What you need
• Chipboard or MDF
• Chip Foam (high density)
• Worn-out tea towel or other thin fabric
• Strong thread
Optional: curtain ring or D ring and nylon webbing but note warning below!
Parishes that have regular school visits also seem to suffer from mischief caused by idle hands. Efforts to remove the hanging strap will be thwarted by following the procedure described below. But D rings remain vulnerable – determined fingers can work the D ring out of the strap. It’s possible to work it back again but you may prefer to use curtain rings. These can get distorted but do not seem to break.
Stretching the kneeler
The finished kneeler needs to be stretched since the process of stitching tends to contract the canvas. Dampening and drying also acts to re-starch the canvas and gives a professional finish. There are two methods of doing this – both work equally well.
But before you start, go over the finished kneeler carefully to be sure that there are no gaps in the stitching and that – in a cross-stitch kneeler – all stitches have been crossed. This is your last chance to put things right.
Now you need a piece of chipboard or MDF or similar rather larger than your canvas, a lot of thin nails, a hammer, and – if Method One is used – a mackintosh and boots.
Method One Soak the kneeler in water until wool and canvas are thoroughly wet. Now spread the canvas on the wood and nail it down, stretching it tight – and getting well-dripped-on in the process. This is the method used at St. Cynog’s, Boughrood, Powys.
Method Two Nail the canvas to the wood, pulling it tightly as you go. Now mop it gently with a damp sponge ensuring that both canvas and wool become damp. Keep sponging it gently for a week. This way you don’t get so wet. This method is used at St. Mary the Virgin, Stanwell, Surrey.
Pull the canvas tight, checking the size against your chipfoam. But try to avoid a scalloped edge – you may need to use a lot of nails.
Let it dry completely before you remove the nails.
Covering the chip foam
The chip foam needs to be covered with a thin fabric before the kneeler itself is put on. This ensures that the canvas lies smoothly on the rubber without ruckling up.
Use a worn-out tea towel, pillow case or similar. No need to turn in the edges. Cut away surplus fabric. Use large tacking stitches. No one is ever going to see it but without it your kneeler will never look right.
Sew up the corners of the kneeler, using a strong thread.
Cut back the canvas leaving at least 5cm (2″) to tack onto the cotton covering of the base. You want to avoid too much bulk at the corners but do not want to cut the canvas so far back that it risks fraying. Now tack the canvas onto the cotton covering.
Do you want to hang up your kneeler?
You need a curtain ring or D ring and some strong tape. Nylon webbing seems to last longer than the alternatives – double it if it is too wide.
Sew the tape onto the canvas top and bottom and onto the cotton cover. This will foil any vandals.
Kneelers are usually hung up. Churches which have made kneelers from kits have been advised by the kit manufacturers simply to prop them up on the pews, but too large and colourful a display on the pews can detract from the overall appearance of the church. If your church is very large and high, this may not be a problem. At St. Edmundsbury Cathedral, Suffolk, the kneelers are displayed on the pews – but the cathedral is huge and all the kneelers share the same blue background. Most churches look better with hanging kneelers.
To complete your kneeler …
sew some strong canvas onto the base using a strong thread.
If you use a hemming stitch, use a thread in a contrasting colour to the canvas. This seems strange advice but remember your successors. Even the densest chip foam will crumble to powder long before your embroidered kneeler shows signs of wear. In about 40 years it will need replacing. If your neat hemming stitches match the colour of the kneeler canvas too closely, there is a real risk that your successors, in unpicking your work, may cut the threads of the canvas itself instead of your stitching thread. This imposes a horrendous darning job.
When hemming, run your needle along three or four strands of the kneeler canvas. If you pull too hard on a single thread of canvas you may snap it. Hemming is a fiddly job: Mrs. Cavendish of St. Constantine, Cornwall, recommends using a curved upholstery needle.
Alternatively, you can use buttonhole stitch to attach the base canvas to the kneeler. This is slower to do but will make the work of your successors very much easier.
If your kneelers are in very pale colours or if they are at risk from candlewax, sticky sweets or felt tip pens, spray them with fabric protector. Candlewax is particularly hard to deal with so if you have candlesticks in the pews, it is worth taking this precaution. Otherwise all normal dirt can be removed by a quick sponging with carpet cleaner.
Your finished kneeler will last at least 100 years – congratulations on your achievement.