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 Embroidery Pattern: Cross & Lilies


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This cross & lily hand embroidery design is perfect for church linens. My niece and I are working together to embroider a couple palls, and this is the design she wants to use, so I thought I’d post it here for anyone else interested in it.

Hand Embroidery Pattern: Cross & Lilies

This hand embroidery pattern could be used on a number of church embroidery items, but it is particularly suitable for a pall. A pall is a square piece of linen that rests on top of the chalice during Mass, and it is often embellished with embroidery, or sometimes, it is painted. (I prefer embroidered palls to painted palls!) Linen palls range anywhere from very small (about 4″ square) to large (up to 8″ square), but the standard size is around 6″ to 6.5″ square.

The only “rule” for a pall is that the part of it that rests on the chalice must be linen, and normally, there’s a tiny red cross embroidered in the middle of the back of the pall that covers the chalice. In years past, palls were constructed from folded linen, the layers in the folding providing the stiffness to allow the piece to rest like a small cover on the chalice. The sides were stitched up to hold the folds together into a finished square. This type of pall has its advantages – it can be cleaned without being taken apart, and once dry, it is stiff.

In some places, the pall was (is) only one piece of linen, which draped over the chalice. This type of pall does serve the primary purpose of the pall, which is to keep foreign matter from landing in the wine during Mass; however, it is not as desirable as the stiff pall. The stiffness of the pall serves several purposes. It supports anything that is placed on it, and is easy to remove from the chalice and replace on the chalice without having to fiddle with draping fabric.

The standard pall today is made up kind of like a pocket from a long piece of linen that’s folded in half to form the square, and then sewn up on two sides, to form the “pocket.” Into the pocket, a piece of board (like mat board or stiff white card) is slid, and the fourth side of the square is then hand stitched closed. Sometimes, instead of linen, the “pocket” (or main body) of the pall is made out of silk or satin or another fine fabric, and then a linen square is attached to the back of the pall, so that the part of the pall resting on the chalice is linen. Silk and satin can be embellished with paint or with embroidery. For regular cleaning, normally just the linen square on the back of the pall is cleaned – it is snipped off, cleaned, pressed, and sewn back on.

Palls are not always white-on-white. The designs can be stitched in colors, in silk, cotton, or whatever your choice of thread may be. Real metal threads don’t have a place on palls, because all palls pretty much eventually need to be cleaned. Some folks use synthetic golds to stitch designs on palls. Personally, I’m a bit hesitant to do so. The results can sometimes be pretty garish. But perhaps the most enticing thing about making a pall is that it is the perfect size for considering the embellishment – which can range from very simple (or nothing at all!) to very elaborate, but all confined within a doable 6″ square. This is probably why I like making them!

I’m kind of a purist when it comes to the pall, though. I prefer white-on-white embroidery (though some day, I may venture into one color – who knows?), and I prefer 100% linen for the entire pall.

After the pall is embellished, sometimes an edging is added around it, like a fine lace or some delicate tatted lace or something to that effect. This edging can be added when the pall is sewn up, or, with certain types of lace, it can be added afterwards. For example, a tatted edging can be tacked just on the outside of the seam. An edging like the latter has an advantage: when the pall must be taken apart to be cleaned, the edging can be easily removed and replaced.

So that’s a pall, and those are the things I keep in mind when preparing to make one.

If you’re interested in having a copy of the design above, here’s the PDF version:

Cross & Lily Pall Pattern

Church Embroidery Patterns: Book One

Interested in more church patterns? Check out Church Patterns: Book One – a collection of over 120 patterns suitable for church embroidery, and also for other arts & crafts endeavors (appliqué, paper crafts, painting – you name it!).


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(21) Comments

  1. my grandsons are getting baptized this Sept. Do u have any ideas or embroidery for little baptize outfits

  2. wow very interesting..i will make it for easter..i leaned something today, never heard of a pall..thank you so much

  3. Is there a handbook for church embroidery? I’m intrigued by the “rules” you mention regarding the fabrics to use for the pall and the little red cross, etc. From where do you find designs to embroider church linens or do you draw them yourself? Other than EGA, is there a group of people who do ecclesiastic embroidery?

    1. Hi, All! Thanks for your comments. I’ll see if I can answer some questions….

      Kris – I’m not sure if there’s a current “handbook” for church embroidery. There are certainly plenty of books on the subject, that go far back in time, but the ones I most frequently refer to are the books by Lucy Mackrille (from the early 1900’s) and Hinda Hands (also from the early 1900’s). There are more recent ones, too – by Beryl Dean – and also a book on church linens by Elizabeth Morgan that’s really good (called “Sewing Church Linens” I believe). As for specific rules, they come from the prescribed descriptions from the church of what the linens should be and how they should be constructed. Of course, trends and tastes also influence the embellishment. The Catholic Church and the Anglican church both have their own prescribed ways of doing things. There are groups of people who do ecclesiastical embroidery – mostly sacristy guilds at individual churches, and there are even several convents around that still do church embroidery as part of their regular work.

      Mona – the “IHS” originally come from the Greek, and is representative of the name of Jesus Christ (Iesous Christos). Basically, it’s the first three letters of Christ’s name in Greek, translated into Latin letters more or less. It carried over from the Greek into the Latin or Roman usage, and has been around since about the third century. Some sources say it stands for a Latin phrase that translates into “Jesus, the Savior of Man” but in fact, this isn’t true. It is simply a shortened form of name of Christ, from the Greek. The Greeks used these “abbreviations” a lot – you can see it on their icons.

      As for the design itself, I have an old, old catalog called “Designs for Church Embroideries” by Thomas Brown & Sons. It is a catalog – it has small drawings (and some very large drawings) of embroidery patterns that people could buy from Thomas Brown & Sons. I use the catalog as a design source, and sometimes I enlarge the designs and trace them, or I draw my own, or I do a combination – taking elements I like from one or several designs, and then sketching in alterations. It just depends on what I want for a design. This design is from the Thomas Brown & Sons catalog. It is about 2″ x 2″ in the original catalog. I scanned it, enlarged it, imported it into Inkscape, and “traced” it on my computer as a vector drawing, so that it has clean lines and can be enlarged or reduced without losing quality. When I do this with a design, I clean it up, straighten out the lines, make things even, supply missing elements, and so forth…

      Lacis has reprinted the catalog (Designs for Church Embroideries by Thomas Brown & Sons) and has the reprint available on their website, for something like $24. It’s well worth the price, as it’s packed with lots of designs that can be adjusted for a variety of uses.

      Hope that answers some questions!


  4. hola Mary: que interezante el tema”creo en esto se utilizan materiales y puntadas,, igual a la hermosa piña
    me encantaria ver el avance

  5. I can’t wait to open your emails. I appreciate the historical aspect. Can you please educate me further and state what the initials represent?

  6. I have no ideas except satin stitch. Just want you to know I appreciate the info on palls. I’m the person in my parish that launders the alter linen so I have seen what constant washing can do. I’ll be anxious to see what you do with this and then maybe I’ll have enough confidence to make one. White is a good choice because when someone filled in for me they used bleach so we now have pink crosses on the purifiers.

  7. Hi Mary ,thanks again for all your help…. After the lst Pall you made a little while ago, I was thinking how about using plastic canvas instead of white card. It would withstand the washing and wouldn’t have to be taken apart. I know though with washing the whole piece, it would put wear and tear on the stitching, but what are your thoughts on using it? I am hoping to stitch along with you this time. thanks, Kathy Kelly

    1. Hi, Kathy – Some people actually use plexiglass inside the pall. But anyway, plastic canvas has little holes in it, and if you washed the linen with the plastic canvas inside, as it dried, it would show the grid of the canvas, I’m pretty sure. Besides, to get the pall to look nice and crisp, it should be ironed, although some people don’t iron them – they flatten them on glass while they’re wet, and then, when dry, they peel them off. But I prefer the crisp look of ironed linen. And plastic canvas isn’t super stiff. It easily bends from side to side. So instead of the pall fitting tightly and smoothly on it, I think it would curve. With board, if the board is cut to the same dimension as the sewn area of the pall, it ends up tight on the board, but not too tight to buckle it. Anyway, I hope that helps a bit! Thanks for your comment! ~MC

  8. The circle around the initials and the outline of the cross could be worked in two or three lines of chain stitch side-by-side, giving it a braided appearance. The initials, flowers and leaves could be in satin stitch. The tendrils and stalk could be stem stitch. The pollen in french knots. Satin stitch on the petals of the flower can be done from the centre line to the edge giving it the appearance of a leaf. Are you going to do white-on-white (I know it looks elegant)? How about trying purple OR maroon, green and yellow? (Solomon used all these colours when he built the church!)

  9. We mount our palls on a square of plexiglass. They can just be washed and dried when necessary!! I do like your pall patterns! Thank you for a wonderful daily newsletter and also for the amount of ecclesiastical work you talk about.

  10. Hi Mary,
    Thank you very much for the pall design. It’s perfect timing for my brother’s ordination at the end of next month.
    Thank you, thank you and thank you!!!
    Connie D’Agostino

  11. like to buy the online church pattern. but is seems Nigeria is not listed in the pay pal payment system. tried several times without success. kindly provide an alternative. thanks

  12. Hi , Mary I am farideh and I am writing to you from Iran I want to know how can find Brazilian embroideries pattern? Please send me these pattern if you can . Thank you so much.

  13. Hello Mary,
    I’ve read this series of posts a few times before. I know in your Ecclesiastical Embroidery Books one can have the embroidery designs but what about the pattern for the actual pall?

    I recently got some nice linen and it occurred to me that I could use it for a pall for the chapel of my daughters’ school. To be entirely honest, they could really use a new one. It will also be a nice first project for me for a church linen. I know it won’t end up perfect (being my first one), but it will be good to use at a small chapel.
    Do you also sell a pall pattern ?or where would you recommend me to search for one?


    1. Hi, Monica, There isn’t really a specific “pattern” for a pall. It’s really just a folded piece of linen, folded right sides together, sewn up the two opposite open seams, and then the third seam is sewn once it’s turned nightside out. You normally put a stiff insert into the resulting “pocket” and hand sew the third seam closed, by folding the linen so that one flap goes into the pocket (on the back of the insert) and the other flap, you fold with the same seam allowance as the sides, and then slip stitch the whole thing closed. The size of the pall is generally up to the priest. It may depend on the size of the top of the chalice. I usually make mine 6.25″ square. So that means the rectangle (not including the seam allowance) is 12.5″ x 6.25″. I usually add as much fabric around it as I need for mounting the linen on stretcher bars or another type of embroidery frame. Then I trim the excess down to about a 5/8″ seam allowance.

      I hope that helps!

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