Diane Begin has been embroidering since the age of five. The Bloomfield Township resident learned from her grandmother, who believed in the benefits of staying busy and the old adage, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
Today, Begin, a retired legal secretary who was born in Detroit, stays active serving others in the community. She and her husband Alex attend a chapel at the SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake and support other locations with a Tridentine mass, which is always in Latin.
Begin sits in the first row to show others when to sit, stand or kneel during the Latin masses her husband organizes at various churches like Old St. Mary’s in Greektown in Detroit. As she explained, they can be hard to follow without some guidance as the priest faces the altar and often speaks softly.
While her husband teaches the mass to priests, she instructs parishioners with little red missals that have Latin on one side and English on the other. The Latin masses have become increasingly popular with close to 40 churches in metro Detroit alone. “There’s a solemnity to it. We follow the rubrics content in the mass just as if we were at the Vatican,” she said.
Begin also puts her sewing skills to good use by making articles like the amice, a sign of purity. The rectangular white cloth that has an embroidered religious cross in the center wraps around the priest’s shoulders and ties around the front of his body.
It takes about 30 minutes for her to make two of these cloths with a sewing machine. She also makes the surplice, an outer garment worn by the servers and the master of ceremonies that requires more time and effort as she makes the patterns for the three sizes she creates.
The more complex ciborium veil takes approximately four hours for her to complete. This piece, made from a gold fabric or a material with a special religious cross pattern, covers the ciborium, a brass container that holds the host.
Begin creates three layers for the veil, one that can be seen on the outside, a lining for the inside and a middle layer that gives it some weight to lay nicely like draperies.
“A heavy fabric has to lay a certain way to look nice,” she said. “The middle layer has a heavy weight, the lining covers up the inside, and the exterior layer is the pretty part.”
She typically adds gold or white trim around the edges of the veil for more detail. “They’re not easy,” said Begin. “But I want it to look nice.”
Her efforts began with the repairs that she continues to do today and grew from there. Some of the articles that have been professionally made are meant to last and to be passed down to other churches. She fixes the areas that start to fray, like the trim which is often the first to go.
Begin also began making quilted bags with zippers on one end to protect the costly altar cards and their frames being transported from one location to another. “I make them to last and the quilted bag really does help protect them when they travel,” she said. Three sets she made went all the way to St. Croix.
Though she remains humble, Begin clearly adds value to the lives of others through her generous gifts of talent and time.
Story: Jeanine Matlow
Photo: Laurie Tennent