Organising a church kneeler project or community embroidery programme needs someone to organise money and materials and to keep records.
More importantly than money and materials, the organiser has to maintain enthusiasm.
Some have found that it helps to begin with a small-scale project – kneelers for the chancel or a side chapel and not initially for the nave. Some parishes arrange regular get-togethers where stitchers can compare progress and exchange tips. Often people meet in each other’s home, but why not copy the stitchers of Waltham St. Lawrence who on sunny days would sit in the churchyard after an excellent pub lunch working together on their magnificent altar rail kneeler?
Whether your project is large or small, the basics come down to money and materials.
In 2019, it probably costs around £30 to produce a kneeler.
In practice, you will spend a lot at the beginning when you buy up a sufficient range of wools and less at the end when you are making use of all those half-finished hanks. But those half-used hanks and those end-of-canvas rolls will have cost you money. It is sensible therefore to assume that each kneeler will cost £35 and – with luck – at the end of your project there may be a little bit over for church funds.
What should your kneelers portray? Parish history? Parish landmarks? Local wildlife? Bible stories?
It is sensible not to be too prescriptive because anarchy may take over. You can try to guide your designers but must recognise that you won’t always be able to control them.
Size of kneeler – Size of stitch
Your first decisions to make are regarding dimensions of the kneeler and size of the stitches.
The average kneeler is 13” by 9” and 3” high but there are huge variations. Consult your congregation or copy the size of your existing kneelers. Now choose the size of your stitches.
The Kneeler Gallery records over 5,500 kneelers and almost all use 10 cross stitches to the inch. This stitch is larger than the usual font in books and newspapers so that even stitchers with reading glasses should manage easily.
Other congregations have chosen kneelers with 13 or 14 tent stitches to the inch. A tent stitch is half a cross stitch so – even though there are more stitches to the inch – it is faster to work.
The ambitious – as at Hereford Cathedral – select a canvas of 18 stitches to the inch.
Of the 5,500 plus kneelers, only one has been made with five stitches to the inch. Clearly one member of the congregation – through failing eyesight or arthritic fingers – could not manage ten stitches to the inch so a kneeler was specifically redesigned. Kindness is more than consistency. Steeple Aston must be an attractive place to live.
To see the available range of canvases, go to Lenham Needlecraft or to one of the other suppliers. You will note that all the canvases are measured in stitches to the inch.
Graph paper issues
Most graph paper in the UK nowadays is printed in millimetres and is therefore useless for your designers.
But there is still one site which expensively gives exactly the graph paper you need. Each sheet of paper has space for two kneeler templates.
You can also print your own A4 size by clicking on and select the stitch size that you want at Stitch Point. But beware – downloading and printing leads to slight distortions. Your graph paper will be excellent for trying out designs but you cannot rely on it to transfer your design with absolute accuracy to canvas via a lightbox.
Examples for your designers
If you have designers who prefer designing by computer, get them try PC Stitch. This website allows one free download, so encourage them to go to Pattern and experiment.
A computer printout can be valuable if you have many stitchers all wanting to start at once. You can have a standard design which can be augmented by one-off designs – as at Sherborne Abbey. Otherwise, you may think it not worth the cost.
Getting your stitchers started
Experienced stitchers may need little help, but those new to canvas work may want some encouragement.
Give them their canvas with the edges already turned under and the vertical and horizontal centre lines already marked. The example shows the old-fashioned way of marking with cotton: laundry marker indelible pens are safe and quicker.
It is also surprisingly helpful to start the first few centre stitches for them. It can at first be baffling converting a design marked out in squares to the crossed threads of the warp and woof. Provide three needles – one or two may get lost, but surely they’ll never lose three.
This example sows how a design is worked from the central stitch up to the border and how the size of the kneeler is achieved by counting the elements of the border to establish the position of the corner.
A surprising number of your stitchers may claim that they cannot count. On this example, a waterproof laundry pen has been used to mark in part of the design. This is a very bad idea. You must educate them in counting or you will be spending all your spare time copying designs onto canvas.
On this example, only a quarter of the kneeler has been marked out. Once stitchers have managed to fill this in, even the most reluctant will have discovered that counting is easy.
The importance of borders
Counting can however be a problem. The average kneeler requires 71 stitches from the centre to the corner. Even the most careful are likely to lose count. Make things easy for them with a patterned border.
Designing your border
Always start your border designs from the centre stitch then adapt your corners. Note that in the example above, the centre stitch on the side border is a single stitch, allowing an equal number of threesomes above and below. Outline your border. Doodle a different border. For further ideas, you may like to buy Alphabets Motifs and Borders or – slightly less good – Traditional Samplers both by Brenda Keyes (see suppliers).
Produce a template
Order graph paper from Amazon. Each sheet of paper has space for two kneeler templates.
Given the cost of graph paper, you may like to draw the outline of your kneeler – remembering the extra stitch horizontally and vertically – eg 13.1 x 9.1 inches. Mark in the centre lines. Draw in whatever border you have decided on. Most Print shops or Photocopying shops will be able to print you numerous A2 copies for you to issue to your designers.
You need to choose your wool size. Appleton’s Wools – used by William Morris – come in 2 ply and 4 ply (see suppliers).
With canvas of 10 stitches to the inch, you will need three strands of 2 ply. With canvas of 13 stitches to the inch, you will need 4 ply wool or two strands of 2 ply. Using two or three strands in the needle allows you to shade your colours by the way you mix strands of dark, medium and light colours in the needle. Always use an alternating mix of two or three shades in plain backgrounds – it makes for a much livelier effect. 4 ply wool gives you clear contrasts but looks rather dead across large areas.
The sides of the kneeler are often worked in a textured stitch in a plain colour. The advantage is that it is much quicker than the tent stitch or cross stitch you have used on the top of the kneeler. Some speed up the kneeler-making process dramatically by using a plain fabric on the sides – as at St. Edmundsbury Cathedral, Suffolk.
An excellent book on textured stitch varieties is The New World of Needlepoint by Lisbeth Perrone (see suppliers). At St. Mary the Virgin, Stanwell, near London, each stitcher chose a textured stitch from the book and that stitch became their signature on the kneelers that they made.