Eleven women sit around a table on a Thursday morning and chatter energetically as they needlepoint kneelers for the Church of the Redeemer. This group does more than sew: They talk about their week, get advice from one another on a new bathroom sink, learn about each others’ families and occasionally break for a bite to eat.
“We bond not just in needlepoint but in our lives, too,” needlepoint group member Patty Sullivan says. “We celebrate birthdays and have birthday cake. We celebrate births of grandchildren and are there for deaths of spouses. We have become really good friends through this.”
The ladies at the church carry on the centuries-old tradition to beautify their sanctuary and bond, even when many of their needlepoint friends are up north for the summer.
“It’s therapeutic,” says Ettie Smylie, the most senior member of the group. “It’s what I go to when I need to relax.”
Parishioner Nancy Boyle started the needlepoint group in 1973 after touring England’s churches. She saw beautiful intricate needlepoint work and was determined to beautify her own church with this ancient art form.
Boyle, and the original group, made all the needlepoint kneelers in the church beginning with the chapel. Each kneeler boasts a different design. They all symbolize faith. The current needlepoint group is redoing them after years of wear and tear.
“Needlepoint is timeless because of the designs,” says needlepoint member Joy Bustler.
After its initial formation in the church, the group became informal and many ladies met in each other’s homes. They continued making pieces for the church and enjoyed the camaraderie. But, in 2005, they came together again when the church needed a new high-alter rug.
It took the group of women and one man more than four years to complete the rug that now sits at the front of the church.
“The first stitch went in May 5, 2005,” says Sullivan, “and the last stitch went in Sept. 9, 2009.”
Needlepoint group members made the rug in six pieces because there was no canvas large enough to accommodate the project. Thousands of hours of work and 1,728,000 stitches later, the high-alter rug was complete.
Elizabeth Mossbarger was thrilled when the six pieces were sewn together and the group saw the whole rug.
“It was hard to visualize it in pieces,” says Mossbarger. “To see it all together was incredible.”
The art of needlepoint takes patience and skill to meticulously put a needle and thread through thousands of tiny holes on a canvas.
Boyle and Sullivan looked at every kneeler in the church and decided that the worn and faded ones needed to be replaced. Sullivan draws out the designs on canvas and the needlepoint group stitches them. Each member works on a different kneeler. The group meets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday.
Sullivan says the group does needlepoint “for the glory of God. To create something clear that is everlasting and for him and for us to enjoy.“
Contact Yaryna Klimchak at [email protected].
BY THE NUMBERS
1973 — The year of the first Church of the Redeemer Needlepoint Group meeting
165 — number of kneelers in the church. The Needlepoint Group will eventually replace all of them.
100 — stitches per square inch in the high-alter rug
1,728,000 — total number of stitches in the high-alter rug
WHAT IS A KNEELER?
In some churches, pews are equipped with kneelers in front of the seating bench so members of the congregation can kneel on them when praying instead of the floor. Congregants of the Church of the Redeemer use kneelers when they worship and pray.
WHAT IS AN ANTEPEPENDIUM?
An antependium is the frontal piece that falls down from the pulpit. It is used to beautify the pulpit where the priest delivers his sermons.
REPRESENTATIONS OF KNEELERS
•Kneelers in different parts of the church represent different biblical passages.
•The Chapel of Transfiguration has kneelers that represent the life of Jesus Christ.
•The kneelers in the baptistery represent the seven sacraments.
•The nave has kneelers that represent the lives of the saints.
•The choir kneelers depict The Benedicte.
•The balcony kneelers symbolize major Old Testament events and people.
•The succession of authority within the church is symbolized by various Episcopal shields at the alter rail and in the sanctuary at the High Altar.