Long ago and far away… well okay just up the road and a couple of years ago, Someone asked me for a wax cloth! I blanched… truly…
I knew exactly what he wanted and why. I also knew exactly how to make such a thing but the thought filled me with utter dread…
I don’t recall what I said at the time. I’m sure it was polite. In any case, I dutifully relieved him of all his old candle ends and said I’d do my best.

Old candle ends…

But I just couldn’t do it. The idea of dunking quantities of linen into melted wax in my atelier… my sewing workroom… no! I did consider doing the whole job outside (which is the proper place anyway) but the neighbours might very well have taken exception to my stirring away at a large pot outside. They already think I’m odd… 😦
My courage failed me. He didn’t get his wax cloth.

The wax cloth is for the altar as a first layer. It prevents slipping and sliding and acts as a moisture barrier, it really dates from an era when marble was much used for altars and churches were usually quite damp. Marble has the quality of attracting moisture. Linen is pretty sturdy stuff but if it becomes (or is left) damp it is susceptible to mildew. Anyway, in more modern times churches are usually less damp and I’ve noticed that folks seem to use that weird drawer or shelf lining, a plastic or rubbery mesh stuff underneath the altar cloth. I do not like it at all, it seems to degrade over time and leaves a funny residue on the altar.
No, no, no – that just won’t do! But neither am I going to:

  • melt the candle ends in a very large pot
  • fish out the wicks
  • dunk a large piece of linen and stir it about a bit
  • hang it up to dry
  • make a ‘sandwich’ comprised of clean newsprint, linen, wax linen, linen and more newsprint on a suitable (!) flat surface, probably with even more newspaper underneath…
  • iron the whole lot so that the wax transfers and you get three cloths – yippee
  • trim to size

The only good thing is that you don’t have to do any hemming, no fraying likely…
Anyway, definitely a job for a sacristan, outside, in the summer, and I’m also fairly sure that it must be a job for a male sacristan so I have absolutely no idea why that Father was asking me in the first place! Really…!

It is good to get things out of the system.

Thankfully I have discovered a source of good quality waxed cotton. Not quite the same thing but it does the job admirably and the only downside is that it is very heavy and costs quite a lot to ship.

Cut to size!

Easy, right off the bolt. No frayed nerves or disastrous spills in the workroom. So Someone did get a wax cloth after all. After he’d moved to a different parish!

I’ve just cut another one for a different place and also sewn the second layer, which is a plain linen cloth covering only the top of the altar. You can sort of see it just at the top of the picture above and here it is closer up below:

Mmm, a mitred corner!

Very simple, one inch hems all around and no embroidery.
After those two (layers) goes the Fair Linen, which is the main cloth and the one you actually see. The idea is three cloths but there are differing schools of thought; since the corporal is also a cloth layer some parishes might use only two big cloths upon the altar. Either way is acceptable. It doesn’t do to be rigid because you have to think about the people doing the work of actually looking after these things.

Ready to go!

So here is that stress free wax cloth and it’s linen companion rolled and ready to go to their new home.

Let me finish by sharing this:

There was an old woman called Riley
Who valued old candle ends highly,
When no-one was looking,
She used them for cooking!
“It is wicked to waste,” she said, dryly…

So did you want to come for dinner?? 😉
Thanks for reading!