A New Renaissance in Vestment Embroidery Has Commenced

Often, in our contemporary way of thinking, we tend to think that the achievements of yesteryear in the area of liturgical vestments are simply not achievable today. By our logic, the vestments of yesteryear were painstakingly hand-embroidered over years by religious and others who donated their time and efforts toward the church as an act of the apostolate. By contrast, the best that is achievable today are machine-embroidered vestments which will necessarily be of infinitely lower quality and beauty.

There is an aspect of this which is true and an aspect which has recently shown itself to be false.

The aspect that is true is that in our day and age, the painstaking hours that go into hand embroidered vestments of any significant detail is all but dead. Certainly it would be possible for someone to donate their time and skill toward such a project as an act of charity and labour of love, but such projects would be few and far between -- heroic rarities at best (and I know of none). As for vestment makers who are trying to earn a living, while they may well have the skill to execute such projects, the number of hours these would require makes such work all but untenable for them to pursue commercially as the cost that would be involved in giving adequate compensation to the artist for those hours simply wouldn't be reasonable either for them or for the patron. (One is potentially looking at a year's worth of work or more depending on the complexity of the project.) This, then, leaves us with the option of machine-embroidered vestments, which can be done at greater speed and lower cost, thereby making them feasible for both the vestment maker who is trying to earn a living, and affordable for the patron who is commissioning the work.

What is not true, however, is the notion that machine-embroidered vestments cannot possibly hope to achieve the look and feel of the elegant hand-embroidered vestments of yesteryear.  A recent project coming from Sacra Domus Aurea has pretty well put that myth to bed, coming in the form of an Italianate embroidered chasuble they recently completed.

The chasuble is set on silk moire with gold and silver embroidery. To look at the piece, one could be forgiven for thinking it is antique. Watching the comments this item received on social media, it earned accolades from all corners (including the comments to the effect that it is perhaps the finest chasuble of its type made in the past 120 years -- which, in this instance, is hardly hyperbole.)

To my mind what this demonstrates is that, at least for chasubles of this sort, what is of less matter is whether it is hand vs. machine embroidered than the particular attention to detail that goes into its design and execution.

Here are a few more details:

This chasuble, which is orderable incidentally. is priced at 3500 EUR -- which, frankly, is an extremely reasonable price for something of these materials and quality (and to give people a bit of perspective, that's not much more than people will frequently drop on the latest gizmos and gadgets that they will have to turn around and replace in a few short years. This will last beyond your lifetime.)

A new renaissance in vestment embroidery has now officially commenced.

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