by Catherine Fournier
Banners seem to be an increasingly popular form of decoration. They show up most often in secular settings, or in very modern liberal churches, where there is little or no decoration anyway. They have a 'folk-art' appeal that seems to fit the community first focus of many parishes.
The ironic thing, of course, is that banners are teaching tools as well as decoration. They carry words and images intended to convey a message to the congregation. In the absence of the traditional visual catechisms of stained glass windows, statues, votive candles, stations of the cross, and paintings, banners carry on the very tradition they are intended to usurp.
Seen as teaching tools rather than simply as modern craft, banners have great evangelising and catechetical potential in the home as well as in the classroom and parish. They can be hung in any room or hallway to proclaim your faith to all who view it.
Banners are very flexible. They can be any size or colour, any style or image, can be simple or ornate depending on ability. They can be made of almost anything and used for almost any occasion. In fact, they are so simple, yet potentially so powerful, that making several to fit various family and liturgical celebrations is something every family should consider.
Banners can be made of any firm cloth, or backed with a sturdy cloth to help them hang straight. Felt, burlap and canvas are obvious choices, but moire fabric, an old bedsheet or light weight broadcloth (for an outside banner) are other good choices. Decorations can be drawn on with waterproof markers, fabric paint or acrylic paint, glued or sewn on depending on the style of the banner and your abilities. Decorations and lettering can be made of buttons, ribbon, braid, strings of wool arranged to form words and held on with stitches across it, or anything else you might have. Since the variety is almost endless, this article will outline a few of the possibilities and leave the rest up to you and your family's imagination!
A Saint's Day Banner
To celebrate the name days of family members (the feast day of the saint each person is named after.) The banner can be hung as part of a Tridium (three day) preparation for the feast day, or could be brought out on the actual feast day for the dinner. Any symbol of sainthood or heaven can be used - flames, doves, crowns. The symbols for each individual name saints could be added to the banner for a 'family portrait' of saint's symbols, or interchangeable symbols fastened with velcro dots or a snap fastener could personalise the banner for each feast.
A Lent and Easter Banner
A reversible banner hung in a prominent place is our only decoration during Lent. I remove all other pictures and decorations from end tables etc, and cover our statues with purple cloth. On Holy Saturday, I bring out all our Easter decorations, and reverse this banner to show its other side. Special decorations reserved for special occasions strengthens the importance of the celebration and helps create the traditions necessary to pass the Faith down successive generations.
Festive Party Banners
Special banners just for special celebrations like birthday or graduation parties are worth the effort for the message of love and respect they give the recipient of the celebration - Your party gets the 'special' decorations.
Windsock type banners take a little more time, but are surprisingly easy to make and store, look really great blowing in the wind, can be hung from trees, hooks, the clothes line or poles stuck in the ground.
Cut strips of brightly coloured fabric as long as you'd like the finished windsock to be. If you are going to use 8 strips, make each one 1/8 of your desired finished diameter plus an inch for a half inch seam allowance on each side.
Mark a spot half way down the length of each strip and sew the strips together from the top to the marked spot. The rest will hang free and blow in the wind. Don't sew them together into a circle yet, though. Hem the loose ends of each strip ( a bit of a pain, but it doesn't have to be perfect, just turn under an edge and sew it.) Now sew the last strips together to form a circle. Turn under the top edge about 1/2 inch and sew it, leaving about an inch long gap between your starting and finishing place.
Find something fairly firm, like a wire coat hanger, or plastic tubing and feed it into the channel you've just sewn. This will hold the mouth of the windsock in a circle. Attach strings at three points around the rim of the windsock, tie them together at the top and make a loop for hanging. There you go.
I made a dozen of these one evening as part of the decorations for a wedding reception held in our back yard, and have used them several times since. In between times, they are hung over a hanger in a closet.
A family banner is one that holds symbols and words that are significant to your family. It could be a created as a memento of a special occasion in your families life, or your family could make one a year to remember the events and changes in the past year. A family banner is a very personal thing and can be a great opportunity for the family to talk, discuss what is important to each person, and create something together. The creation of a family banner symbolises in a real and concrete way, the creation of the family itself, a collection of people, events, traditions and memories coming together to make something that is more that a sum of its part, something permanent and extraordinary.
I hope I have inspired you to make some banners for your family, or even to start a tradition in your home and family that uses banners to celebrate special events. Banners make great gifts, too and can subtly evangalise, even when you're not there.