Did Rev. Elaine Marsh and Congregant Mary Carson know back in 1968 they were starting a 40-year mission that would include hundreds of church women, a famous illustrator and result in four huge embroidered works of art depicting their church history? Probably not, but as the story goes, there was a huge blank wall at the end of Guild Hall…
To my mind, and I’m not in the ministering business, any mission that spans forty years is an accomplishment so when in July, 2012 the last of four tapestries was hung there was a big celebration with a big turnout, specially written music and a sermon devoted to the efforts of the Plymouth Church ‘Needlers’. As I have researched this project I am impressed with Mary Carson’s forward thinking. Upon Rev. Marsh’s suggestion of art on the house-sized blank wall, Mary contacted several art institutes and churches including the Minneapolis Institute of Art and National Cathedral to ask questions and gather information. Maybe I’m imagining this, but to make a commitment to find enough people who can embroider, let alone be very, very good at it within the church volunteer ranks takes confidence and charm. To become a Needler, one must know 47 different embroidery stitches and pass an embroidery sample test. Each individual has their own style and tension so to make it all come together as a whole takes some serious project management skills.
I first became aware of the tapestries (and other fine needlework) Easter Sunday, 1984. Plymouth Congregational Church was my husband’s grandparents’ church. Having an interest and dabbled a little in needlepoint, I took notice of the beautiful textiles. Alfreda Wilder mentioned she needle pointed and later I learned she worked on one of the tapestries. Actually, they are not tapestries because the motif is not woven into the fabric—the technique is crewel embroidery stitched on Irish linen.
Click here for an in-depth story by Larry Sommers, Editor of The Congregationalist. Plymouth Congregational Needlers by Larry Sommers excerpted from The Congregationalist http://www.congregationalist.org/
The image shown above was a part of a story by the Star Tribune. StarTribune story by Mary Abbe.
p.s. Recently my husband and I have attended various musical performances at Plymouth Church’s Howard Conn Theatre. During intermission, I head to Guild Hall where I can study the tapestry and lovely needlepoint chairs. He always wonders why it takes me so long to get back to my seat!