The Making of a Commissioned Ministry Stole

Several months ago I was thrilled (ok, actually I was positively giddy!) to respond to a request to create a stole for the moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. This was special for several reasons. First, the commission came to be because someone told someone who told someone about Carrot Top Studio and the unique stoles we create. This is how our business has been built and we are continuously grateful. Secondly, the General Assembly is in our hometown of Pittsburgh, PA this year. In the midst of the behind the scenes planning of this event we've been so proud to discover how the people of the "Burgh" would be extending hospitality and wrapping the time together in prayer. Lastly, I come from a very long line of Presbyterians (I'm at least a fourth generation) and I am proud and thankful for this heritage.

This commission gave me wonderful artistic free reign with the criteria simply being that it should represent the GA scripture from Isaiah 40:31 (but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint) but also reflect Pittsburgh. Here's a little documentation of how we came up with the finished product:

First step in a new stole design is to "audition" fabrics on the design wall to make sure the values and prints are compatible and create visual balance. Choosing the sky fabric was our greatest challenge and the blue in this image didn't make the cut! What we ended up working with was a piece of vintage blue denim. The vintage quality of the fabric seemed to shout, "remember those that have gone before you!"

Pittsburgh has 446 bridges. We thought a bridge was a great symbol for the moderator's stole because we think of the General Assembly as a place where a lot of ideas are bridged together. As the stole components were put into place we weren't sure which bridge would serve this piece the best. The Roberto Clemente bridge (on the left) that leads from downtown to the home of Pirates baseball at PNC Park seemed to be the best choice. On the finished stole (at the end of this post) you can see that the bridge is set above the three rivers that come together at the point of Pittsburgh. Of course this liturgical artist sees the number three as spiritually significant here!

There are times that we get caught up in a creative zone. Our left brain has learned to leave our right brain notes during these moments so we won't forget to do things--like add the birds above the bridge that represent "soaring in hope."

Creating the stencil for the seal applique.

I've always admired the PCUSA seal because it speaks to so much about our faith. Personally, I've always seen the Holy Spirit, the activeness of studying and proclaiming the Word (because the Bible is open not closed) and the Baptismal font. It's actually deeper than that and you can read about the seal here. During our brainstorming phase it was exciting to learn that permission was granted for us to use this trademarked image on the moderator's stole.

We have many hills in Pittsburgh so couldn't resist including a few! The medium green fabric used in the hills of Pittsburgh is from Malawi where our Pittsburgh Presbytery has a longstanding partnership

The back tip of the stole is a rising sun. Artistically throughout history the sun has been used as a symbol to represent "the son." On this stole it is in the midst of a colorful sun rise. We thought this was fitting imagery as a symbol of hope because we are blessed to have the light of Jesus replacing the darkness. The colors of the sunrise have been created using fabric hand dyed from a ministry my Pittsburgh church home has in La Croix, Haiti. The silk scarves are dyed by LaFemme de la Croix at the New Testament mission in Haiti and the sale of the scarves in the United States benefits the women's education. I've worked side by side with these dynamic young women and it was meaningful to include a piece of this silk that came to be because Christians from two very different communities were able to work together. This is a reminder that we are one in the Spirit.

What else reflects Pittsburgh on the 220th GA stole? We toyed with including a pierogi or Pirmanti Brothers sandwich but an incline won out instead. Inclines originally dotted the mountain side surrounding the city and allowed for the movement of people and supplies as the population expanded in the 1800's. Today there are two inclines left and they tend to be a favorite tourist stop.

And here's the finished product that was presented to Rev. Dr. Neal Presa after he was installed on Saturday night at the GA. We pray that it will be a fitting visual tool during his ministry.