The Bewitching Home Blog Party: Ancestral Altar Cloth Tutorial

Hello to all my visitors, new and old!  Today, I’m taking part in The Bewitching Home Blog Party, hosted by the lovely Witch of Howling Creek!  The theme is adding magic to domestic tasks be they cooking, cleaning, decorating, etc.   To be honest, this all snuck up on me!  I’ve been a busy gal with work, organizing events for the Druidic Study Group, and attempting to keep my home tidy!  Despite how busy and stressful life has been, I’ve been thinking a lot about Samhain and, in particular, my ancestors this month.  The ancestors are never far from my thoughts.  They are honored at each high day and I have a special altar for them where I make offerings from time to time.  My extra attention to them this month is partly because my study group is focusing on that Kindred now, and also because, I think, the veil is thinning and they are making their presence more known.  As we approach Samhain, I’m planning to put some extra effort into keeping my home tidy.  It is believed that ancestors can visit when the veil is thin.  I should make my home as welcoming and comfortable as I would for any corporeal visitors!

Now my usual readers know I’m an artsy-craftsy sort of lady.  I love to make things for regular household use as well as magical objects.  I decided to share a basic sewing tutorial with you on this special occasion.  Today we’ll be making an ancestral altar cloth so you can create a very special place of honor for your visiting dead this season.  It’s the perfect blend of magic meets seasonal decor!

For supplies you’ll need some fabric, pins (check out the adorable witch hat pin cushion made by my friend Brighde Indigo), thin yarn or embroidery floss, thread, paper scissors, fabric scissors, tracing materials, an embroidery needle, and a sewing needle or sewing machine.  Now let’s think about the fabric for a moment.  You need enough of a base fabric to cover your altar.  You may go out and buy some fabric to make a simple table cloth, or you may use one you already have on hand.  I chose to use a white table cloth I made a few years ago.  I haven’t been using it and wanted to give it new life.  Appropriate, no?You will be appliquéing four skulls onto the corners of your altar cloth.  Choose a color that works well with your base fabric.   Since my table cloth was a white faux satin, I used some scrap black satin I had laying around.  I decided to use red thread and thin yarn for the applique and blanket stitch border.  White, black and red are colors I associate with the dead.  White symbolizes the bones and new life; red the blood or life force; and black is the mystery surrounding death as well as the dark Earth we all rest in for a time.  Choose colors that suit your own ancestral beliefs!
Trace four skulls on your coordinating fabric using the Skull_pattern I’ve provided (that’s where the paper scissors come in handy!)       Cut the skulls out but be sure to leave enough room around the tracing – as photographed.  You will trim away excess after appliqueing.  Fold the skulls in half to cut the eyes and nose out.    I did not choose to cut out the mouth.  Rather, I stitched to show teeth.  You’ll see what I mean later!
Pin the skulls, right side up, in the corners of your table cloth.
Although you may applique by hand (using a blanket stitch), it’s much easier to use a machine – especially if you’re using a fabric as fray-happy as satin!    I’m still new to applique, so I apologize for the sloppiness of it.  Here’s a great tutorial from Design Sponge.  They used interfacing – something I didn’t have on hand.  After this project, I can see why it’s so important.  It stiffens the fabric and keeps it in place.  You can still make this altar cloth without it, but I’m warning you it will be a bit annoying!  Use the smallest zig-zag setting your machine has and have at it!  Notice, I used the zig-zag stitch in the mouth area.  I love how toothy it looks!  I then trimmed the fabric around the stitching.  Smaller scissors would have made it easier but, again, using what I have on hand!  As I worked, I chanted to the ancestors.  When the applique was complete, I hand-stitched around the edges using the yarn.  I chose to use the blanket stitch – it’s simple and added just enough extra color.
After the altar cloth was complete, I consecrated it in ritual.  Notice the red border!  I’m very pleased with how it turned out!
Now it sits upon my special Samhain Ancestral altar – providing a cozy spot for them to rest and feast if they visit.
Be sure to check out all the other wonderful posts in this fun blog-party!  All other participants are sharing their links in the comments of the original post.  There are other tutorials, giveaways, recipes, and lots of inspiration!

EDIT:  I just now realized that the skull pattern turned out to be HUGE.  It’s really not supposed to be that big…  You’ll need to minimize it to fit your altar cloth.  Or, I suppose, you could make some really large ones!

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

12 thoughts on “The Bewitching Home Blog Party: Ancestral Altar Cloth Tutorial

  1. Fantastic idea and beautiful altar cloth! The ancestors are on my mind alot these days as well. My mom is now one of them and I honor her spirit with much love and pride.

    1. My condolences about your mother. I’m sure she’s still watching over you! Thank you for your comment!

    1. Thank you! It was a fun excuse to learn more about applique and it felt good to make something for the ancestors.

  2. Absolutely wonderful altar cloth and I also have an alter for my loved one’s in Summerland. Thanks for the great ideas.

    1. You’re welcome! I think it’s wonderful that you have an altar to honor your ancestors!

  3. What a great pattern. Thanks so much for sharing! I think I will make some pillows using this wonderful pattern.

    Great post

    1. Thanks Caroline! LOL Yeah, I guess it is big enough for pillows! I really don’t know why it became so enlarged when I scanned… I need to figure this tech out! Share a photo of your pillows when you make them!

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