History of Saint James’: Pew Kneelers

Mackie, KathleenIn 1978 several members of St. James’ Church gathered together, calling themselves The Saint James’ Church Needlepoint Guild.  As a group they took on a ‘mission to restore’ the 300 original plastic covered pew kneelers and transform them with colorful needlepoint design coverings.  With the $500 seed money donated by Mr. and Mrs. Benny, members of Saint James’, the project took flight in memory of long-time and most beloved parishioner, Sally Harris Laing.  Yards of red velvet fabric to cover the sides and make the piping were purchased.  This velvet fabric was to be the only thread of sameness in the entire project.

Next came the fun part of creating the designs and stitching the canvas.  Our rector at the beginning of this launch was David Greer.  He offered the suggestion that each kneeler be designed to reflect the individual to whom the kneeler was dedicated…either honored or memorialized.  Therefore, today as we look around the nave and chapel we find the wide variety of needlepoint designs telling the story of the Saint James’ parishioners.  It was Mrs. Kathleen Mackie who took on the mantle of leadership in creating this multitude of canvas designs. When a parish member wished to give a kneeler, Mrs. Mackie would meet with the donor, chat about the one being honored, and offer her design suggestions to express their hobbies, interests, and/or distinctive personality traits.  (No unreasonable limitations were put on the canvas designs.)  One morning this past summer Mrs. Mackie shared the story that many of her designs had been inspired and gathered from books, art, and often travels she and her husband made while abroad.  She stated that she never left home without a pencil and paper…just in case she would come across an idea she wished to capture and/or sketch.  One of the designs she created and stitched in 1988 was in honor of Mary R.S. Day or “Polly”, as she was nicknamed.   As Polly was an ardent conservationist, the design Mrs. Mackie created for her was a red-breasted hummingbird with a vine of morning glory against a bright blue background.  Today you will find that kneeler located in the nave on the outside left aisle where Polly would often sit during the worship service.  Mrs. Mackie continued by saying that before this or any completed kneeler was placed in the pew it was photographed, assigned a number, and added to the guild catalogue book, now kept in the Archives Room.  This was the arduous procedure taken with each kneeler…all 296.  Our most recent kneeler was given to honor Donna Ingersoll when she retired as Saint James’ Church Hand Bell Choir Director.  It was designed by Bonnie Zacherle, stitched by Karla MacKimmie, and presented during our worship service this past spring by our rector, Ben Maas.

Following the initial placement of several newly covered kneelers the awareness and interest of this undertaking grew.  With that the membership in the guild also grew…to fifty ‘stitchers’.  Wednesday mornings became the ‘gathering day’ where Mrs. Mackie and other experienced needlepoint ladies shared their skills and the necessary techniques with interested beginners.  It was a fun and social time with needles, yarn, and fingers madly working away.   At the 1978 project inception each kneeler donor was asked to offer $35 for the expense of yarn and canvas.  When a canvas was completed, it was taken to be finished or ‘mounted’ to cover the original kneeler form.  With the initial seed money soon exhausted, the women of Saint James’ Church donated a one-time offering of $300 to purchase some additional red velvet fabric.  By 1989 the guild realized that a charge of $45 was necessary to cover the increase in costs of the canvas and Persian or tapestry yarns.

There are several areas within the church where kneelers of a specific size are necessary.  So in 1962 Mona Spoor of New York designed the main altar and the chapel altar kneelers.  Four ‘stitchers’, including The Reverend Paul Bowden, former Rector of Saint James’ Church, donated and stitched those pieces.  Within the choir pew area you will find kneelers that display the first lines of hymns along with some musical notes.  The reader’s kneeler exhibits Biblical verses.  Then around 1993 Mrs. Munster of Hume, Virginia offered a wedding kneeler.

So by 2000, 296 individual pew kneelers had been stitched, finished, and catalogued ready for placement within the church.  These kneelers often show a particular aspect of a parishioner’s life.  Take time some Sunday after the service to notice the different gifts and talents that were…and still are, within our midst.  We know you will appreciate the beauty each kneeler offers.  We ask that you respect these precious gifts…and use them only for prayer.

Finally, it must be stated that this mission was handled with great perseverance.  Mrs. Kathleen Mackie was the guiding light throughout this memorable project.   She added, “I just wanted to share my love of stitching”.  Mrs. Mackie along with all the Saint James’ Church guild and stitching friends leave a beautiful legacy.