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Sacred Space

Tactile treasures

During high school and college, I often spent time helping out in the offices of the Missouri Catholic Conference. Located in the basement of the chancery building for the Diocese of Jefferson City, MCC shared space with the diocesan missions office. Father Donald Green was a good Irish priest who spent a great deal of time soliciting support for the Peruvian parishes of Nasca, Capachica, and Marcona, and a fair amount of time at our family table. Hanging on the wall in his office was a beautiful, hand-pieced rug constructed of llama pelts that he had brought back from one of his trips to visit the people of Peru. It was difficult to walk past the rug without running your fingers across the soft fur, which felt like silk.

My parents asked Father Green, and he agreed, to bring a llama rug from Peru as a wedding gift for my husband, Michael, and me. We moved several times in the early years of our marriage, and the llama rug depicting a native of the Andes Mountains always captured a place of prominence in our home. It was, as one might expect, a conversation piece, but it was also a continual reminder of our connection with people in a place we'd never visited. Father Green had congratulated us with the blessing, "May all your troubles be 'little ones,'" and in due course our home was filled with little ones who were fascinated by the wall hanging. Our children relished the times when the rug came down for cleaning, running their fingers and toes through the silky fur.

While "textile" traditionally refers to a woven fabric, artists often experiment with various materials to create wall coverings, rugs, or hangings: furs, natural and artificial fibers, metals, and plastics may all find their way into artistic creations. Members of your art and environment team can likewise use imagination and creativity to make interesting banners or other hangings to enhance your environment. Tactile hangings can incorporate particular designs; however, the materials themselves will generate interest, so a simple motif may be best. Concentrate on two factors: color and texture. Use the liturgical season to determine the color and feel; for instance, summer ordinary time might call for a flowing, lavish feel, while Lent may speak more clearly with a sparse and subdued effect.

Imagine a loosely knitted design that incorporates a variety of yarns in shades of the same color family: a bulky olive green combined with marled yarn in shades of apple and forest, a bouclé in jade, and a ribbon yarn in a pistachio. Employing large needles and several knitters, panels could be produced quickly and threaded onto small-diameter café rods for hanging. The sagging that results from hanging can be minimized by blocking the pieces (a process of washing the completed work and laying it flat to dry) or by sewing lengths of carpet binding around the perimeter of the pieces before hanging.

If time permits, panels with designs can be constructed by experienced needleworkers. A crocheted afghan stitch lends itself to repetitive, embossed-looking patterns. For ordinary time, panels formed from a heather yarn with a motif of a tree or leaf might be created; for Lent, a panel using chenille or fleece yarns might reveal a purple cross on a gray background. A single small panel might be suspended in front of the ambo, a pair of large banners might flank the sanctuary, or multiple hangings might be displayed throughout the nave. Using specialty or artist's yarns in unusual hues to produce the panels assures that they are not mistaken for blankets.

Another textile approach involves weaving and knotting fibers. Collect materials from the same color family in a variety of textures to form these banners. Raffia, cellophane, yarns, velvet, jute, leather strips, organza, grosgrain, metallic cord, burlap, and lace are among the types of textures to consider. Your selection will depend on the type of weaving you plan to do and the effect you wish. Using a wooden dowel or café rod of the desired width, begin by slip-knotting doubled-lengths of the desired fibers on the rod. A variety of textures in similar hues can be knotted to the rod and then hung in place. Trim the bottom of the hanging, either in a straight line or at an angle to create interest. Or, you can slip-knot one of the fibers to the rod and use others to weave through to create a horizontal interest or perhaps a design appropriate to the Scriptures for the season, such as fish, trees, or birds.

In creating banners such as these for your parish, your art and environment team will view ordinary fibers in fresh ways, often combining dissimilar textiles to produce uniquely beautiful hangings. As your community prays and reflects, perhaps members will also notice the splendor produced by the meshing of diverse hearts into the Body of Christ. ML

author imageMary Patricia Storms is chair of the theology department at Archbishop O'Hara School and confirmation coordinator for the parishes of St. John Francis Regis, Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Bernadette's in Kansas City, Mo.