Input from Imaginers and Craft People

This Sunday I’m starting a three-week sermon series on forgiveness. October 31, week three, will be an intergenerational/family service, in which the kids will stay in the service rather than go to Sunday School. So I’m working with some folks on making that service a bit more interactive and multi-sensory than usual. (Yes, worship geared primarily toward adults should be that way too… baby steps.)

Rather than preach on forgiveness that day, I intend to use this story about a group of students at McKinley High School in DC whose artwork was vandalized. Rather than react in bitterness and seek revenge, they took the defaced items and made a brand new work of art with it, a canvas mural entitled “Renewal.”

During these three weeks I’d like people to consider a relationship in which forgiveness is needed and to pray for transformation, healing and courage. (Yes, courage—in my reading on the topic, I’m realizing that forgiveness is, in the words of one expert, not a “namby-pamby thing that doormats do. …Forgiveness is a brawny muscular exercise” that people with “a great passion for life” undertake.)

On October 31, the last day of the series (and here’s where I need help), I would like to give people random, torn scraps of fabric, that would represent that broken relationship. Then during a particular time in the service, people would bring those forward as a way of symbolizing a step forward into healing and forgiveness. Somehow these disparate, broken items could become something beautiful together, such as a drape for the communion table.

I am trying to figure out how to do this from a materials and process standpoint. It would be interesting to have a sheet of fabric that people could somehow attach their pieces to in the service, and then they could be sewn more permanently later (we have crafty quilters and banner makers in our church, which is a gift). The other alternative would be to have them put the items in a basket and have our crafty people put them together into a coherent image later.

The former is logistically challenging and not as aesthetically pleasing perhaps, but it could be much more powerful to see it come together in real time (I did this one time at a youth retreat with Legos—kids came forward and put their pieces onto the base and it was strangely powerful.) The latter has fewer logistics and might yield a more polished result.

I’ll be talking to our creative types this weekend but wanted to see what wisdom was out there on the internet. What kind of fabric, what types of materials, how might this work?


11 thoughts on “Input from Imaginers and Craft People

  1. Grace says:

    I will pass this post on to a mentor of mine who’s a genius with this kind of thing …

  2. sherry says:

    What about having people braid the pieces together?

    I am thinking that a braid that has been started with strips of liturgically colored material could be at the front of the church….and people could come forward with other strips of fabric that they then tie onto the braid and braid into the now stronger piece….

    So many ways this could be symbolic…

  3. Amy says:

    My first thought is something I’ve seen done a few times before – a bare grapevine wreath that people can tie their fabric scraps onto. Another idea is to use a large piece of plain muslin and safety pins. They could pin them on and then they could be sewed together later. If you had a really ambitious seamstress and a quiet machine, they could be pieced together during the service. THAT would be really cool, but really difficult.

    Oooh – or a messy option: a bowl of mod podge next to a canvas. Everyone could dip their fabric into the mod podge and apply it to the canvas. But then you’d need some way for everyone to wash their hands. Or maybe one person could do the applying for everyone… This would look really cool, particularly if all of the fabric was really different.

  4. keithsnyder says:

    I just ordered and received a medal case that uses velcro tape (adhesive on one side, hooks on the other) to position medals on a soft fabric (loop) backing mounted on wood. FWIW.

  5. Teri says:

    I woud do the safety pin route, personally.

    Last year we did something like this using paper dolls (they were about 12 inches tall, made of construction paper, Matisse-inspired). Everyone had one and we put them all over the sanctuary the first day (the series was on reconciliation, and we spent three weeks with the Prodigal story) and each week we moved them closer and closer to the front until on the last day we used masking tape and put them all together in one giant body-of-christ image where banners usually go. I’ll post a picture on the church blog so you can see it (

    I’ve definitely done something like what you’re describing using safety pins, though. I’ve also done the modpodge thing and if you have a bowl of water and towels nearby you can make the handwashing a part of the whole thing too…but that really does take longer.

    My biggest suggestion is to plan any music you might use during this ritual carefully. Otherwise people feel awkward. LOL.

  6. Erica says:

    If you could find the quiet sewing machine, I think go for it. Even if it’s not completed, to see it happening throughout worship would be wonderful. The sewing could begin at the beginning even before people have brought forward pieces, using sort of a reserve supply. I once saw a church use a liturgy throughout lent based on the Potters House story in Jeremiah (?) and there was a potter throwing a pot through the entire service each Sunday.

    And, taking inspiration from the lovely illustration up top, the quilters could work with some sort of shaping and silhouetting later to give it form.

    This is a big enough project that it seems a shame not to do something that could become a more permanent, re-usable installation for the church…as a banner, wall hanging, etc.

    A side note: I’ve got a spare copy that I would be happy to send you of a book that catalogues a private art collection that is ALL prodigal son inspired art-work. Over 25 pieces and in a wonderful range of styles. If you would like it, I will pop it in the mail.

  7. MaryAnn says:

    These are all great! Keep ’em coming!

  8. Laurie Fields says:

    I have done several variations on the idea of having a rough loom – about 2 ft. by 3 ft. or a bit bigger,(depends in part on how many people you have) and threading it ahead of time with plain cotton yarn. At the appropriate time, strips of fabric or ribbon can be handed out. If you want, folks can write on the fabric/ribbon, but be warned ahead of time that, especially on satin ribbon, you won’t be able to read it well in the end. Which can be a good thing- just so you know. After writing on them, people can then weave their fabric strips onto the loom. After the service, you could have a seamstress carefully take the fabric off the frame and stitch around the edges to hold it together. The finished fabric could then be used long-term as a communion table cloth or banner – either on it’s own or as the background with appliquéd shapes on top.
    The original idea came from an issue of “Reformed Worship” several years ago. They had a great regular back page feature about arts and worship – lots of good ideas. It used to be archived on-line – let me know if you want help in trying to locate it again. I haven’t looked it up in quite awhile.

  9. Janie Wilkerson says:

    I second the loom idea – except maybe use heavier rope (like clothesline) instead of yarn, just to make it more durable. In that case, you wouldn’t even have to remove and sew the strips later – just leave the strips woven into the “loom” as people have placed them.

    We did this once in a church setting and had a wide variety of colors/textures of torn strips of fabric on hand so that people could choose the one that best represented them – and then symbolically add their own color/texture – and brokenness – to the community being formed there on the loom.

    I love that you’re doing this.

    • Jan E. Lorah says:

      Okay, my two cents worth — in order to expedite the process, yet still allow the congregation to be part of the final “creation,” I am in favor of using a fabric glue stick. Each person would only need “dab” a bit of glue on the back of their chosen fabric, and then place it onto the background fabric. At a later time, a seamstress could use a simple zig-zag type stitch to go around the edges… and wah-lah: communion cloth, ready to serve the Lord. Also, I’d like to suggest you select a background fabric that you like — I’d go to a quilt shop, myself; explain the project, and they can guide you in selecting something that is appropriate. At a quilt shop, too, you can purchase little scraps from a scrap basket — usually for 10cents or less. Yes, you can get donated fabs, but then you open yourself up to a project of sorting and cutting and etc that has become monumental. If there’s one thing I learned over the years, it is the fact that KISS is one of the most important rules out there: Keep It Simple, Stupid! I love the idea, MaryAnn; wish I was there to be a part of this.

  10. Emily W says:

    I love these ideas.

    Cotton quilt batting will hold fabric temporarily as I have seen quilters plan their quilts from batting hung on a wall. We could put it on the communion table AND have a basket for more confidentiality.

    I have the batting and many fabrics. Will not tear them into squares or strips until we talk. Leslie has fabric markers!

    A braided wreath of the “ropes” made from these “offerings” is one idea. I could make the ropes as tubes stuffed with batting. A large bow with something written on it? We could use the wreath on a wall or as a centerpiece somewhere.

    Both Leslie and I liked the interconnectivity of this. She liked the braid as it may “cover” the writing a bit as forgiveness can attempt to do.

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