Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Hand Embroidered Maniturgia – Ecclesiastical Embroidery in a Hurry


Last weekend, I began a marathon embroidery project on short notice. In about 35hours or so from start to finish (including set-up), I hand embroidered this piece of linen. I probably didn’t go about it in the most prudent way in the world, but, regardless, here ’tis…

A maniturgia is a long strip of linen that is wrapped around the hands of a priest during the ordination ceremony. The strip is often embellished – either embroidered or painted – and, after the ceremony, it’s given to the priest’s mother and normally buried with her.

The strip of linen can be different sizes, but customarily, it’s about 3 inches in width and about 5 or 6 feet long. The embellishment is not really essential, but it’s nice. At its simplest, the maniturgia can be left blank. But then it just looks like a long strip of linen…

So, after the phone call on Friday night that I already told you about, it came to pass that I undertook to make, in a weekend, a maniturgia. It shouldn’t have been any big deal, really – in an hour, I could have cut the strip of linen and folded it, sewn a seam, hemmed the short ends, and called it done. But nooooo. Noooo… I just had to get into my ridiculous head that I Must Embellish. At first, I thought painting would be quicker, but actually, since I’m more familiar with the needle, I settled on embroidering it.

Often, on a maniturgia, what you will see is text – either some sort of Biblical reference, or a snippet from a prayer, or something of the sort. Often, the text is a Marian reference; that is, it refers in some way to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. I learned all this, by the way, in the space of about an hour, consulting with people, making phone calls, and having them make phone calls. I didn’t know anything about a maniturgia before the fateful phone call Friday night…

I went to bed Friday night with a clear idea of what the maniturgia is and what it looks like, but without any idea of what I would do.

Saturday morning, I started playing with texts. The quickest way to layout any text for embroidery is, without a doubt, by using the computer. Sure, it’s nice to pen your own, but when you’re pressed for time, All Hail the Computer! I found a font that I liked that had decorative filigree capital letters, and then I took different texts and printed them out, word by word, in letters three inches high.

I had one phrase – Ave Maria – that was two words and would’ve worked fine.

I had another phrase – can’t remember what it was – that was about 14 words long. Um. Yes. I can’t believe I even considered it.

Finally, I settled on this phrase: “O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria” – I liked the phrase itself, I liked the amount of coverage on the linen, and I liked the layout of the decorative capital letters.

I should’ve stuck with “Ave Maria.”

Anyway…. first thing I did was space the words correctly, taping together the words as printed out on separate sheets of paper. You know, sometimes it’s good to have to work under pressure. I took a lot of short cuts I would not normally take, and learned that some steps in working up a design can absolutely be done away with.

Then, I found, among my collections of ecclesiastical patterns, a decorative cross to go on each end of the phrase. I made photocopies and taped them onto the same sheets of paper the letters were on.

Next, I cut my linen strip 12 inches wide and 60 inches long (well, it was 60″ fabric – so I just had to cut a 12 inch strip). I made the strip 12″ wide to accommodate a hoop easily. I dampened and ironed the linen, and then I was ready to go.

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

I marked off the 3.25″ inch strip that would be the front of the maniturgia, using a blue dressmaker’s pencil. Centering the linen over the center of the text, I pinned the linen to the paper.

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

You can see that the linen was sheer enough to see the pattern quite well. I used Legacy Linen’s Ecclesiastical linen, which is a beautiful, fine linen with a close weave and a super-smooth hand.

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

This is a blue dressmaker’s pencil, which I used to trace the pattern. An electric pencil sharpener comes in handy for quickly achieving a sharp tip on the pencil. It unfortunately tends to waste a bit of the pencil in the process, but time was my biggest concern, so I used the electric sharpener!

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

After tracing the whole design out onto the linen, I gathered together threads – two shades of gold, two shades of blue – needles, hoop, and the linen strip, and was ready to start stitching! By this time, it was around 4:00 pm on Saturday.

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

Stitching from left to right, this is what I finished on Saturday night. (That rhymes!)

Whoa. Not Much, in the scheme of things…

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

The entire piece is worked solely in stem stitch. As it worked out, I didn’t use four shades of color – only the darkest blue and the darkest gold, with the exception of the middle of the crosses, where you can see the lighter blue.

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

On Sunday, I stitched all day, practically…. until midnight! By the time midnight rolled around, I had finished “O clemens, O pia, O dulic Virgo…” and I only had “Maria” and one cross left. I hit the sack!

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

The last thing I did Sunday night was the gold filigree on the V. It was a lot of fun – I like all those little scrollies…

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

To start my threads on this project, I used a series of backstitches worked towards the starting point on each part of the motif, away from a knot on the top of the fabric. As I worked back towards the knot, covering up the backstitches, I snipped the knot.

But as I continued towards the last half of the project, and saw that I was running out of time, I elminated as many steps as possible – I started using (gasp, horror!) knots on the back of the fabric!

But I never carried threads from one letter to another – that would have made too obvious of a blue shadow. So, while there were some places I was willing to take shortcuts, there were other places I simply wasn’t! I don’t like the look of carried threads!

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

Monday morning, I got up and launched right in to the last word. My family
from Florida was going to be in town all day, arriving around 11:00, so I wanted to try to finish the whole thing before noon.

But, no luck. It took so much longer than I thought it would!

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

I finished embroidering the piece by 5:00 pm on Monday. Here it is, across the couch. It doesn’t seem very long, does it?

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

Even from this angle, it still doesn’t seem like much! But gosh. It seemed interminable when I was working on it!

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

And here it is, on the ironing board, after it’s been sewn up.

And, in sequence, here’s the finished piece:

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

“O Clemens”

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

“O Pia, O dulcis”

Hand Embroidered Maniturgia


Hand Embroidered Maniturgia


Hand Embroidered Maniturgia

And then I tried a side shot, to show you the gleam of the silk on the linen, but it doesn’t look that great. I’m using Soie d’Alger from Au ver a Soie, by the way – it’s a spun silk, so it doesn’t have as high a sheen as the filament silks. Still, it’s nice!

And that was my marathon embroidery project!

I’m needled out….


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(39) Comments

  1. What an athletic performance!!!!

    It seems to me that this “call to duty”…in the highest possible realm…gave you the opportunity to use everything you know.

    You should be proud!!!!!!! It is beautiful. (I think Mary will love it, too….)

  2. UN-believable! That is simply gorgeous! I know the mother of that new priest will always have a special place in her heart for you!

    Did you go to the ordination yourself?


  3. Hurrah for Mary! This is lovely and I know it will be much appreciated.

    Didn’t know you were a stitching angel but I think you can claim that title officially now.

    Jane, wishing you a Happy New Year from Chilly Hollow

  4. Absolutely wonderful! Are you going to establish the Emboiderer’s Olympics? You would win first place for the sprint! ­čśë

    It is inspiring how you wouldn’t settle for “good enough”. It shows.

    By the by, thanks for the new vocabulary word: manitugia. I guessed what it was when you were describing the dimentions, but I didn’t know what it was called. Wow! cool word.

    Yours in awe,

  5. Oh Mary! It’s just beautiful! Quite simple, compared to some of the work you do – but just lovely!!! You picked a lovely script.

    You are to be absolutely congratulated in finishing such a piece of work under such pressure.

    The priest (and the priest’s Mum) are lucky people!

  6. Would ‘Holy Wow’ be inappropriate in this context?

    Utterly amazing. “Not much”, she says….looks AWESOME to me.

    Let us know when your fingers grow back… ­čÖé

  7. A marathon indeed! This will be a good memory for the priest’s mother. Congratulation for your skill and speed.

  8. Stars in your crown, for certain, Mary. That is beautiful — who knew that simple stem stitch could result in such an elegant piece!

  9. Mary: I love your design — wonderful choices of materials, font and colors with just enough scrollwork to provide weight and formality. You have such a talented eye. And that’s before we get to the fact that you accomplished it all in an incredibly short time. You should be very proud of your work. SF

  10. Mary, Once again you’ve inspired us all! What a simply magnificent piece of needlework which will be cherished by a proud mom. I would guess that this strip of linen, wound around the hands of a young man about to step forth into a life devoted to God, was touched by the Savior’s hands, too. He certainly inspired and graced YOUR hands for the work.
    Blessings in this new year, North Idaho Connie

  11. Mary, I was touched just reading your post. I can’t imagine how pleased the priest and his mother will be. This is beyond lovely.

    I am a frequent reader, but I admit I the sometimes skim the words quite a bit and head right for the images. I just love to look at your work. But I am so glad I slowed down to read the full post today. What a great story to start a new year with.

    My best to you in 2009!

  12. I’ve been away for two weeks,and one of the joys of getting home was knowing i’d have some Needlenthread mails to view….Hey Mary,you never let us down!Just wish I knew where you get your energy…now if you could bottle that……but then,we’re not in this game to make a fortune, but to enjoy the shared delight.Thank You!Charlie

  13. Ah, the thrills of a quickie job! First there is the adrenaline rush, then the predictable drop in blood sugar, then the loathing to finish, then the joy of a job well done! lol
    It looks great Mary. What did the people who received it say?

  14. Mary, that is just lovely. And, being myself a somewhat “High Church” (well, moderately-conservative Lutheran) Christian, I appreciate this sort of ritual/ceremonial to impress on all concerned what is being undertaken – and I think your colors are the perfect complement to this symbolism!

  15. You are one amazing needlewoman, Miss Mary! What a way to end the year on a high note! Congratulations and I love the script too…

  16. Your maniturgia is great. As I remember, I have never seen stiched in ceremonies here in Lithuania.
    I have one question: do you know, how it is called in latin. I wanted to read about maniturgia more, but my Dictionary of Christian Iconography (in lithuanian) has no article about it…

  17. Wonderful gift. In Latin it is a Maniturgium. I could not figure out what it was so, had to look it up. Blessings for this. I think I need to go ahead and start one for one of my grandsons who I hope will one day be a priest. Then, I won’t have to stay up for 2 days. I know it would never look as good as yours. Blessings, Anneg in NC

  18. Marvellous! I love this piece.
    It must be a great feeling having this amount of work behind you and see this in front of you:-)

  19. Thank you so much for the perfectly clear description of making the Maniturgia. It is so lovely it has inspired me to try to finish an ecclesiastical stole I started and hoped to finish some 18 months ago as a 25th anniversary of ordination gift.
    Good to learn about an Maniturgia
    Congratulations and thanks

  20. Hi, Mary! How are you? I read your Maniturgia post. Your Maniturgia is great.I like the fonts. What kind of fonts did you use ? Is that Old english fonts? but that is little bit different from yours. Please let me know.
    Thanks ,
    Regards, Radha.

  21. Hi, Radha –

    Thanks for your comment!

    The font is called “Parchment” and I probably got it from Scriptorium (FontCraft). I’ve gotten several font packages from them.

    Hope that helps!


  22. Dear Mary, I was on the verge of tears reading this article on the maniturgia. My son is in the seminary and in 5 years God willing will be ordained. I knew about the custom of giving the maniturgia. I do many crochet projects and always wanted to make the lace for the alb and to do the embroidery on the maniturgia. I came across your sight in my research and the wonderful work that you do. It is all so overwhelmingly beautiful. Because I am learning for the first time the ways to filet lace making I knew I need to start early. Before I saw your sight I was ready to give up and just buy the lace. I just wanted to thank you for putting me at ease. I can only pray my work looks anywhere close to yours.

  23. Amazing how God has lead me to your information on the Maniturgia. My 8-year-old son seems to have a vocation to the priesthood and he loves the story I have told him about the linen cloth used at his ordination will wrap my hands when I am buried. I possibly could do this (as I am not as gifted as you but time is on my side) although purchasing it sounds much better. Please let your fans know what you might charge. Thank you again for generously sharing your beautiful gift!

  24. Wow Mary,

    That looks great, what an achievement considering the short time span !

    I’m sure Our Blessed Mother would be delighted.
    You are an inspiration.


  25. Good day. You’ve embroidered a beautiful maniturgium.
    I wonder if you take commissions for friends of mine who
    will be ordained in a couple of years.

    In Christ,
    Fr. Lewis

  26. Hello< thanks for sharing your stories on this website. I need a maniturgium for May 20Tth 2015
    It is possible for me to place an order? Thanks

    1. Hi, Elena – thanks for your inquiry. I’m afraid I can’t take any commissions right now. With May 20th right around the corner, you might want to seek out someone who could machine embroider one for you. -MC

  27. I had two of these made for our new priests a couple of years ago and they and their families were so thrilled.

    Yours is truly beautiful and I am the mother of the priest will be quickly ushered into Heaven upon her passing.

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