A community embroidery project needs someone to organise money and materials and to keep records. Even more importantly, the organiser has to maintain enthusiasm.
Some have found that it helps to begin with a small-scale project – kneelers for the chancel or a side chapel and not initially for the nave. Others arrange regular get-togethers where stitchers can compare progress and exchange tips. Often people meet in each other’s home, but why not copy the stitchers of Waltham St. Lawrence who on sunny days would sit in the churchyard after an excellent pub lunch working together on their magnificent altar rail kneeler?
But whether your project is large or small, the basics come down to money and materials.
In 2013, it probably costs around £30 to produce a kneeler. In practice, you will spend far more at the beginning when you buy up a sufficient range of wools than at the end when you are making use of all those half-finished hanks.
You can of course raise the money through the usual coffee mornings or stalls at the church fete. Or you can ask each stitcher to pay, or you can persuade non-stitchers to sponsor a kneeler.
But why not try Awards for All (www.awardsforall.org.uk )? If you are making a lasting record of local sites and activities or of local architectural details, you are undoubtedly eligible for a grant.
Your Cross Stitches or Tent Stitches will last a century or more. The weakness of any kneeler is in the chip foam stuffing, the fabric on the base, and in the strap or webbing that holds the D-ring or curtain ring for hanging the kneeler up. These will need replacing long before your stitching shows any sign of wear. Think of your successors and insist on the best quality.
Everything you need can be bought through the sites listed in SUPPLIERS, though many things can probably be bought locally.
Wools and a shade card, canvas, needles and frames (frames are only necessary for altar rail kneelers worked in Tent stitch) can all be ordered from Lenham Needlework (see SUPPLIERS).
Chip foam can be supplied by a local upholsterer but emphasise the need for this to be 10lb quality. This should last for 40-50 years. Some suppliers try to tell you that 6lb chip foam is suitable. It is not. It’s too squashy and will collapse within 20 years. If you can’t get it locally, go to SUPPLIERS.
Remember when ordering chip foam that the process of stitching slightly contracts the canvas: if your kneeler design is – say – 13.1″ x 9.1″, order chip foam of only 13″ x 9″. The page on MAKING UP describes how the finished canvas should be stretched, but some shrinkage is inevitable.
Any hard-wearing fabric can be used for the base of the kneeler but ensure that it really is hard-wearing. Nylon webbing is the strongest tape for hanging up your kneeler. Both should be available locally, but – in difficulty – go to Sundries in SUPPLIERS.
Software is a matter for your designer but coloured print-outs are simpler to work from than graph paper designs with lengthy verbal descriptions of what colour goes where (again, see SUPPLIERS).
Experienced stitchers may need little help, but those new to canvas work may want a some encouragement. Give them their canvas with the edges already turned under and the vertical and horizontal centre lines already marked.
It is also surprisingly helpful to start the first few centre stitches for them. It can at first be baffling converting a design marked out in squares to the crossed threads of the warp and woof.
Provide three needles – one or two may get lost, but surely they’ll never lose three.
You have the knotty problem of how to transfer your design to the canvas.
The simplest solution is for the stitcher to work from the paper design – whether graph paper or computer printout marked out in squares. But you need stitchers willing to count up to ten. It is surprising how many people deny that they can do this. But refer them to the kneeler shown in DESIGNING – anyone who can count to ten can copy this kneeler with ease.
If your stitchers still resolutely refuse to count, you will need to mark out at least the central outlines of the pattern on the canvas. Congregations vary in the faith that they put in marker pens. Some will only use a black marker pen. Others cheerfully use colour marker pens to fill in the whole design. Pessimists mark out the pattern with sewing thread.
The test of your belief comes when you need to stretch the completed embroidery. Those who persuade their congregations to rely on counting or who have marked out the pattern with sewing thread will happily dunk the completed canvas in a bucket of water, making it soaking wet before stretching (see MAKING UP). More cautious congregations who have used marker pens dampen the canvas gently with a sponge while stretching it and keep dampening it for up to a week. The fear is that the strong colours from marker pens may discolour the wools: this is probably not a real risk but may not be one you want to run without first experimenting.
Important warning – don’t forget the Diocese!
If you are planning to replace a large number of kneelers, you will require a faculty. If you are working on canvas of 10 or more stitches to the inch, your rate of production will necessarily be slow (the fastest stitcher will probably take three months to complete a kneeler), so you will not be replacing a large number of kneelers at all quickly and therefore will not need a faculty. If however you are using canvas of 6 stitches to the inch and have a number of willing stitchers, your progress will be rapid and you should check with your Diocesan Advisory Committee.
Some dioceses actively encourage kneelers that are local, original and unique. All will look at each application on its merits. Remember that locally designed kneelers recording matters of local interest or memorial kneelers for past parishioners are part of a small but important category of folk art largely pioneered in the Anglican church. No diocese will want to kill off this tradition.