The most common mending you may have to do is sewing a button back on. After that, putting the two halves of an epitrachelion back together where they’ve come apart.

Sewing ornaments like crosses back down is also a frequent need.

The key is preparation. Try to have some basic supplies and you will be able to take care of mending quickly (um, Father isn’t reading this, right?).

Having a variety of buttons is good. If you inherit an old epitrachelion that only has three buttons left, don’t try to match them, cut them off and save them (they might match something else later) and put a new set of buttons on. Try to match the style of what was there even if you can’t match the button.

A variety of thread is needed too. Here are some of my “golds”. Not all gold is alike and repairs may be very obvious if you use the wrong one. They don’t have to be metallic although that is a good idea for some more visible repairs.

Sometimes you wind up with extra galloon. Great. Save it. You never know when it may come in handy.

Same thing with leftover scraps of brocade.

You will want to have cord on hand for fixing cuffs. Those cords fray over time and then break. Inevitably your priest will have tied the broken ends together a few times before you get your hands on them. A lot of cuffs are made with satin rattail but some priests (like Father) find it too slippery. You can buy different cords by the yard at fabric or craft stores. Actually, some kinds of shoelaces can work well although you’ll want to remove the hard bit at the end. You can melt the ends carefully over a candle or use some good quality no-fray liquid.

I don’t have any pictures because none of Father’s cuffs needed repair today, but here’s how to replace a cord. The cord will be inserted about an inch or a little less into a seam of the cuff. Carefully snip the threads holding the seam together where the cord is inserted and pull out the cord. Gently insert the new cord into the seam and firmly sew the seam shut, making sure you take several stitches through the cord. These get pulled really hard and so are at risk for simply popping out. Not a good thing to happen an hour before Liturgy when you’re still at home with the children looking for lost shoes.

When fixing a button, make sure the thread matches the galloon because it will be visible. (If you have a button with the loop on the back (shanked) instead of holes (unshanked) you can get away with slightly non-matching thread.) Remember that there are no button holes so you have no practical need for a spacer. The sides are sewn together and the button is sewn on separately.

Fold the epitrachelion in half lengthwise, right sides together. Insert your needle in the satin behind the galloon, not in the galloon itself.

Then take your next stitch in the opposite side, again in the satin, not the galloon. Pull this stitch tight and as you do so allow the epitrachelion halves to open up so the space between the stitches is eliminated. Then continue to stitch back and forth for another five or six stitches.

Now sew on the button. Some people prefer to sew flat unshanked buttons with a thread shank (nice explanation here) but it doesn’t really matter. It’s pretty much just a question of taste.

One little word of warning here: some epitrachelions have a neck opening that is wide enough to slip over the head with the top of the epitrachelion sewn together but others do not. Just make sure you don’t get overzealous and sew the top together so that your priest cannot get his head through. He will not be happy and most altars do not come equipped with seam rippers.

Sewing an ornament back on is no harder than sewing on a scouting badge. It’s the same principle. The biggest difference is that the ornaments vary in consistency and it may be hard to get a needle through the edge. This is definitely the time to use a thimble.

Usually there is a little edge of felt or other material right around the ornament. Try to sew through that rather than the ornamental part because it is much less visible. These are usually very stiff so you do not need to sew around the entire perimeters. Just catch it every so often and you will find that it won’t pop up. The larger the ornament the more often you will have to take stitches (obviously).

The back of just about any vestment is lined with satin. Do your very best to sew only through the brocade and not through the satin. This is not hard to do if you’re paying attention. Use the fingers that are touching behind the area you’re sewing to move the satin back and forth a little bit after every stitch to be sure you didn’t catch the satin. You don’t want to finish the whole job and turn it over and see the outline of what you just did. Tacky.

This isn’t exhaustive and I haven’t covered hemming acolyte robes. This is another thing you may have to do a lot as they grow and new ones start serving. (The acolytes, not the robes.) Three things I will mention: (1) there is a limit to how many inches you can tack up without it looking ridiculous since all the robes are slightly A-line, (2) painter’s masking tape is a fantastic emergency fix for falling hems or even to do an entire hem before a service, and (3) hem the robes for the little ones a little shorter than you would think necessary so they don’t trip.

Let me know if you know of a good site with instructions for vestment repairs! I hope this helps.

4 thoughts on “Liturgical Mending

  1. This is a great post- another challenge- CLEANING vestments! I suggest taking an older vestment to a good dry cleaner and experiment. if they are successful, then build a relationship with them (I had the pastoral council president do this and get some good prices- he is a salesman so he's not afraid to talk them down)


  2. I just happened to be taking up an epitrachelion when I found this post. It had been inherited from a much taller priest, so not only did the length need to be changed, but all the crosses and the buttons needed to be repositioned to look right. Your post really helped give me the confidence I needed to do the work, thank you.


  3. Drusilla, so glad it helped! I've had to shorten two or three epitrachelions for Father. I should have taken pictures and done a post just on that because it involved actually cutting out part of the fabric, etc. I was terrified but you can't tell they've been altered (except on the back, but it's not too bad).


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