Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ancestor Altar Cloth

AncestorCloth2_1500.jpg - Image by Patti Wigington 2013

Make an ancestor altar cloth to honor your family tree.
An ancestor altar cloth is something you can make any time of the year, although it can come in particularly handy for Samhain, when many people choose to perform ancestor-focused rituals. This project can be as simple or as complex as you like, depending on your time constraints, creativity, and crafting skills.
You’ll need:
  • A plain white or cream-colored tablecloth, or other piece of fabric
  • Fabric pencil
  • Embroidery floss and hoop, or fabric markers
  • A genealogy of your direct ancestors
A few notes here, before you get started. There’s no hard and fast rule about how to do this - it’s a craft idea that is very personalized. Do what works best for you. If you’re handy with a needle and thread, you can embroider the cloth - it will definitely last longer that way. If you’re not confident about your stitching abilities, you can use fine-tipped fabric markers (keep in mind that this option may limit your ability to wash the altar cloth if it gets dirty or stained during ritual).

As to your genealogy, you can keep it simple if you like, or if you’ve never done any genealogy research. You’ll need the names of your parents, of their parents, their grandparents, and so on. If you want to include your children, you can do that too.

 The ancestor altar cloth in the photos contains eight generations going in four different genealogical directions - it’s a lot of people, spread out over a full-sized tablecloth. If you’re keeping yours small, you may not need as much room - or you can choose to make the text larger.

Start by putting yourself in the center, and writing your name carefully with a lightweight fabric pencil - these wash or brush off easily when you’re done. Branch out, including your parents’ names above you, one on each side. Using lines to connect everyone, gradually add the names of your ancestors. You can even include dates of birth and death, or place names if you have the room.
It’s best to do all of this in pencil first - or better yet, use Post-It Notes, one for each ancestor’s name - to position people around the cloth. If you know the names of lots of ancestors on one side, but only a few on the other, it can start looking lopsided pretty quickly, unless you’re able to rearrange people (this is why sticky notes are great).

Once you’ve figured out everyone’s placement, add the names in fabric pencil until you’ve included as many people as you like. If you’re going to embroider the names, work from one side to the other, just to keep things simple - you may even want to do different branches of the family, or different generations, in alternating colors. If you opt to use fabric markers for the final work, be careful! Stitches can always be picked out, but markers are permanent.

Keep in mind that the very act of creation can be a magical one, and you can utilize the crafting of this altar cloth as a ritual in and of itself. Particularly if you're stitching, there's a very meditative aspect to the creative process.

After you’ve put everyone’s names on the fabric, use it as an altar cloth for rituals involving ancestor work.

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