Hand Embroidery & Church Linen Purificators: How-To Make Altar Linens

Hand Embroidery and Altar Linens: Step by Step Instructions

As the weather turns colder, it brings thoughts of a cozy fireplace, soft music and something relaxing to wile away the afternoon. In the Ecclesiastical Sewing workroom, that usually means some type of hand work. Hand work can take on many forms. It can be the finishing stitches to current projects such as this collection of pastoral stoles awaiting tassels, fringe and crosses.

Church Linen Purificators - Designs and Patterns

Handwork & Hand Embroidery: Why So Pleasurable for So Many?

Handwork can be in the form of finishing work on clergy vestments, hand embroidery, hand hemming or stitching altar linens. I enjoy the hand work more as each year passes. There is something calming in doing handwork. It is a way to slow down the passage of time when working a skill to a level of accomplishment. With quiet hours of handwork, there comes time for thinking and contemplation. Handwork teaches patience in this world where everything else happens in an instance.

Sewing Church-Related Projects: Vestments, Paraments, and so much more

I know there are many in the church who look at photos such as those above, and say, “Yes, I would love to serve my church in this type of ministry, but I wouldn’t know where to begin.”  There is a desire with many to use their hands to create works of beauty for their churches, yet the skills and knowledge to sew altar linens and church vestments has been lost. My greatest desire here at Ecclesiastical Sewing is to encourage, support, and provide information to those who would like to use their skills to provide the church vestments and church linens required for worship in the Lord’s House. And, I know some of you will be saying, “Yes, I would love to do this, but I do not sew.” Fear not. If you have a burning desire to serve in this way, the rest is all in the details and can be learned.

I can hear some of you saying, “Yeah, but I have never picked up a needle or it has been years since I have done anything with needle and thread.”  We can all come up with thousands of reasons for NOT doing a thing. The first step to do something is to put those excuses aside and start with a reason to do a thing. (There are countless examples from scriptures to look to  if you doubt). My first step is always DESIRE! Desire to provide a gift in small measure of thanks for the many gifts I have been given. And so, I encourage those who desire to work with their hands to make altar linens, or stoles, or what ever it many be to start with your desire, and just begin. It never hurts to dedicate that desire in a little prayer, too, that your gift may be pleasing in the sight of the Lord.

Sewing Altar Linens: Starting Easy

So, let us begin with a desire to use our hands and skills to create something of beauty. How and where does one start?  Let’s begin with a small item of church linens. It could be either a purificator or a keep sake baptismal towel.  To make this easy, we offer pre-cut purificators and keep sake baptismal towels that can be used as a beginner’s project to introduce hand embroidery and the making of church linens.

Church Linen Purificators - Designs and Patterns for Hand Embroidery

This particular altar linen is a pre-cut keep sake baptismal towel which is intended to be given to the parents of a newly baptized infant. For an older child or an adult, one might select to embroider a purificator or lavabo sized linen. This towel is small so that one gets used to the concepts of turning up linen hems and mitering corners without having to stitch long hems at the beginning. Getting an item completed builds confidence to tackle larger projects. This is all done one step at a time. And for those who want to take the plunge and dive in at the deep end with a large project, please forge ahead following these concepts on a larger scale items. The concepts are the same, regardless of the church linen item being made. There will be slight differences in hem widths, but the rest is basically the same.

Church Linen Purificators - Designs and Patterns for Hand Embroidery

Ecclesiastical Sewing has a Small Altar Linen Hems and Hand Embroidery Designs booklet available at our way of saying “Thank you” for signing up for our email list. The booklet details many of the tips and instructions needed for hemming small altar linens. The email sign up is at the bottom of the page HERE.


Church Linen Purificators - Designs and Patterns for Hand Embroidery

A few basic sewing supplies are needed: scissors, thread in contrasting color for basting, fine white hand sewing thread, needles (size 10 or 12), embroidery floss in white, ivory, pale grey or pale blue. A small ruler and pencil are also helpful.


Church Linen Purificators - Designs and Patterns for Hand Embroidery

The pre cut linens are cut to the correct size. Even though we have prepared the linens, it is always best to check that the edges are straight, and pull a thread of two if needed. Be sure to trim any uneven edges. When making altar linens or sewing church vestments, I always like to take the additional step to baste. Basting serves to hold layers together, or to mark an edge or hemline when all other making methods fails or would leave a mark. The above photo shows the hems being basted prior to folding up the edges.


The first row of basting is in place. Continue basting around all of the edges.




Next, fold the hem along the basting line. At this point it is alright to overlap the linen corners.



Here you can see that one if folded over the other.


Fold the hems up one more time. The width is about 3/8″.  By following the rest of the instructions in our Small Altar Linen Hems and Hand Embroidery Designs, you should have enough information to complete the hemming of small altar linens.

Making altar linens for your worship community is a gift that is used every Sunday, and in many cases, every day. Well made linens that are well cared for may last for many years. I hope you will consider providing the gift of creating beautify hand-made linens for your church.

Solo Dei Gloria

Be sure to visit our online store front Ecclesiastical Sewing where you may shop for Liturgical Fabrics, altar linen fabrics, church vestment making patterns, liturgical machine embroidery designschurch vestment trims and notions and so much more. You may also find us on  Ecclesiastical Sewing  on Facebook , Twitter, and Pinterest. Sing up for our mailing list  at the bottom of the page on our online store front and receive a free copy of our Small Linens Booklet as our way of saying thank you for following along.






Filed under: Altar Linens, Church Linens, Ecclesiastical Sewing, Fair Linen Tagged: Altar Linens, Church Linens, Ecclesiastical Sewing, Fair Linen


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