Liturgical Vestment Seamstress Creates Works of Art

The moment I discovered the beautiful new liturgical vestment site created by talented artist and seamstress Rachel Murphy, I knew that I wanted to share this gift with our readers. I encourage you to take a few moments and visit and discover the amazing work Rachel is undertaking. The motto “faith and love in every stitch”, shared at the top of her site, is evident in the designs this talented young woman is creating. Check out my conversation here with Rachel and consider this next type you are in the market for a gift for your favorite clergyman. LMH

Rachel Murphy

Rachel Murphy

Q: Please briefly introduce yourself to our readers.

Thank you so much for giving me the chance to share a little about my work! My name is Rachel Murphy, and I’m a liturgical vestment seamstress based in Ashland, Oregon, though I’ll be in Salem for a good part of this year.

Q: What prompted you to begin creating liturgical vestments?

I didn’t actually sew–with the exception of a little class in Junior High–until I was 22. My sister was a very active Irish dancer at the time, and my mom Debra researched how to make Irish dance dresses (quite a feat for any seamstress, let alone for someone who hadn’t sewn in ages!) so that she could have her own trademark “solo dress” without the cost of going to a dressmaker. Well, I helped out with the embroidered lettering for the dress (we didn’t use computerized embroidery ~ just a “freehand” machine satin stitch, which I still use) and just fell in love with the process. I ended up making these dresses full time for the next five years. But almost as soon as I started the dressmaking, I thought to myself how fantastic it would be to use some of these same procedures (stained-glass-inspired designs, applique, freehand satin stitch embroidery) for the liturgy! I’ve always wanted to have some kind of prayer life, and perhaps some little work, for the clergy. Though the idea of making vestments was part of my prayers in general, I prayed specifically about it at the vigil Mass of Corpus Christi in 2004: that one day I’d use the same skills to make liturgical vestments. (Yes, I was audacious enough to ask for a sign…and mercifully–right after Mass–God humored me and I got it!)

Stella Maris ~ frontQ: What will readers find on your new vestment site?

They’ll find a kind of “gallery” of (mostly custom) vestments that I’ve had the honor to do for some amazing priests. But also, ultimately, I’d love for the site to become a resource for beauty in liturgical vesture–informational articles, links to others writing about the same topic, vestment history, etc. As I learn, I will share.

Q: How do your vestments differ from others that are out in the marketplace?

That’s a great question. Every seamstress, I think, has a real stamp, even though most of us don’t “sign” our work in any way, as a painter does. I think where mine differs is primarily in the custom design work, the “stained glass” look which also distinguished my Irish dance dresses from other dresses at the time. Many seamstresses use emblems that are pre-made (embroidered by another), or utilize computerized machine embroidery. Which is beautiful! I have done a couple of chasubles with pre-made emblems as well, but generally I like to do the applique and design work with my usual piecing method.

Also, one of my favorite elements of the custom work is the ability to capture something of the spirit/charism of that particular priest or deacon. For example, in the vestment set I made for the Archbishop of Portland, I incorporated elements of his own coat of arms, as well as that of the Venerable Frederic Baraga, for whom the Archbishop has a strong devotion. Or in the pelican design for a wonderful young priest. The symbol of the pelican, a traditional Christian symbol of self-sacrificial love, was very important to him particularly, so it was a joy to design a new interpretation of it.

AKS 2013, backQ: When is it appropriate for a parishioner or friend to purchase vestments for a member of the clergy?

Good question! In my experience, it seems that one of the most common occasions would be for a clergyman’s ordination to the priesthood or diaconate. For example, if a seminarian comes from a certain parish which he’s still strongly connected to, or one with which he’s spent his pastoral year before ordination. The parish will often want to give him a gift for that special day. Or, it could be that a priest or deacon who has served a parish faithfully, is moving on to another parish; such a gift could be a wonderful testimonial for his service. But sometimes even for a special day–Christmas, or a ten or twenty-five year anniversary of ordination–one might want, for example, to offer a special stole…whether it’s a full-length pastoral stole, or a smaller Visitation (travel) stole.

Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

If there was one thing only that I would love to share, it would be that I hope we can all be an advocate (whether verbally, or in our quiet ways) to never stint when it comes to the importance of beauty in the liturgy. The seamstress, the artist, the architect, the stained-glass maker, the musician–they are all doing worthy work to help lift the mind and heart to God. There are priests–St. John Vianney among them–who would be wearing threadbare cassocks and utterly living the spirit of poverty; yet when it came to the liturgy, they thought that “nothing”–to quote Benedict XVI–”can be too beautiful for God.”

Copyright 2014 Lisa M. Hendey

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