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Friday, July 1, 2016

Christmas In July (part 2)

I was recently in a production of "Savior of the World: His Birth and Resurrection," which depicts the events surrounding those two great miracles, rather than focusing on the Savior's mortal ministry. I'm not an especially great actress, so I was in the ensemble, but I also got to help with costumes and props. Perhaps my greatest labor of love was making the swaddling bands.

There are a few things that many people don't realize about swaddling bands at the time and place of the Savior's birth. (I include that distinction because swaddling bands have been different in different cultures.) Swaddling bands in that culture were not just for wrapping up infants; they were made by a bride leading up to her wedding to be used in that ceremony. She would embroider them with symbols of, I believe, her own and her husband-to-be's heritage. It may really have been just one or the other, but my research was a bit hurried, and Mary and Joseph were both of the House of David, so that detail didn't matter as much to my project. The embroidery was to be identical on both sides to symbolize honesty in marriage--inside matching the outside and nothing being hidden. These same swaddling bands would later be used to wrap their children.

I used a double running stitch because it matches on both sides, and I am significantly less skilled at making any fill stitches match on both sides. I also didn't have a lot of time, and just outlining is obviously faster. Most of the motifs I used are symbols of the House of David, and all have meaning as symbols of our Savior Jesus Christ. When Mary was first betrothed, she did not know she would be the mother of the Son of God, and I don't think she fully understood His mission until He had completed it, so she would not likely have been thinking in those terms. However, they are all things she would reasonably have used; they just have other meanings for modern Christians. The bands are white, and I embroidered in shades of blue throughout because blue and white are the colors of the House of David.

The first motif I embroidered was a pomegranate. Most people think of this as a symbol of fertility, but in Jewish embroidery, it symbolizes a righteous priesthood holder, which of course, our Savior was. Mary would also have wanted to establish her family in righteousness. I adapted my design from two different ones by Paula Katherine Marmor. Her designs are in a renaissance blackwork style, but I liked them. I possibly should have used a different style, but it's a bit late to change my mind now.

My original design was too tall for the width of the fabric.

This has been adjusted for height.

I haven't done any blackwork for years, so this isn't my best work. I should have practiced.
The second motif (and the most complicated) I embroidered was a Tree of Life. The tie to our Savior is obvious, and it is one of the symbols of the House of David. I adapted this one from one I found here.

This design was also originally too tall.

My tree design altered for height. When I went over it in pen this time, I unfortunately used a very blotty pen.

This one looks a little messy mostly because I didn't photograph it until after it had been handled a lot, and I could still use some work on anchoring my ends in a double running stitch. I'm rather proud of it over all, though.
Next came a key. This was another symbol of the House of David. To me, it also symbolizes the keys of the priesthood (God's power and authority) and the key of knowledge. It is patterned off of a fairly generic skeleton key.


After the key, I embroidered a lion. A lion and lamb are symbols of the House of David as well as symbolizing the Second Coming of Christ when all creatures will live in peace. The Jews believed (and still do, I think) that the Messiah would come as an earthly king and strike down their enemies, returning them to earthly power. We, as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ was and is the Messiah, and that He came with a much more peaceful mission, so I drew the lion dormant (laying down) instead of rampant (rearing up) as it is more commonly depicted in Jewish embroidery.

This design is more truly my own. I used drawings of lions for reference for the dormant position and several different pictures of very old embroidery for the general style.

The wavy lines on the lion's mane were done freehand.
The next motif I embroidered was a lily. This has no significance to the House of David, but it has long been a very common embroidery motif, so it is reasonable to believe Mary might have included it. I included it because lilies are a symbol of the resurrection. It also has personal significance to me because it is the name of both my own and my best friend's daughters who have both passed on, but who will live again through Christ.

I have lost my reference photo for this design, so I am unable to give credit where credit is due. If anyone recognizes this (even as very similar because it is not an exact copy) please help me figure out who to credit.

The final symbol I included was the lamb for reasons already stated, and Jesus Christ was and is truly the Lamb of God. Lambs also make me think of my mother because they are her favorite animal, although I confess that wasn't specifically a reason I included it. If it were really for her, it would be a "funny face" lamb (black face with white fleece) because that's her favorite, but that would be difficult to depict without fill embroidery.

I didn't even attempt to keep this true to old embroidery styles because I couldn't even find embroidered lambs, and embroidered sheep weren't particularly recognizable as sheep. This drawing is completely my own.

Swaddling bands are supposed to be 5-6 yards long, so I planned to repeat this series of motifs to fill the fabric. I ran out of time for embroidery, though, so I did the rest with paint pen. The swaddling bands were positioned during their scenes so that the embroidery was on display, but I didn't want the rest of the fabric to be completely blank if it showed.

This was photographed on my beautiful mosaic table, made by my sister.
Since I put a lot of work into these swaddling bands, I plan to keep them, so I also plan to embroider over all of the paint because I feel like that is more worth putting on display in the future. I want to work this into my Christmas traditions in the future, but I'm not sure how yet.

Until next time!

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