Ongoing angels

The angel I began embroidering is still underway. The text “Gloria” got done and redone several times as I experimented with stitches for the lettering. The wings are currently on their third revision, as there needs to be the right sort of layout of feathers to please my eye, and I had only sketched it loosely. I took out the second try, drew a design more clearly, and am now re-addressing that. Not sure how I might vary the colors. I like the multicolored wings found in many depictions of angels:

Red and white wings for Saint Michael
Red, green and peacock-eyed wings on a Gothic painting of Saint Michael
Blue, gold and Peacock wings on this Saint Michael
Rose and slate gray/blue wings on an Eastern icon of Saint Michael.

There’s an enormous variation in the styles and colors of wings. Mine’s going for green and gold at the moment:

Experimenting with shading, metallic thread, pencil drawing, lettering and hands and faces.

On another note: I’d like to thank Sarah Homfray for her excellent, encouraging and calming series of embroidery videos which I watch repeatedly. And also Steve Young, a horse trainer whose long, real-time videos with chatty commentary are also great company while I stitch.

I really miss being around horses. Today my former trainer sent me a video of my elderly mare. She looks great for her age!!

Faces

I’ve spent the last couple years looking at a lot of old liturgical embroidery (in books, online), studying how faces are done. I’d helped a friend plan a machine embroidery of two angels a couple years ago and it was a lot of work getting the features just right. We worked with a professional embroidery machine programmer, and though she did a lovely job it was challenging learning how to communicate what we wanted. So they turned out well enough, but it was enormously time consuming. Then again, embroidering things by hand is time consuming. But sometimes doing something yourself is a time saver over explaining it to someone else.

So I had started practicing simplified ‘cartoon’ faces based on romanesque and gothic art, using Adobe Illustrator, thinking that if I could give the programmer vector art instead of paper sketches that might help a lot. But though I enjoy that process to some degree, I really enjoy working with tangible materials, and the other day decided to just pick a simple design and embroider it and see ‘where the shoe pinches’, as my voice teacher used to say. Doing reveals problems and challenges to work on in a way thinking about it never does.

I chose a simple angel in stained glass with heavy outlines and little detail, traced it with a pencil on a piece of white cotton (gently! so as not to damage my laptop screen!) Were I at home I would have printed it out and taped it to a window and then traced it using the window as a light box. But I am traveling, so very gentle pencil tracing is the solution. Since the main point was to just to practice, I didn’t worry about the exactness of the tracing.

Anyway, I started out outlining the head and features in dark brown, then filled in with a couple shades of pale pink. I’m not sure yet whether the heavy outline around the head was necessary, but given that these images will be seen from a distance, I think the heavy and simple features and outlines are helpful. I would like the fill to seem smoother, which might be possible with more careful stitching using my magnifier (which I don’t have with me).

Then I did the hair, starting with a dark ochre, then a medium ochre, and finally a pale yellow for highlights. I thought that turned out rather well, though here and there the direction of the hair got a bit random, as I ‘painted myself into a corner.’

Then I filled in the neck, and I will wait to see later if the ‘shading’ on the side of the neck looks okay or would be better done in another color or not done at all.

And then I thought I’d try some metallic thread I found on the trip. I started with three strands, which was not easy to work with. The thread is springy and stiff, and sometimes the three strands didn’t lay smoothly together and once one strand somehow fell out of the needle and got left behind for a few stitches. After a while I switched to using just one strand and repeating each stitch three times to give the weight and thickness I wanted. That was much easier. I started filling in the halo between the rays, making a contrasting direction with horizontal stitches using only one strand (with no repetition).

The metallic color is not exactly what I would prefer – a warmer gold is more to my taste – but it’s good practice, and a good way to get to know that kind of thread. All the thread is DMC. I’m using a piece of cotton like that found in bedsheets – it has a nice smooth surface and tight weave and stays put in the embroidery hoop without stretching or bagging too much.

We’ll see how this goes! I do hope you find these examples encouraging for trying your own projects.

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus

Again, in Europe, I am struck by the number of holy things now languishing in museums. The thousands of holy relics, the thousands of abandoned altars. Were they simply profaned at some point, taken and displayed? Or was there some sort of ceremonial desacralization performed? Can you desacralize the relics of a holy man or woman from centuries past?

If angels attend to each church and altar, do they simply wander away when that church or altar is turned into a mere tourist site, with no further sacred function? Or do they linger there, guarding their posts until the end of time?

Having read that Saint Francis of Sales made a point of greeting the holy angels of the places he went and the guardian angels of the people he interacted with, I was touched. I hadn’t thought of that, but I’ve often prayed to the saints whose relics languish in museums. Perhaps many other Catholic tourists do the same, whispering prayers as they stroll through the galleries.

Friends

I am quite touched by the work of Chris Ulmer, who has a long-standing series of interviews with kids with various genetic disorders. His plain human friendship with them and giving them a place to express themselves is lovely. Here’s his YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/c/SpecialBooksbySpecialKids

Lately he’s been doing fundraisers for some cases where the family cannot afford therapies or special education that would benefit the child. Here’s a recent one:

https://gofund.me/f2150f73

Our Lady of Aparecida’s blue mantle

I did finally finish a blue mantle for Our Lady. The combination is really lovely, I think.

The fabric was a rather heavy knit with a touch of stretch but lovely drape. Too difficult to fold and hem, so I used the trim to cover the loose edge. It doesn’t seem particularly prone to fraying, but I can add a ribbon to the inside to cover the edge when I have time.
Here I am trying it on. I marked both the mantilla and the mantle with an embroidered circle where the crown pin will go through the fabric so that I use the same spot each time and don’t damage the fabric randomly.
And then I remembered I had a pin from the original cape to hold it shut, and found that, and ta-da, all done. A future iteration could have embroidered floral/vine sort of patterns around the border. But this fabric is not necessarily the one to take embroidery. I’ll experiment later.

One thing I wanted to try is making a different dress for underneath. I have a lovely cherry/rose sort of colored satin that is light and drapey. I want to see how that would work for a different style of dress. The original image has a carved drapey gown. Not sure I can duplicate the look, but it would be interesting to experiment.

Relics

Here are some excerpts from a piece I wrote back in 2015, after my first trip to Rome. I’m in Italy again, and thinking about the saints, and that brought it to mind:

Rome was very moving. There was very much the sense of being in the heart of an ancient, sprawling empire. Brazil seemed quite evidently a distant outpost (albeit one which still maintains the old culture). I was amazed to encounter so many places and people I had read about. Here’s the place where Saint Paul is buried! Here is the head of John the Baptist! Here is the door to the first oratory of St. Philippe Neri! The stories that have become a part of my life came to life far more than I expected.
I traveled with a list of prayer requests, some quite specific (“pray for my oldest son at this particular Church” and that sort of thing). I adored the focus on prayer, and made a game of offering heartfelt prayers in front of every side altar in every Church, as much as time, tourists and my endurance would allow. Saints are so much fun!

Of all the many many churches I visited in Italy some were tourist attractions and some weren’t, mostly based on whether or not they contained artwork by famous artists like Bernini or Michelangelo. A few are simply popular for having important saints relics, like the basilica where Saint Rita’s body is kept in the village of Cassia. This impacts the religious use of the churches in one of two ways, mostly. One effect it can have is that the church infrastructure has been designed (or redesigned) to deal with thick crowds. At Cassia, for instance, you can’t really see Saint Rita, and there is no place to sit, kneel or even really stand near her body. The space (of recent design) has been set up to cope with a thick and constant flow of devout visitors, moving them along past a large window through which one can briefly see Saint Rita a few meters away. Some time spent in quiet prayer – or even just the intimacy of stopping, kneeling and having a chat – is not possible.

In contrast, Saint Catherine of Siena’s body, in Rome, is under an altar in a major church (if I recall correctly her head is elsewhere!). You can walk right up, kneel down, and spend all the time you like, assuming there is no Mass, wedding or other religious function going on. St. Paul’s tomb, likewise, has a few stairs down, some kneelers in front, a half dozen people coming and going (on a weekday morning), and is designed to allow you time and space for a private chat with the saint. The lesser known saints are often highly accessible, though in some cases they are in side chapels that are closed by decorative gratings, opened only on special occasions.

In any case, the other factor can simply be the activities of tourism and prayer themselves. The churches which attract large numbers of secular tourists usually have some specific chapels where photos are not permitted, reserved for prayer. Where that is not the case, there is little chance for intimacy or silence. It matters less if you are good at ignoring distractions. It makes some people crazy.

The quirky, unexpected disruptions that I encountered were a bit amusing. I went one Saturday morning to a church where I had gone before, recalling a particularly beautiful little side chapel to St. Philippe Neri that I wanted to pray in. I went into the church and saw there was a morning Mass in progress. The priest was in the middle of the homily. After making a brief reverence in the back pew I walked up along the side to the very front, where the chapel of St. Philippe Neri was. I was a bit surprised to see such a crowded Mass, though it was the weekend.

I settled into the cozy chapel, which is barely bigger than a typical large American bathroom. The homily went on and on. I barely understood it, in any case, so it was fairly easy to tune out. And then there was some shuffling and silence and I heard “I, Bruno, do take thee, Esther….” and realized it was a wedding. Doh. The bride and groom must have been obscured from view up front when I came in. How was I ever going to leave? I had blithely walked in in front of everyone, but going out I’d be facing the crowd. I decided to just finish my prayers in a leisurely way and play it by ear.

Fortunately after the vows there was a musical interlude and several people with fussy babies came and stood right outside the chapel where I was now hiding, so it was easy to casually slip out without being too obvious.

On another day, a weekday evening, I wandered past a church on a tiny side street, saw it was open, and slipped inside. It was small, and once inside I was immediately in the pews not far from the altar. There were two dozen men – part of some sort of devotional group – praying together. I felt like a bit of an intruder – there was an intimacy to the group and to the small space that didn’t invite random strangers to wander around. The body of a saint was displayed behind glass under the altar. I stayed briefly in back and then left, going back on another day when there wasn’t anyone there.

And later in the trip I got caught in yet another wedding, this one in the church of St. Cecilia. In an amusing twist my friend and I hid behind some pillars to watch the bride come in and saw two of the religious sisters who run the Church lurking off to the sides doing the same thing.

Beautiful pigeons

Common pigeons have their own charm and beauty, but there are some really shockingly beautiful pigeons (eta: and doves) out there. So diverse are they that here I just feature some that are charmingly pink:

Ltshears Trisha M Shears, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Ltshears, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Kao-Tai, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mantilla detour

The blue mantle is still underway, as I got sidetracked making a lovely lace mantilla… made from the remnant lace I scrounged at a couple of shops in Barcelona:

It was fun learning to sew the embroidered laces (for now tacked together gently without any knots, so they can be undone and redone if necessary), and it seemed quite possible that it’s not too difficult to embroider on netting to make one’s own designs. I used a piece of sheer gold-white organza underneath as a support, though I’m not sure that’s necessary.