Saturday 7 June 2014

Traditional Banner Making

Last year I was asked if I would make a banner for The Sodality of Our Lady in Dublin. A few brief sketches on the back of some scraps of paper accompanied the request and I found myself agreeing to take on the task. Exciting yes, but something that perhaps given my lack of knowledge of banners and experience of this type of sewing, somewhat rash to agree to! Work started in earnest in early 2011 and it took around six months to complete, working as and when I had the time. In terms of hours it took approximately 80 working hours.

Deciding on the design proved to be surprisingly problematic. A quick search on google provided much research material with banners ranging from large ornate, hand stitched, heavily embroidered designs costing many hundreds or sometimes even thousands of Euros to more simple designs though all coming in at a significant cost. Throughout the project, the banner design changed quite often as new ideas emerged, with pelmets being added and removed, the shape of the bottom edge changing and even the whole thing increasing in size!

The fabric chosen for the banner was a white ‘moiré’, a form of synthetic ‘water marked’ taffeta-style fabric purchased after a lot of searching by special order from a store in England. This type of fabric is often used for Roman vestments.

The basic layout of the front of the banner was one thing that remained the same from the begining, with a central panel to feature an image of Our Lady and wording to be set round it. These, it was decided, would be stitched out using machine embroidery and hand embellishment - a decision on the letters I was later to much regret! There are many on-line stores selling machine embroidery designs and many hours went into searching through them. In the end, three different designs for the central image were purchased and stitched out before the current one was selected and I think it is by far the best.

Once the image of Our Lady had been chosen and the thread colour decided on, it was stitched out by the machine onto the final fabric. The basic design was completed, the fabric was then hooped, interfacing placed behind it to support the weight and some areas were filled in with hand stitching (shown in the final pictures). I felt that beads would add some depth to the design. I used longer beads sewn into Our Lord’s halo. For Our Lady’s hundreds of tiny beads were strung and two rows were sewn along the top edge of her halo, each one being caught individually into place in order to get the shape. This beading alone was the work of several evenings, and was probably the most fiddly element.

In January we visited Rome to purchase items for the banner and acquired from Serpone the banner pole, finial and the gold trim, beautiful but not cheap! The fringing was purchased more inexpensively from a market stall providing fringing and trim largely for upholstery work.

The designs for the back of the banner were chosen and stitched out on the embroidery machine. The emblem of the sodality, a fleur de lys in a crown of thorns was combined on the computer specially for the project. In order to keep the banner against the pole a strip of fabric was stitched between the emblems with a velco fastening to hold it around the pole.

The lettering on the front of the banner proved much more time consuming. It had to be stitched in four parts and took quite a number of goes and a lot of planning to line it up. This was probably the most frustrating part of the whole thing and I think despite the time that would have been involved in hand stitching this it would probably have been a quicker option! The central panel was surrounded with trim and then hand stitched in place with several layers of wadding behind it to make it stand out from the fabric.

The trim was hand stitched in place round the outsides of the front and back panels of the banner and on the pelmet. It was quite thick trim and not easy to work with in forming the various shapes to go round the bottom of the banner and gathering it to go round the curves proved tricky. Much of the putting together the banner was done through hand stitching rather than machine because, in my experience, this makes finished pieces hang better and the recent retreat in Mount Melleray provided lots of opportunity for sewing on the trim whilst listening to the various talks.

Once the trim was in place the various layers were machine stitched together, the back panel, a layer of interfacing designed for shirt collars and cuffs, the front panel, the tabs to hold to banner over the horizontal pole and the pelmet the later two also with layers of interfacing. The interfacing was needed to help the banner to hang correctly, strengthen the fabric and so the decoration on the front did not show through from the back and vice versa. Once secured at the top the banner was hand stitched together along all the other edges..

The banner was blessed by Father Larkin during a Latin Mass held at a recent Sodality meeting in Blessed Cardinal Newman's University Church in Dublin. It has also been carried on two processions already, Corpus Christi in Cork and St Oliver Punkett at Drogheda. Amongst the other banners of the different groups attending these events I was pleased to say that it looked the part.

When asked to make the banner I did not realise what a big task it was going to be. Whilst I can sew I wouldn’t claim any particular skill, just a determination to complete things once I have decided on them! This later trait played a big role in its completion and there was certainly much to 'offer up' throughout! Into the banner has gone many evenings, much frustration and many pricked fingers, so yes, blood, sweat, toil and tears! Whilst I am largely pleased with the results, having now learnt much that I didn’t know about making a banner, there is a part of me that would like to do it again. This time I could do a really good job! It is nice to think that one has made something that will be used for years to come and that people are proud to walk behind.

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