Mary Adamski

View from the Pew
A look inside Hawaii's houses of worship

By Mary Adamski

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Stitching Spirituality

Lutheran Church of Honolulu
members use needlepoint
to express their faith in
"Arts and Faith Sunday"

Ask anyone who's been to the Lutheran Church of Honolulu to describe the experience in one word, and the answer would likely be "music."

Musicians from the Honolulu Symphony and singers from the opera chorus are regular participants in the worship services and evening concerts of classical music that are a tradition dating to the founding by German immigrants. It is one of the top venues for an organ recital in the state.

But musicians, be warned: There's a new muse on the scene. When they talk about a feast for the senses here in the future, it'll be the visual artistry as well as the audio that people applaud.

A new guild of church artisans will unveil their first work tomorrow as the church stages "Arts and Faith Sunday." Using a palette of vibrant earth, sky and water colors, the "In Stitches" group is creating needlepoint work that combines art and practicality. Each 14-by-20-inch, one-of-a-kind design is destined to cover a seat cushion.

Needlepoint Guild members stitch at their craft. Biz Person, left, Maire Saarinen, Linda Mizuno, the teacher, and Audrey Keller share smiles as they work colorful needlepoint while making pew cushions and kneeler padding for the Lutheran Church of Honolulu.

Veteran quilter Biz Person stuck with familiar quilting patterns, incorporating some with religious themes such as "Jacob's ladder" and "star of Bethlehem."

Kathy Crosier used her computer skill to plot out a swirling pattern she based on a stained-glass design.

"I call this one 'My Journey.' ... Here you see turbulent times, then here's peace in the center," said Maire Saarinen. Her freestyle design of long rectangles and circles reflects famous woven work from her native Finland.

Audrey Keller said she used fishes to combine the Christian symbol and the ocean environment surrounding Hawaii.

The project was set in motion when church administrator Linda Mizuno, former president of the American Needlepoint Guild, offered to teach her craft. She taught them some basic and intermediate stitches, and then creative passion took hold of the stitchers. "Usually you stitch on patterns for years before you design," she said, but when the group could not agree on a uniform pattern, off they went with their own visions. The one common thread is the church initials, LCH, hidden in each design.

The Rev. David Barber, church pastor, said: "The senses are important in worship. This is a way we try to engage ourselves in the experience. The visuals are important. We appeal to the hearing with music. For taste, there's communion. Sometimes it's incense for the sense of smell."

The volunteers' stitchery project "is an extension of their tremendous talents and gifts," he said, "an expression of their deep and abiding faith."

It's hard to believe people will ever have the nerve to sit on the artwork, which looks like fragments of a glowing tapestry. The old craft of needlepoint is literally creation of the whole cloth as the canvas backing is covered with woolen thread and becomes a sculpture of layered detail work.

Whether people consider it a sacrilege to sit on the beautiful cushions remains to be seen. But the pews are hardwood, and the existing cushions are, well, rather flat. And since it is supposed to be a feast for the senses, this dimension of comfort will take care of the sense of feel!

Roy Helms, a member of the church council, said he came to an early guild meeting "to show support, but you can't come in the door without grabbing thread and needle." He finished a cushion depicting the church's pipe organ, and has graduated to a larger canvas for a kneeler pad. His design echoes a depiction of the sun's rays seen in the wooden carving on the church organ.

Linda Miller took her needlework on a tour and was inspired in Egypt with the Coptic cross design. She told the group "the act of stitching a cross over and over was a meditation," said Mizuno.

Crosier compared the work with the creation of Buddhist sand art in which "each grain is placed with a thoughtful prayer. For us, each stitch could be thought of as a prayer."

Happily, the Saturday morning guild gatherings are not all that solemnly pious. When they chose the name "In Stitches," it was as much a reflection of the laughter and camaraderie as it is of the work at hand. The sewers got resoundingly "shushed" at a recent session because their laughter was providing unscheduled background music at a wedding in the sanctuary.

Mizuno estimates that each cushion cover will involve at least 12,000 stitches. And after these first 20 are finished, on to the goal of 60 cushions. Then there will be kneeler covers and, ultimately, wall panels.

I admired the artistry, enjoyed the fellowship and applauded the gift to their church. But I confess to being a dropout from my mother's basic replace-buttons and shorten-hems lessons. When I thought of undertaking 12,000 stitches, with thousands and thousands more ahead, the word that came to my mind was penance.


Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
Email her at

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