Church banners from scratch

After seeing a banner I made for Telkwa Christian Reformed Church, Rev. Jim Poelman asked me how I get ideas for creating quilted hangings (“banners”) for a liturgical setting. That banner has four panels, which became the four seasons because it took a year to make. It has seven doves, which were inspired by a free-standing cross which I saw in Calvin Seminary’s chapel. It has mountains, fields, a city and a lake – the whole world in which the Spirit is at work.

I don’t have a lot of experience, either in quilting or in making banners. I get lots of ideas and love to do the designing part. I like to take a common Christian symbol so that it “means something” without too much stretching, then get as far away from cute as I can. I add subtle details for the ones who have the imagination to stretch. I sometimes use fabrics from members of the congregation to make it more communal.

As with everything else, I don’t use any one method the way it comes to me. I fiddle with it. And I really like the freedom of making things not line up on purpose. I tend to draw out my idea, enlarge it to the size I want it to be, and then cut it into strips of some kind or another and then sew them back together carefully not lined up to quite match. It makes it less stressful as well as a little more interesting. It drives some people crazy.

Piece by piece
After drawing the full-size details for my Pentecost banner, I divided it into seven pie-shaped pieces (with the doves facing into the centre, which was off-centre). Then I divided the seven sections into log cabin style strips of different sizes (which overlapped the boundaries of the sections, as log cabin strips do). I divided the large rectangle of a banner into four panels. I copied this design onto freezer paper, which I used for the templates. I cut the four panels and then each log cabin strip one at a time, picking fabrics as I went along. The “spirit at work” was tiny triangles of the seven colours of the rainbow, pieced into the picture. It took six months to get the design drawn out and the first panel sewn. Then fall came and I realized that I had just done summer, mostly greens, and there was a reason I had decided to divide it into four panels. The summer panel had a tall spruce tree. The doves went onto the second section, but I didn’t figure out how to make them until I finished fall, winter and spring, the whole rest of the banner. The pieces are actually too small, and the banner might be more effective if I had made it twice as big. Remember, everyone is looking from very far away.

When you have several quilters, I would recommend brainstorming the main picture you want to come up with in a group, maybe with the worship committee. Then have someone who loves to do that kind of thing tweak the picture into something that fits the idea, and divide it up some way, with the colours planned but not the fabrics. Have each quilter do their own section and then sew it together or hang it beside each other.

  • Elisabeth Gesch recently moved to Baffin Island, Nunavut, where she works as a hospital pharmacist. She is learning Inuktitut, wearing furs, growing an indoor vertical garden, baking to keep warm and watching independent films by Inuit film-makers (like Angry Inuk). She successfully wore a dress every day of December despite freezing temperatures to raise money with Dressember to combat human trafficking. Email her at moc.liamtoh@ellofzil.

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