Sunday, 6 September 2015

The University Chapel Project - September 2015 update

The latest meeting of the Chapel Stitchers took place on Friday. Our design for the altar frontal has been approved, so we can start work.

There was some discussion about the designs for the stoles, communion sets and the central cross on the frontal, but we decided that the best plan was to concentrate on the embroidered hands for now, and use these as a basis for the other elements. The background fabric was decided upon and will be ordered, but we already have a selection of donated fabrics for the hand motifs, so we carefully removed the painted hands from the mock-up, sorted them into colours, and began matching them to fabrics.

Jo Morrison from Student Skills Development popped in to tell us about the University’s volunteering process. The hours spent on the group’s previous project, the 175th anniversary quilt, were all logged on the volunteering database, and the plan is to do the same for the Chapel Textiles Project. Staff, students and alumni can all register and log their hours, and the previous meetings which we’ve held can all be included as well. Contact Kath Roberts ( for more information.

There are 13 of us in the group, so the plan is for each person to embroider four hands, which will get us well on our way to the 60 or so we need. The remaining hands will be plain, made in whatever colours and sizes are needed to fill out the design.

Christine has written some instructions for making up the hands; Kath Roberts has copies for anyone who couldn’t get to Friday’s meeting. However not everyone in the group has experience of preparing fabric for embroidery, so here are some quick notes on how I did two of mine.

First of all, draw around your hand template onto the fabric. You can do this with an ordinary pencil, or a silver quilter’s pencil, but please don’t use an ink pen. On dark fabrics you can use chalk, which is what I’ve done here.

If you are worried about the chalk line rubbing off, you can go over it with a small running stitch in a contrasting thread – just remember to remove it from the finished hand!

For this hand I tried pinning the template onto the fabric and stitching round the outline.

I prefer to do embroidery in a hoop, as it stops the fabric from puckering as I work, but this is personal choice. If you do want to use a hoop, but your fabric is too small to fit properly, never fear.

Simply get a piece of scrap fabric (I’ve used calico, but any sturdy fabric will do) and pin your hand fabric onto it, making sure that the shape isn’t distorted. Then hand or machine sew round the edges.

Then, put this into the hoop as normal.

You might also want to do this if your chosen fabric is thin and/or slippery, to give it a bit more body. Conversely, if you don’t want the extra thickness of the backing fabric, you can (very carefully) trim it away.

Wrong side, showing the backing fabric cut away

If your hand template is larger than your hoop, you can always do part of your embroidery and then move the hoop to the other section. If you do this, always take the fabric out of the hoop when you're not working on it. This reduces the chances of the fabric getting marked by the hoop, or the embroidery you have already done getting squashed by the hoop.

An alternative is to put your embroidery in a tapestry frame, if you have one. Again, you might want to apply your fabric to a larger backing piece. Attach the fabric to the top and bottom of the frame as normal. Then using either double thickness thread, or a thicker thread such as buttonhole, stretch the fabric sideways to keep it taut.

Stitching through the fabric and round the sides of the frame

I’ve been sewing for (loud coughing sound) years now, so there are probably lots of things which I should have included in these notes, but simply didn’t think about. If there’s anything at all that’s not clear, either add a comment below or drop me a line at, and I’ll do my best to help.

Don’t forget to save all your fabric scraps (or carbage, for those who like obscure sewing terminology), as they can be used in the stoles and communion sets, to tie all the pieces together.

The next meeting is on Friday 6 November, usual time and usual room. Until then, happy stitching!

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