Åsa Martinsson

Liturgical Textiles 2003

Utställningen i Lund

The exhibition was planned as a debate issue, an attempt to initiate a discussion around the color, form and usage of liturgical textiles.

The exhibition has been given the name Liturgical Textiles 2003 since the eight robes were woven and put together during the spring and summer of that year. Before that, I spent six months search­ing for the right kind of yarn which I then dyed and out of which I made samples.

The exhibition is an expression of thoughts about their appearance and coloring that have occupied my mind during the years I have worked with liturgical textiles.

Images from the Middle Ages

I have often studied the famous mosaics from Ravenna, Italy, dating to the 500s AD. On one of them Bishop St. Apollinarie is wearing a chasuble made out of a cloth with a smallscale pattern. The chasuble falls in sumptuous, soft folds. You can see that it is a large and generously cut vestment, beautifully draped.

On pictures from Dädesjö Church in the province of Småland, Sweden, one can see that here too the chasubles are large, soft vestments with decorative borders.

These kinds of chasubles are from a time when that kind of vestments did not have embroi­deries of saints and apostles on them. Also, it would be quite some time before Christian symbols became part of decoration of the vestments.

The chasubles found on these images demonstrate that they were first and foremost a gar­ment. As time went by, the chasuble became more of a symbol than a garment. The ever larger embroideries made them stiff, consequently the chasuble had to be made smaller. The decoration became more important than the garment which to all effects and purposes was reduced to textile background för embroideries.

My inspiration comes from the older pictures of Ravenna and Dädesjö origin. They show that a beautiful cloth was used. So my chasubles have no decorations, images or embroideries. The cloth is given its structure through a woven pattern. A decorative border forms the edge all around them.


I want to examine and discuss the color code of the liturgical year. The strict color code en­countered all over churches today is only a little more than 100 years old. But is it always necessary to adhere to a special color for a given time during that year? In the Middle Ages there were many variations, probably due to the sort of textile each church had available. It was quite common for used garments made of expensive material to be donated to a church. The material was then to be recycled into liturgical vestments. In those cases it became impossible to stick to the sort of color canon we use today.

Maybe the medieval material has been interpreted in absurdum. The renewal efforts used color as an instructional tool in the teaching of the liturgical year. But the aesthetic experience of a color is lost when that instruction becomes a treatise on "signals", colors that "mean" something. The color be­comes the most important thing – the liturgical vestment itself is reduced to being just an indicator of ”the color of the day”.

This exhibition is a protest against stereotyped signal colors. Colors convey emotions and moods.

The Cloth

More than 100 years ago, women on Gotland wove shawls in their drawlooms. I have analyzed several of these shawls and then developed a cloth that is thinner and lighter, and has a more sophisticated pattern. However, the work of these women is the foundation for my efforts and I give them my heartfelt thanks.

The yarn used in these cloths is a mixture of mohair and silk and comes from BC Yarns of Stouby, Jutland, Denmark. The result is a light and shiny material. Like in the medieval pictures, a small pattern is scattered all over its surface.

The Chasubles

The chasubles are wide an enfolding. The width is considerable, not the length. They are easy to wear, regardless of the height of the officiant.

The chasubles are not lined. Consequently they are light and the woolen material can breathe. With the alb underneath of suitable material, they never become uncomfortably hot to wear. An unlined chasuble is also more affordably cleaned. When acquiring a new vestment, maintenance costs must always be considered. An unlined chasuble, made of wool, is probably the most durable and also the most easily maintained vestment you can acquire.

The colors are not the traditional ones since there is no green tone. You shouldn´t have to consider it an absolute must to include the four code colors of the liturgical year. Inventories from the UK indi­cate that medieval churches usually had three sets of chasubles, one for the most important festivals, one for regular Sunday services and one for everyday masses. The larger cathedral, the more sets it could afford.

If funds are not available for chasubles in all the colors, you should be able to start out with two of them: one of a more festive character and the other one in a more restrained format. If a later, complementary purchase is made, the liturgical year can be divided differently.

Everyday masses are becoming more and more popular. This circumstance entails the demand for simpler chasubles to be worn during these occasions. Should you then implement the color scheme, there will be a need for another four chasuble. This means extra cost and demands plenty of space in the textile closet. There will also be more maintenance work. Maybe the alternative could be one single "everyday chasuble" for the entire year – one of a color different from the regular Sunday chasubles.


There are no stoles that "belong" to any given chasuble. In the medieval pictures one often seen stoles that differ completely from the cloth of the chasuble and are more attuned to the decorations on the collar and chasuble. Making everything as a set – of the same cloth and with the same deco­ration – is the result of mass production.

I get demands for stoles that can be worn year round. It is then often suggested that the stole have ”all the four colors”. But what is the result? A stole that uses all the colors intended to show what time in the liturgical year it is – but shows all of them at the same time.

The stole should be more af a consecration sign than a signal of the time of the liturgical year.

januari 2019

© Åsa Martinssons textilverkstad