Silk and batik clergy shirts – from bridal designers Nortier Shallow

Silk clerical shirt – I know the sleeves look long, but that way they cope with a multitude of needs.

I don’t profess to be in the slightest bit stylish, being happiest when comfortable, and am no model, so apologies for the grim photos (courtesy of my husband). I work in a variety of environments which tend to the cold and drafty at times, and require the wearing of a top layer of long, flowing robes in which I tend to wave my arms around a lot (aka: the ‘manual actions’ of the Eucharist Prayer and sharing God’s blessing and forgiveness)! Thus I like my clerical shirts to have ample room both for the arm waving, and the ability to hide a layer of thermals!! I’m basically just a little,… quirky.

I inherited some silk remnants that Cross Designs successfully made into a dress and shirt for my ordination as Deacon, but they tended to the ‘close fitting’ and they’re too far away for easy fitting sessions. Then I found some similar silk in CandH in Winchester, so for my ordination as Priest I got Ben and Adrien (Bahbua the designers at my local bridal shop BOO) to come up with something that fitted my quirky requirements. It was fantastic fun, and they fully entered into the spirit with which the material had been chosen.

My ‘pentecost’ clerical shirt – in cotton batik.

I was delighted, so when we found some batik cottons in wonderful colours at a quilting shop called Step-By-Step Quilts in South Molton whilst on holiday, I just had to get Ben and Adrien to have another go, the only alteration to the pattern being to reduce the depth of the collar, so that a standard collar insert fits without falling out. Once again I’m thrilled with how they’ve turned out, and the orange/green/pink shirt has already been christened my ‘pentecost’ shirt by the locals where I’m on placement. I also have red stars, which I’m saving for Christmas – no surprises there!

I’m hugely grateful to Anna at Boo, and particularly Ben and Adrien for making the whole experience a delight and coping with an eccentric cleric in their bridal shop.

My ‘pentecost’ shirt hiding under robes – I can even toll a bell in it!

Adrien and Ben are in the process of re-branding and will be moving to their own premises in Basingstoke as Nortier Shallow in the near future. I can thoroughly recommend them for anyone wanting something a little different made ‘bespoke’.

Not the cheapest option in clergy shirts, but way more fun and a great way of getting to know local businesses!

Another batik clerical shirt – Christmas stars!


More stoles and stories: red Ordination stole – and purple too!

My red, ordination, stole.
My red, ordination, stole.

Some while back I took delivery of what I thought would be my ordination (white – Christmas/Easter/Weddings) stole and the green (‘ordinary time’) stole, and now my stole maker has completed the red (Pentecost and Saints Days) and Purple (Advent and Lent) ones. During the intervening time the red one has in fact become my ordination stole after the new Precentor and our Bishop came up with the change of plan in the middle of our Deacon’s Day!

Once again I am totally thrilled with the way that Deborah Ireland has turned my scribbled notes and photographs, along with snippets of significant material including more bits of my wedding dress, into the most amazing creations which will mean I carry the stories of my faith journey and some special people into my ordained ministry.

P1080475cwThe red stole is all about the Holy Spirit – Pentecost being a deeply significant time for me, and if it wasn’t for the prompting of the Holy Spirit (both in my life, and in the lives of others who nudged me into getting my head round the possibility of a calling to ordination) I wouldn’t be just over two weeks from ordination  – interview with my Bishop next week permitting! Hidden in the stitchwork is the music for a favourite chorus that will make some cringe, but is one that can move me to tears and remind me of my baptism in the Spirit at St. Mike’s in Aberystwyth (Pentecost 1988) as well as many years of leading or singing in worship bands. I’ll let you guess what it might be!

P1080474cwPentecost was also about the people of God being enabled to do more than they could possibly imagine through the power of the Spirit at work in them – so there’s people there too, and though I didn’t design it with this in mind, everytime I look at one of the characters I think of my mother. The dove of peace is a bit of wedding dress, with one of the beads off the same to make it’s eye!

P1080468cwMy purple stole is double sided and it’s probably easy to spot the bits of wedding dress; losely speaking Advent and Lent. From an early age flower arranging was part of life (or at least sweep up after my Mothers’ church flower arrangements was), so as well as the symbolism of anticipating the light of Christ coming into the world, there’s a slight nod in that direction on the Advent side. There are also stars – something are both a significant interest of my husband and some very long-standing friends as well as being a reminder of the need to follow Christ faithfully even when we can’t really see where he’s leading us!

P1080464cwThe Lenten side used as its inspiration not only the crown of thorns placed on Christ’s head at the crucifixion but also the nails themselves – designed from a photo of some hand-made ‘crucifixion’ nails my Dad had made by a New Forest blacksmith a couple of years ago. Those familiar with the “Water Bugs and Dragonflies” book for explaining death to young people will understand why I wanted one on a stole I might well wear to take funerals – over and above the fact that they’re a big photographic passion of my husband and I. We are really impressed at the lifelike markings Deborah has created on this Common Darter that we photographed together with my Dad in a favourite place in the New Forest a couple of years ago (see below). The dragonfly’s wings are made of net from the petticoat of my wedding dress, and some of the material is taken from a gift received many years ago from a Nigerian Catholic nun aquaintance… I hope she appreciates the use I’ve put it too.


That’s me all set up with vestments then. I look forward to wearing them as reminders of so much of the past, but also the importance of making best use of past experiences and interests in my future ministry, such that God is glorified.

Stones into bread #givingitup 10th March #Lent2014 Matthew 4v1-4

Now, NOT my ordination stole, simply my festal stole! No less significant for all that :-)
Now, NOT my ordination stole, simply my festal stole! No less significant for all that 🙂

If anyone tells you that the Church of England, or the Diocese of Winchester in particular, don’t do change… DON’T believe them!

Today was Deacon’s Day in the Diocese of Winchester, and despite what I’d been led to expect it was a really good day. I got to see friends, existing and yet to be, as we sat together as a cohort of 12 for the first time. Important information was made as fun as possible, and our Bishop didn’t pull any punches in a seriously inspirational talk making quite plain what we were letting ourselves in for as far as being and ordained minister in the Diocese of Winchester is concerned. He was willing to make himself vulnerable to our sometimes searching questions, and very honest when the answer was ‘we haven’t got there yet’ whilst giving us as much of the ‘game plan’ as he probably could. It was obvious, that if we’re not up for ‘living the mission of Jesus’ now is definitely the time to say so, and take a step back. I remember being part of the Vacancy in See consultation a few years back and the whole of my group told the relevant folk that basically we wanted someone who would bring fresh ideas and a fresh way of doing things. We got exactly what we asked for, and now I get to help be part of the change, part of proving that the Church of England “aint’n’t dead yet”!

We also got to meet the lovely Precentor Sue, newly installed last week at Winchester Cathedral. She and the Bishop hadn’t had a chance to meet about this yet, so it was slightly like a game of tag. This was the point where we managed to get the Bishop’s head in his hands, poor man. I almost felt sorry for him as conversations about robes and stoles got very silly in a variety of ways; apparently patent pink DMs aren’t appropriate because pink is not a liturgical colour, and the laces would take too long to sort at the point in the service where the Bishop/s washes our feet!

Then I felt sorry for myself. I really must learn that if I’m going to be organised and efficient and get things done well in advance, I can expect to get my nicely laid plans well and truly shot out the water. Winchester has always (as far as I’m aware) have always ordained in white stoles, and as regular readers will be aware I’ve got my deeply significant ordination stole all finished and tucked away ready. Or at least I thought I had.

After they’d left us to the finer details of tat grants, the Bishop and Precentor had a little conversation, and the Bishop popped back in: were we up for being ordained in red stoles (signifying the Holy Spirit at Pentecost)?! Much excitement ensued from most, and in the end, I and two fellow early pre-planners, sort of gave a lopsided grin recognising that we’d be in danger of inhibiting change that signified the movement of the Holy Spirit if we didn’t go with the idea. It wasn’t like I’m not getting a red stole, and have a particular personal connection with Pentecost, and it IS a red letter day on 29th June (Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul), so… I told the Bishop I’d be ‘fine about it in the morning’ 🙂

So, after that snapshot of having to accept change when you’ve asked for it, Maggi Dawn gets me turning to Matthew 4:1-4 for tonight’s Lent reflection: the devil tempting Jesus, who is fasting in the wilderness, to turn stones into bread.

My immediate thought is that it’s not a rock that needs softening to feed our bodies, but our hearts that need softening to feed our souls, and the souls of others; we mustn’t get ourselves set on there being only one way of doing things!!!

Maggi talks about a period of 40-somethings (days, years, whatever) signifying a concentrated period of preparation and transformation in Bible-speak (as per the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the desert). How long it was in reality might not involve the number 40, and that isn’t actually a concern – the point of there being concentrated preparation and transformation is much more important. So like ordination training and formation then 😉

Maggi notes that the temptation with food whilst fasting emphasised Jesus was as human as you and I, and in turn emphasises our physical existence. I would add that this in turn emphasises that all that we are called to do can ONLY be done through the power of the Holy Spirit but that we need to know when it is appropriate to invoke God’s power in this way.

And what better time to do that, than at an ordination service! Red stole it is then!!!

PS: Graham’s blog for tonight is here.

PPS: Now very excited that I’ve realised that Canon Missioner to Exeter Cathedral and Diocese, Anna Norman-Walker is conducting our ordination retreat! At least I think that’s what the Bishop said… (note to self, must listen better!)

My stoles and stories: Ordination and Ordinary

My ordination stole,  made from my wedding dress, with a design by myself and Deborah Ireland who brought it to life.
My ordination stole, made from my wedding dress, with a design by myself and Deborah Ireland who brought it to life.

On Tuesday I collected a cardboard box that had been delivered to reception and took it to my room at college. There I tentatively unwrapped what will be my ordination (ivory/white) stole, and the green stole I might where when appropriate in ‘ordinary’ time.

Months before I had entrusted a series of scribbled ideas, my wedding dress, and a selection of photographs taken by myself, my husband and my father to the wonderful Deborah Ireland and given her, and her trusty sewing machine permission to create something wonderful.

My hands shook as I peeled back the tissue paper. Knowing my own story and being able to interpret it for others as I did in during the selection process is one thing. Giving my story, past and future, into the hands of another to re-present for me and for others in such a way that God might receive the glory, was quite another.

Deborah has done an amazing job, and now I await with excitement my purple (Lent and Advent) and red (Pentecost and Festivals) stoles. In the mean-time here are the first of my stoles and my stories:

Detail of the rams-head on my ordination stole - interpreted by Deborah Ireland from a photograph I took of a Swaledale lamb on a rain-soaked Swaledale last summer!
Detail of the rams-head on my ordination stole – interpreted by Deborah Ireland from a photograph I took of a Swaledale lamb on a rain-soaked Swaledale last summer!

My ivory silk wedding dress has been turned into my ordination stole. The image on the right (above) is one that I drew as part of my discernment process, and incorporates the silver St. David Cross (by Rhiannon of Tregaron) that my father gave me whilst I was at university, and a symbol of the Trinity. The ram lamb on the left, also makes reference to the sacrifice of Christ, but yes, there is also the a reminder of the sacrifices I must make, and a quirky nod in the direction of my lamb-like name and ‘handle’ or username 😉 The design incorporates wool from on old numnah from my mothers’ old riding tack! The wheat and the grapes speak of bread and wine, the celebration of Eucharist that I might one day celebrate as a priest.

The reverse of my ordination stole incorporates beadwork from my wedding dress and my prayers for each couple I might one day marry.
The reverse of my ordination stole incorporates beadwork from my wedding dress and my prayers for each couple I might one day marry.

But this ordination stole hides a secret. Clergy usually wear white stoles to officiate at weddings, and it was always my intention that this stole would include more than just the material of my wedding dress, and specifically make reference to my marriage and my hopes and prayers for those weddings I might celebrate with others. So on the reverse to be worn facing front when appropriate, is some of the bead-work from that same wedding dress, entwined rings for entwined lives, and a celtic cross emphasising Christ’s place within them.

God’s creation represented in the wildlife that has formed part of my story

There is no such overt Christian imagery in my green stole, and yet I would say God is in everything represented there. Here is God’s creation as I have experienced and loved it throughout my life; each plant and animal represents an individual living organism with particular significance in my life. There is the oak that stands near the grave of my mother, aunt and grandparents; a Fallow buck, the animal that I have watched with my father from earliest memory; the Red Kite, the bird that has followed my life since my university years, inspired my poetry and frequents my theology college; the trout I’ve caught with my father and the badger that frequents his back garden; the thistle flower and  Common Blue butterfly that frequents my regular walks with my husband, and flag iris and Demoiselle damselfly that we seek on our more watery walks; there is cow parsley, another reference to Minstead churchyard and our wedding, and bluebells from my childhood walks with Dad near Fritham now reprised in the copse near my current home.

So those are the stories, here are the stoles, and my prayer is that I will be able to use both in the years to come for God’s greater glory.

Resurrect and recycle – can a wedding dress be reborn?

There’s a lot of material in my old wedding dress!

Yesterday we finally attacked a task of such monstrous domestic terror that it has been put off for at least three years. We sorted through our roof space. (Well most of it!)

Among the old lecture notes, text books, guitar magazines, rolled up carpet off-cuts and cast off clothes, was one of the things which had precipitated this unusual behaviour. My wedding dress.

Twenty years ago, and as our son pointed out in a rather slimmer period of my life, I was married in more yards of natural silk (and five net petticoats) than was probably sensible on a warm day in July. Since then, carefully folded into an old florist’s box, my wedding dress has lain hidden away.

Beadwork on the bodice of my wedding dress

Interestingly although it sparked many reminiscences for both of us, my husband has almost more emotional attachment to it than I have. I guess I wasn’t looking at it from the outside, and it wasn’t me that played with pearls on the bodice during the Best Man’s speech when no-one was looking!

It looks in pretty good nick, though it seems a slightly darker shade of ivory than I remember it, and has some minor mould damage near its hem. I don’t have a daughter to hand it on to, and it will only deteriorate more if it returns to the loft, so now, it’s hanging, a little like the ghost of a Tudor lady, from the curtain rail of our spare room, awaiting its fate.

Husband dearest wants to have the bodice panel removed and framed for posterity, whilst I was thinking this would be rather easier with the bow at the back. We may need to compromise and achieve both in one frame, if we had the foggiest who might be able to do such a thing.

For the last few months, in fact since before being recommended for ordination training, I have harboured the idea, inspired by snatches of conversation with others over the last couple of years, of using all that silk for making clerical stoles, or at least a ‘white’ one. White stoles are after all used by priests when taking weddings, and I can’t think of anything more appropriate than using my own wedding dress for that!

The bow at the back – in fact the ‘tails’ are sewn into the waistline, and the ‘bow’ is hooked over to hide the zip that ran below the buttons.

I know I’ve got two years before I get as far as ordination, and there’s no certainty I’ll get there at all, but at least that’s time to work out if the idea is a runner. Could it be cut up to the right shape, or shapes? Is it suitable to be dyed? Is the material of the right sort? Could it be silk painted? What could be used to line and strengthen it? I’m not sure where to start, or even if the silk is pale enough for this to be appropriate, or anything really.

Then there’s all that netting that makes up the five petticoats. If we’re cannibalising the silk itself for various forms of posterity, could someone make use of all that netting?

A lot of net!

If anyone has any experience, wisdom, bright ideas or alternatively wants to give me a sanity check, now would be a great time to share it with me. Please.