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Major exhibit of embroidery, textile art coming to cathedral

Nancy Mallett holds a mitre from the Ukrainian Catholic Church, one of 80 items that will be on display. Photo by Michael Hudson

By Carolyn Purden

The work of women will be honoured through a large exhibition of ecclesiastical embroidery and textile art that opens at St. James Cathedral on Oct. 25.

Some 80 items will be on display, lent by individuals, faith organizations and museums. They range from a magnificent beaded icon and gold-embroidered banners from a Russian Orthodox cathedral to an embroidered Jewish chuppah or wedding canopy.

 “We’re celebrating the role of women in that so much of the making and repairing of this work was done by women,” says Nancy Mallett, curator of the exhibition and head of the cathedral’s Archives and Museum.  

The idea of an exhibition came about when it was discovered earlier this year that the diocese’s Ecclesiastical Needleworkers were celebrating their centennial and wanted to set up a display in the Cathedral Centre.

Dean Douglas Stoute said the cathedral should stage a bigger exhibition, celebrating the needleworkers’ achievements along with the embroidery and textile art of other faiths.

With only a few months to plan, Ms. Mallett convened a committee made up of representatives from the Coptic Museum, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework and the Muslim faith, among others.

“I never dreamed that it would grow to this, but there’s been such enthusiasm,” she says. “People want to be part of it, and we’ve been flooded with offers to lend us things.”

Five museums have been involved in the exhibition. Some have lent items while others, such as the Royal Ontario Museum, have provided stands and showcases to display items.

Ecclesiastical embroidery from the Ukraine. Photo by Michael Hudson

The pieces in the exhibit cover a wide range and come from far afield. They include a Coptic headpiece, beautifully embroidered with jewels; family baptismal dresses that are more than a centrury old; an Orthodox crown-like mitre; a 19th century ceremonial cloth from a Ukrainian monastery; a funeral pall designed by Canadian artist Doris McCarthy; a Turkish imam’s prayer cap, turban and cloak; and embroidered gloves given by Pope John XXIII to a Toronto cardinal after Vatican II.

Bishop Patrick Yu, area bishop of York-Scarborough, is lending a richly embroidered Buddhist jacket and skirt, worn by his mother at his wedding. “He says you can hardly see the cloth for the embroidery,” says Ms. Mallett.

As well, there will be some 20 copes and chasubles on display. The Primate is lending the Canada Cope, which is embroidered with the provincial and territorial flowers, and the accompanying mitre that shows the map of Canada and maple leaves.

The exhibition is open from 7 a.m, to 7 p.m. from Oct. 25 to Nov. 1. Entrance is free but donations are appreciated.