On any given Wednesday or Saturday, women of all ages at St. John Cantius Parish, 825 N. Carpenter St., can be found on the second floor of the canonry, which is the old convent, embroidering, stitching and sewing by hand, carrying on the tradition of fine needlework in sacred linens and garments and other needle crafts. Since 2014, the women have dedicated themselves to restoring the sacred in these items. They are part of the larger mission of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius who staff the parish. They are a religious community of men dedicated to a restoration of the sacred in the context of parish ministry. With sacred music playing in the background and natural light coming through large windows on three sides of the small room, the women patiently restore and repair vestments, create altar cloths and panels and make other items like scapulars — all by hand. Parishioner Julie Streeter, who is a commercial artist, was recruited by the previous pastor to start the ministry after he saw her stitching in the church while listening to her children in choir practice. “He was almost crying,” Streeter said. “He said everybody who knows this stuff and how to do it well is 95 and in a cloister.” At the time she was homeschooling seven kids and freelancing as a commercial artist. “I was like, ‘Dude, I have no time for something like that. That’s a huge, huge undertaking,’” Streeter said. He told her he was not in a hurry. So she told him she would ask God and if he told her yes then she would do it, all the while hoping God would say no. Naturally, as a busy working mom, she put off praying about it until the last minute and then whipped open her Bible to a random Scripture passage for an answer. “I opened to Exodus, where God is talking to Moses, where he says, ‘I know you guys are camping in the desert but I want you to make me this huge church that has embroidery’ … I was like, ‘What?’ So I’m going to call that a ‘yes,’” Streeter said. The women hand-stitch most of what they do to keep the spirit that the work is an offering to God. They also pray for those who will be using the vestments. “It’s that whole thing that this work was a sacrifice. It was always looked at like that,” she said. The women do myriad projects, from repairing the jeans canons sometimes tear gardening to fixing holes in cassocks. They repair or restore vestments with intricate needlework and create new liturgical linens for the parish, such as the mantelettas garments for those who entered the church at the Easter Vigil. They have also taught themselves lace making and repair, several types of embroidery, gold work, fine linen stitching and many other sewing techniques. The women learn as they go, since they cannot access the religious women who made such items in the past. “We’ve been digging through old books on how to do all of this stuff. YouTube videos. The Russians really know what they are doing,” she said, referring to the Russian Orthodox Church. They have found that their work has brought opportunities for healing, such as when a woman who was raped hand-sewed a purificator on her own and found that offering the work for Jesus relieved the pain she experienced, Streeter said. “That’s why we’re really here,” Streeter continued. “We don’t really want to sew for other people. … How about if we show you how to do it? Send your people over, let them hang out. We’re trying to make a ton of training videos so maybe people can keep some of these [skills] alive. There are very, very few training videos that show you how to repair something like this,” she said, gesturing at a cope being repaired. Younger women are also getting involved. “We had a recent eruption of little girls stitching with us recently,” Streeter said. “We had to start a scapular class on Sundays after Mass. There is some action in this room. And they are doing beautiful work.” The guild documents its work and shares it on YouTube as a resource for other people doing fine needlework projects. Members are also hoping to help other parishes establish their own sewing ministries. St. Martha’s Guild also creates new projects with fine needlework. What they accomplish is intricate and beautiful. One recent project was an altar cloth for the front of a Mary altar. About 28 women and teen girls worked on the project, which involved countless hours of hand embroidery. At the end of the day, the work is all for God. “It’s not about the priests,” Streeter said. “They stand in persona Christi and we don’t dress Jesus up in polyester. We just don’t do that to him. He’s a king. He should dress like a king.” The beauty of the vestments and altar cloths also reminds people of what is truly taking place in the Mass, she said. “It’s such a gift to do this,” she said. “I wish every parish would start a sewing guild.” Beth Lee is a professional costume maker who creates items for shows that are then put away once the production is over. “Then you fall into a place like this and think, ‘I get to sew for Jesus?’” Lee said. “Can you imagine if some of these vestments being restored could talk? What would they say? What were the conversations going on when the nuns were making these vestments?” It is a moving part of history, she said. “To be a part of a group that does that and to be part of the conversation and to think that maybe in 70 years when the fabric starts getting tattered somebody might take that apart and think, ‘I wonder what the discussions were like back then?’” Lee said. Being part of St. Martha’s Guild has also enhanced her appreciation for the Mass. “When they put these vestments on it makes your heart just soar because you know you did it all for Christ,” she said. “I just feel so blessed to be here.” For information, visit stmarthasguild.com.