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How to Sew Roman Catholic Priest Vestments

Traditional Roman Catholic vestments are a specialty type of sewn clothing.
priest on the mess image by Kostyantyn Ivanyshen from Fotolia.com

Vestments, the traditional garb of Christian priests, are a specialized set of garments made in particular colors and fabrics. The garments are typically made to order for each priest, as they are sized individually and adorned with embellishments according to the needs and style of the priest and the church he serves. Specific colors, adornments and patterns are required to do the job, as well as substantial sewing experience.

Traditional Roman Catholic vestments are a specialty type of sewn clothing.
priest on the mess image by Kostyantyn Ivanyshen from Fotolia.com

Things You'll Need:

  • Lining Fabric
  • Sewing Machine
  • Scissors
  • Banding And Embellishments
  • Cutting Wheel Or Scissors
  • Lined Fabric Cutting Board
  • Vestment Fabrics
  • Patterns
  • Roping
  • Pins
  • Fabric Marking Chalk
  • Fabric Ruler
  • Iron

General Instructions For the Entire Set

Purchase the vestment fabric, lining and embellishments for the set. The colors and type of material are very specific, and purchasing the correct ones is crucial to the job. There are a variety of specialized suppliers for this type of material. The important aspect is to be clear on the needs of the priest they are being made for. Sketching and describing the set, the embellishments and the type of material in detail with the person who will wear them prior to purchasing any fabric is a good idea.

Lay out the fabric for the pieces and organize your patterns. The typical vestment set consists of a chasuble, stole and maniple. The chasuble is an ample tunic-like garment that resembles a highly decorative and embellished poncho. It is the most noticeable piece of a vestment set. The stole is a long cloth scarf that hangs around the shoulders and down the front of the priests alb, or robe. It is worn beneath the chasuble and made in specific colors for specific rites. The maniple is a highly decorative cloth worn over the arm of the priest during mass or communion.

Cut the fabric using the lined cutting mat and wheel or the scissors. Use the pattern for the piece you are making, and lay the fabric and the pattern on the mat. Pin the fabric and cut. Lay out the banding or edging, such as the banding used on the chasuble, and pin to the fabric. Press if necessary to remove any creases or wrinkles. Take care to mark the fabric and embellishments with very light fabric chalk or not at all as any heavy marks may not be removable and will ruin the vestments.


Lay out the main fabric you cut for the chasuble. The fabric should be in a very large oval shape with the hole for the head cut out. Adding the banding and embellishment is done before the chasuble is lined or finished. Measure the banding and cut the ends very carefully so they are even. Pin them into place according to the pattern of the chasuble design you are creating. Keeping the embellishments straight and placed correctly on the pattern is an important step, so before sewing hang the garment on a form or hanger as it would be when being worn and check the positioning. Sew the banding or embellishments into place with the sewing machine, using very fine and straight stitching.

Cut the lining fabric using the pattern. Generally the lining is a bit smaller than the outer garment and most patterns will allow for this. However, you may have to make your own adjustments. In that case, cut the pattern about 1 inch smaller on all edges for the lining.

Place the lining fabric with the outer vestment, right sides together. Be sure the patterns match and trim any areas where necessary. Fold the outer edge of the vestment in about 1/4 inches, then fold over again so the lining is tucked inside the fold on all edges, making a finished edge. This is a formal garment and all edges and seams should look finished and professional. Pin and sew the outer hems and edges, making sure the lining is smooth and even and no wrinkles or bulges are sewn into the hem. Hang the garment at least 24 hours before sewing the neck line hems to be sure the lining is hanging correctly.

Fold the neckline of the vestment and lining in 1/2 inch to the inside and press flat. Make piping for the neckline by cutting a 2-inch wide strip of the vestment fabric long enough to match the neckline. Place a piece of roping in the center of the strip and fold it over so that the roping is on the inside of the fold. Roping is a basically a thin cotton cord that adds form and solidity to a hemline. Pin in place, then sew in a zig zag stitch, close to the roping. Cut away the excess fabric. Pin this finished piping to the neckline between the outer vestment and the lining, and sew in place using a very fine machine stitch or by hand.

Stole And Maniple

Lay the cut pieces for the stole on the work table. Note that the stole is curved to lay around the shoulders without bunching. The pattern pieces will require stitching together at the center of the curve, then hemming the outer edges together. The stole also requires two layers of thin canvas as interfacing to give it a nice firm bulk.

Stitch each section together at the neck seam to put the two pattern pieces together in one solid stole. Pin the two pieces of the lining together at the seam, then put the two pieces of the outer fabric together at the seam, laying them together before sewing to be sure they will match up when seamed. Sew the seam on each piece, but do not sew them together. Pin the two layers of canvas together and check them for a match against the outer pieces. These will be smaller than the outer pieces as they are sewn inside but should follow the same line as the outer pieces. Once matched, sew them together at the neck seam. The two layers can be sewn together since they are inside the garment.

Add any embellishments to the outer fabric now, pinning then sewing into place before assembling the garment and finishing the edges. This ensures the stitching does not go through the entire garment, just the top outer layer of fabric and the under stitching is hidden inside the garment after it is put together. The same applies for the maniple if any embellishments are added.

Lay out the three layers of the stole: the outer fabric, the double layer canvas interfacing, and the lining. Fold the hem lines on the outer layers in 1/2 inch and press flat. The raw edges should be on the interior of the garment. The canvas interfacing remains inside the piece and does not get folded or hemmed. Sew the outer hem lines on the stole with a very fine machine stitch or by hand, with the stitching on the very outer edge of the garment.

Assemble and sew the maniple in a similar process to the stole, however the maniple is not curved. It does have the same layers but in a smaller and different shape. Assemble the outer layer, interfacing and lining, fold the outer edges in, press flat, and hem.

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