CETG Meeting on Monday 10th June 2019
Our Speaker – Elizabeth Bond
Her Subject – Restoring a Victorian Altar Frontal
Here is an overview of Elizabeth’s talk, along with photos taken on the evening and from her website.
Elizabeth’s talk was about the altar frontal restoration in her local church in Kingsley, near Haddenham and Longwick.
There has been a church at Kingsey since the 11th century and it was re-built in its current form at the end of the 19th century with the help of Squire Wykeham of Tythrop House, Kingsey and his wife, Georgiana who was interested in textiles. The church was consecrated in 1893. The white altar frontal was made to Georgiana’s original design.
The idea for the restoration of the frontal began in 2011. The frontal was very much part of the Church - something that was always remarked upon by the congregation and visitors.
Elizabeth explained that she started out as a Mental Health Nurse before attending the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) in 2003 and moving into teaching and textile work.
Elizabeth displayed samples of her previous embroidery and textile work together with her qualification certificates from the RSN for the Church and it’s members to consider before she was chosen to undertake the altar frontal restoration project. She put together a bid of how she thought it could be done and the project got underway in summer 2016.
Whilst the work was carried out, the church was open to the public so people could come and see how it was progressing. On the busiest Sunday they had 40 people in 2 hours! They provided tea and cakes to help with the cost of the restoration and were even left a bequest from someone too.
The first part of the exercise was to measure and trace all the designs. Watered down PVA glue was painted around the motifs before cutting them out. A slate frame 2 ½ metres long was needed which took two people to move. They had very good lighting provided by a church member who worked in production. A grid structure was used to work out where everything should be positioned and entomological pins were used before tacking the motifs in place.
On examining the back of the piece it could be seen where the original work had been extended and perhaps this was when the fabric was stretched and damage done to the original work. Pins were found left in the embroidery and also thread waste within the layers.
Each original motif was cut out very carefully with a scalpel. On attaching them to the new fabric frontal they had to keep checking that it was all straight. The motifs were tacked on, then held in position using stab stitch. The motifs themselves were in quite good condition so they could be lifted out and any loose threads repaired, but they were quite dusty so they needed specialist vacuuming.
The public were also involved and were allowed to put a stitch in the work. The youngest stitcher was three and the oldest in their nineties.
Within the goldwork some threads had popped up and were re-couched. Once the stab stitching was done the motifs were couched all around the edges, which covered up the stab stitching. When the motifs were completed, work began on the side bands. These were found to be in a very good condition and the repairs were done using invisible threads and darning. The whole piece was stretched onto the frame using drawing pins. The main fabric was a white linen backed with plain white cotton attached using herringbone stitch. Grosgrain ribbon was secured around the edges to give extra strength and protection. The fringe was also repaired. It is very beautifully coloured and very fragile. The threads were darned back in and mounted on cotton tape. The fringe really enhances the colours in the frontal.
The project started in July 2016 and was ready and used on Christmas Eve. During the work they had 292 visitors, 134 stitchers, it took 358+ hours, and the money raised from refreshments was £611.
Also, a lot of people began stitching again following their involvement in the project!
The restored altar frontal was re-dedicated in 2017 and is now being used for celebrations: Easter, Christmas, Weddings etc. It is stored in a fabric bag in a wooden box.
Since completing this project, Elizabeth has been asked to do more Church embroidery repairs including for a Church in Northampton, and has also been asked to design and make an Altar Frontal for another local Church and some stoles for Vicars. This is all from word of mouth recommendations.
Elizabeth told us she loves learning new sewing techniques. She took a belt-making course and has made leather bags, and using these hand stitching and construction methods, has begun making shoes. She started with moccasins – during a summer course at Central St Martins in shoe design – then tried high heeled shoes. She can’t wear heels herself but makes them for other people.
Elizabeth concluded by saying her experience whilst at the RSN working on altar frontals has very much helped her further work. She would love to work for herself at some point and is trying to reduce her teaching hours.
photos © Liz Smith and Elizabeth Bond website / text © Tina Leslau