Updated: Aug 14
Hand Stitched and Embossed Vegetable Tanned Leather Case With Gloving Leather Padded Interior.
Designed and Hand Made by Sue Lowday To Hold The Crosier Made In a Collaboration Between Colin Norgate, Fleur Grenier and Robin Dimmock.
Commissioned by Stephanie Grenfell for Joanne Grenfell Bishop of Stepney.
Woodturner Colin Norgate approached me to produce a section of a major commission he was working on in collaboration with blacksmith Robin Dimmock and fellow Sussex Guild member Fleur Grenier.
All of the craft workers have many years of experience and are highly skilled in their specialist fields.
My brief was to design and make the case for the new crosier for the Bishop of Stepney.
The crosier, designed to split into three pieces would be made by Colin, Fleur and Robin and then passed to me for my contribution.
The case required very careful design considerations.
The case needed to be practical and easy to use and had to be carried easily on the tube in London while also pulling a vestment case on wheels. Shoulder straps in the style of a backpack were added to the design along with a handle. The handle had to clip flat to the case to avoid catching. The case had to hold the three sections of the crosier snuggly avoiding movement as they are carried.
I also wanted to design the case so that if any future adjustments or repairs were needed, the interior workings of the case could easily be accessed.
Another consideration was to create a visually appealing and elegant shape with the constrains of the three pieces of the crosier.
The final and critical consideration was the weight of the case. Pewter and laburnum wood alongside vegetable tanned leather with solid metal fixings are heavy and the weight needed to be comfortable to carry for long periods.
I began my contribution to this interesting commission by making a few small paper maquettes to explain my thinking to three generations of the Grenfell family; Stephanie, Joanne and her daughter Imogen in a Facetime meeting. A new experience that quickly became a universal norm due to Covid.
. We discussed ideas and colours and materials, Joanne chose chocolate brown dyed leather for the exterior and a dark pink / red colour soft leather for the interior. This was changed to burgundy at a later date due to supply issues.
I suggested that by adding a decorative finish to the outside surface of the case accidental marks would not be so evident and also adding a special uniqueness to the case.
Joanne chose to have imagery reflecting the theme of the crosier taken from the first line of the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins ‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame…’. I interpreted this idea as an embossed image of a kingfisher and dragonflies alongside the first line of the poem. Joanne sent a sketch for the layout considering carefully the best position and angle to place the kingfisher so that it looked both ‘right’ in the upright position – carried as a backpack, or turned on its side- carried by the handle.
I drew various sketches of kingfishers in flight and serendipitously at that moment a kingfisher took residence at the Bonchurch pond where I live so I was able to use these sketches as a reference.
Careful consideration was paid to the choice of font for the text. I had selected Myriad and it proved to be a good choice Joanne said because of its associations with the late Renaissance and because it is ‘particularly good for reading’.
The layout and spacing of the letters and dots were very carefully laid out so they would flow around the kingfisher and also happens to look like a question mark..
As the UK was beginning to come to terms with the first restrictions of Covid, luckily I was able to make a flying visit to one of my suppliers on the mainland a week before total lockdown. This enabled me to continue working on the first steps of the project. However, as progress was made and other items were needed, I wasn’t able to get essential supplies holding up progress. Nevertheless, this provided useful thinking time which I needed due to the complex structure of the case.
I saw pierced the letters for embossing the poem and also saw pierced and engraved the kingfisher. In this I relied heavily on my former training and expertise in silversmithing and jewellery. It was a real pleasure to return to my favourite metal working tools to create the design. I also really enjoyed dusting off my engraving tools to work up the design detail of the kingfisher. I felt it was very important putting this level of detail into the kingfishers body and wings.
The dark brown colour of the bag and the fact that the bird is embossed but without additional colour, means that when this catches the light the bird will shimmer just like a kingfisher in flight. The surface texture is also very tactile.
The elements of the design were laid out on a large rigid sheet and fixed under my large fly press. The press, although one of the biggest available for metal work is actually quite small relative to the size of the case. So the I had to press out the design a bit at a time. Inevitably there was quite a bit of movement and trial and error before getting a perfectly pressed image.
Once the overall design details were resolved I found I was taking two steps forward and one back as I ensuring the overall weight of the case with its contents wasn't too heavy. The frame of the case needed structurally to be rigid and strong to avoid the contents getting damaged. I extensively researched a range of possible materials to help create a lightweight internal framework around which to build the external leather of the case.
I made a flying visit to London to see Joanne in one of the lockdown breaks to test a mockup of the shoulder straps and adjust them for her height relative to the size of the case. This was to enable her to wear the case while sitting.
The case is all hand stitched and incorporates very strong magnets to hold the handle in position when not in use.
The inside of the case is designed to hold the different sections of the crosier snuggly avoiding any movement as the case is carried, and look elegant when opened.
The internal structure is padded and covered in a beautifully soft gloving leather that helps retain the crosier pieces.
There were quite a few flying visits on the hovercraft collecting and returning the crosier as it was needed by the bishop. I had found it essential to have the crosier to ensure the case was accurately made to size.
This was a super commission and wonderful to have the opportunity to work with others on a piece that will be handed down the generations. Thank you to all those involved both in the collaboration and Stephanie Grenfell and Joanne Grenfell for inviting me to work on the project, it has been a wonderful experience and look forward to seeing the case in action.
Photo by Sylvia McInnes
Photo by Lori Cook