When I receive a commission to restore vestments I enjoy hearing the story behind the piece. Sometimes it involves a dumpster dive, or just digging through drawers, or a dry cleaner (please never ever do this with antique vestments!), but sometimes it is a compelling story of patrimony and prayer that deserves deference.
Much like living in an old house you get to enjoy the beauty of craftsmanship and participate in the living legacy of a home that has beautifully withstood the test of time. You also get to uncover and learn about the past, especially when problems arise.
Depending on the problem you make a decision to restore, renovate, or resuscitate. If you have endless time and money you can seek out the appropriate vintage supplies and methods of repair. You can carefully and meticulously execute the project to completion so your home is fully restored to its original state. This is a wonderful and noble pursuit but not always practical. For instance, this approach is good and appropriate if you are talking about repairing a beautiful wood staircase but probably not desirable when you are talking about more practical and mechanical aspects of your home, like heating or plumbing. In those cases renovation or overhaul is a much more reasonable response...because who misses outhouses or shoveling coal for heat?
When other options fail there is the fine balance of resuscitation, of breathing new life into a project while preserving its current state. This method respects the original design and purpose while honoring the value and beauty of the patina that reflects the wear and tear of life. Working on any historical pieces, particularly vestments, requires this same discernment process. How much time and money is put into the restoration of a single piece will depend on its value far beyond mere earthly standards. There is a value of patrimony, history, and ownership, of cherished hours spent in prayer and worship, of countless souls saved. These unseen treasures cannot be measured but they can be honored in the way restoration is handled.
When preservation of the patina and history of a piece is important it takes careful consideration and exacting stitches to strike a perfect balance between beauty and function. Such is the case with several pieces I am currently working on. In some instances the gold embroidery was too far gone and required replacement, in others I could carefully secure original elements in place. The result is time-honored vestments worthy of the Mass that reflect the beauty of those unseen treasures. Like the time-honored traditions of our Catholic faith the fine balance achieved in resuscitating these pieces brings together the past, present, and future. When restored to use at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass they aid the prayers and edification of the faithful while uniting the Church Militant, the Church suffering, and the Church Triumphant in one voice of praise and worship. What an ineffable treasure!