Praise banners in churches can add significant color and texture to plain walls, and can brighten the mood in order to mark special occasions in the church year. Simple slogans, phrases from Bible readings, or symbols, can adorn the typical praise banner. Decorative elements can include a variety of themes or icons. The key to making a good praise banner is to make sure the content fits your church, the fabric and stitching will hang without bunching, and the materials are durable for rolling and storage.
When you add something made of fabric to the church decor, you are softening the hard walls, adding variety to the permanent structure, improving the acoustics, and visually welcoming the parishioners to worship. A sewing committee at a church represents an interesting link to the past, because many elements of churches were made of fabric in the early history of Christianity and Judaism. When churches were portable by necessity, the worship areas were defined not by bricks, but by decorated textiles and sacred fabrics. Think of the description of the Tent of Meeting in the Old Testament, and one sometimes wonders, "How long did it take them to sew all that stuff?"
The best praise banners are reusable themes for annual occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Jesus, which is usually in February. Therefore, the banner maker needs to ponder the practical use of her artwork, which is that it's likely to be in storage for about eleven months a year, and displayed for only one or two weeks a year. Any material on the banner that will not survive being folded, or rolled and unrolled, should be skipped. With these practical notions in mind, and after considering the dimensions and the theme of the banner, you can begin the design process.
First think of the area to be covered by the banner. Is there a standard size used in your church, to hang on columns along the side of the sanctuary? Is the wall articulated, with some areas protruding and some areas recessed? Note the height and width of the surface where your banner will be hung, and what kind of hook is available to mount it. Are freestanding banners allowed near the altar or chancel? Some churches are strict about what images can be placed in the sanctuary, so a little research might be needed prior to making any universal assumptions.
A. What fabric to use:
A praise banner may need to be ironed from time to time, so the materials should not be thin synthetics, which are prone to melting. The banner cannot be made with stretchy materials, because those will tend to warp and sag over the long run. For the background material, canvas or cotton duck is preferable. The purchaser should wash the material as a "preshrinking" precaution before starting to decorate or sew on it. Ironing the material is advisable, too, before the sewing process starts.
B. Making a rigid frame:
A praise banner normally has two rigid edges, one each at the top and the bottom. These are typically made by purchasing wooden dowling rods of a half-inch or one-inch diameter. The rods can be located at most craft stores or hardware stores. A tunnel or long flap is sewn into the top and bottom edges of the banner, so that the rod can be inserted snugly into place. Your church staff may want to slide the rods out and fold the praise banner when it's out of season, or reuse the rods for other banners of the same width.
When hemming the edges of the banner material, the top and bottom need to be exactly square, or 90 degrees from the side edges, or else the banner will appear crooked when it is hung. Each side of the top support may be adorned with ribbons of varying length, for a celebratory appearance. A cord or rope is attached to each side of the top support for the purpose of hanging the banner to a wall-mounted hook or nail.
C. Decorating the background:
The shapes, letters and numbers that make up the pattern on the banner can be formal or casual. Many people prefer to use felt for this function. Felt is inexpensive, comes in hundreds of colors, and does not fray at the edges, yet it is thick enough to resist curling and warping. If you want a really hardy banner, use wool felt, rather than synthetic. You may want to check for colorfastness if you buy an inexpensive felt. Pre-washing is advised, to guard the material from shrinkage and color bleeding.
Cutting the felt into shapes should be done after a paper pattern or template is worked out. Stencils from the art section of a discount store can be helpful, but make sure to use large lettering, such as two inches or greater. Felt can be marked with chalk, prior to cutting. Trace the letters from a stencil with chalk, in their "backwards" form, on the REAR side of your craft felt. Then, when you flip them over, you have an unmarked version of the letter (or other image) that is ready to be sewn onto the banner. Accents such as trim, ribbon, and beads should be used sparingly, so that the image does not become too busy.
The decorative aspect might show an image of water, for a baptism. Loaves and fishes are good Biblical icons that can be used for many occasions. The image of doves, calling to mind the Holy Spirit, is a popular theme for praise banners. Bunches of grapes, relating to the parables about vineyards, are another idea. Rainbows tying into the Old Testament Covenant, or the final chapter of Noah's story, are striking symbols to use on a banner. Simple shapes, as in bold icons, are better for cutting and sewing. Flowers and butterflies, representing rebirth, are popular for springtime and Easter.
Keep in mind that you are not writing a paragraph on the banner, just a phrase, slogan, or maybe one word and one picture. Some of the best praise banners have a bold word like "faith" spelled out vertically, with each letter sized about one foot tall. These are simple, readable, yet decorative designs that can be reused more easily than a specific seasonal theme.
D. Final layout and finishing:
If you used a paper template for your design, refer back to it and lay the art pieces (i.e. felt decorations) on the background. Pin them carefully on a flat surface. Nothing should have gaps or small folds that might cause the banner to snag, bunch, warp, or bubble. Before stitching the decorations onto the banner, hang it briefly while it is in the "pinned-up" stage. Make sure you can read it from across the room, and adjust sizes or spacing if you are not satisfied. Only then should you proceed to the sewing of the decorative items. You can use chalk to place lines or arcs where the lettering needs a spacing guide. The chalk will brush off easily when you are done sewing. When you are finished, stand back and admire your handiwork; you have created part of the church's decor, which may brighten someone's day, or add interest to the worship experience.