Page 7, 26th May 1989

26th May 1989
Page 7
Page 7, 26th May 1989 — More than needles and pins for seamstress sisters

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More than needles and pins for seamstress sisters

THE Mother Superior at Turvey Abbey conjured up all the glamour of a French fashion house by describing the nuns' Bedfordshire workshop as the atelier. But there are not frantic designers rushing round screaming at models, overworked seamstresses or perpetual

whirl of cameras here.

Instead you'll find a light and spacious room inhabited by several of the sisters quietly concentrating on their embroidery or vestment making. One of the four nuns who works every day in the workshop is Sr Zoe. "I joined the community in 1975 when it was still in Cockfosters. We moved to Turvey in 1981 mainly because we didn't have enough room and we wanted to live more as a contemplative order.

"I came to Britain from my home in America in 1973 on a research grant. I had studied textiles at university and was interested in textile conservation. So I suppose I had some knowledge and experience of sewing and weaving, but nothing like enough to be let loose straight away."

There are 19 nuns and five monks at Turvey in this unique mixed monastic house and the workshop is one of the main breadwinners for the community. As well as the weaving and embroidery they produce all of their own vegetables and fruit from 20 acres of land, while six goats and three sheep provide milk and wool for weaving.

"There has been a long tradition in this house of vestment making and embroidery so what I have been taught has been passed on down. Sr Paulina, who has worked with weaving and embroidery for the last 25 years, didn't know one end of a needle from another when she first started but now she

is a highly trained and skilled embroiderer."

Their clients are as varied as the pieces of work they produce. Of course there is a steady flow of commissions from the Catholic Church and as commerce is not bound by theological differences, Anglicans, Methodists and some shared churches have all approached the monastery to order various items.

"For the shared church we were asked to make an altar front. We used the scene from the Last Supper as the design. They were very happy with it except for the halo over Jesus which we removed. But even so I thought it was still very encouraging that they were prepared to accept some sort of iconography at all. They were willing to have a design that would make everyone happy."

Among the more unusual works they have produced is a coat made for a West African bishop. It was created from a piece of royal cloth from Ghana, which had been brought back by an Anglican missionary. In the secular market they have made wall hangings for private houses, schools and colleges, and somewhere among the rich and bronzed in California, a tapestry from Turvey hangs on an un

named pop star's wall.

Despite the tailor's dummy in the atelier the sisters never venture into the world of dressmaking. It is there solely for vestments and habits. "We make all our own habits. As you've probably noticed you can't get them off the peg from Marks and Spencer's."

Sr Zoe can only work in the atelier during the mornings. In the afternoon she dons another cloak of responsibility in the kitchens. She plans the menus, orders the food and organises its storage. Last week she had helped make 400 pounds of marmalade, she reported.

Examples of the nuns' work can be seen all round the walls of the atelier and inside the other rooms of the abbey. The style is modern and colourful. "Our work is very simple but not dull. We try to be bold and modern, but never overstated. 1 suppose we are known for our colourful vestments."

But being known as an artistic establishment is something the community is keen to play down. "We have a reputation for this work and we don't want to become known as the place people go if they are artistic. You don't need to be able to wield a needle to come here as a nun."

A Rescue mission at an abortion clinic has nothing to do with seeking publicity or results

Our Lord Jesus Christ said "I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it for me." (Matt 25 & 45).

Lord, when did 1 sec you being "dragged to the slaughter" about to be dismembered? When did I see you about to destroy your life by killing the little child within you, perhaps the only child you would ever have?

When, Lord? Where?

A Rescue mission at an abortion clinic has nothing to do with seeking publicity or results. Both are a response, a rational response to children being put to death unjustly. Both are an attempt to put words into real action; to obey Our Lord's commands, to practise charity towards innocent victims of abortion, both mothers and babies, which we speak about so much in the pro-life movement.

Both are an attempt to repent of 21 years of failing to protect

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