Our church was looking for some new banner ideas for Lent and Easter. We decided to create two banners—one with an image of a crown of thorns, and another with an empty tomb. Here’s an outline of the process we followed.
First we selected our banner images (our church has a subscription to faithclipart.com, but you can find ideas in books and in many places online). Then we made several prototypes, trying different painting and dying techniques on the fabric. Next we bought two-and-a-half yards of white cotton sheeting and cut the fabric into two five- by four-foot banners. We sewed a zigzag one-half inch from each of the edges to prevent fraying, but left the edge natural.
Crown of Thorns Banner
To create the images, we sponged each banner with regular acrylic paints thinned down with rubbing alcohol. For the red crown of thorns banner we first used reds and oranges to paint the background. While the paint was still wet, we scrunched the fabric into a small basin and poured red liquid dye over it (use rubber gloves if you don’t want dyed hands!). We squeezed and scrunched the fabric to make sure it was well coated, then wrung it out slightly and hung it to dry. Do not shake out or flatten the fabric yet; leaving it rumpled adds to the texture and striations.
After the fabric dried, we ironed it using a steam iron to get it flat enough to work on (use an old sheet to cover your ironing board)—but when you iron, do not steam out all the wrinkles. You will end up with a look and texture similar to leather.
We tried projecting the crown of thorns image onto the fabric so we could trace it, but because the background was so dark, we had issues. Instead we suggest drawing the image by hand with a white colored pencil. We used flat black acrylic paint to hand-paint the shape of the crown of thorns. When the black paint was dry, we painted over it with slightly smaller thorns so that the black would provide a shadow. For this step we used fabric puff paint in a “hot chocolate” color. We later added copper and gold fabric paints for highlighting. After this dried, we added some extra highlighting with white and yellow paint.
To make the “rays” coming from the crown, we sponged around the edge, using a nearly-dry sponge with black paint. To achieve a natural look for the rays, you may want to cut them out of paper and place them on the fabric so that you can see exactly where to place them and what it looks like. (Be extra careful if you are working on two tables; make sure the tables don’t create lines in your sponge painting!)
Stone and Tomb Banner
For the yellow banner we used a similar process, sponging on yellow and orange paint first, then pouring on yellow dye, letting the fabric dry, and ironing it as outlined above. We drew our basic image by hand and then use nearly-dry sponges and paintbrushes to add depth and clarity to the image. In some areas, we used a granite rock underneath the fabric to provide an authentic texture to the sponging.
After both banners are complete, sew a “rod-pocket” at the top of each to accept a dowel that is four to six inches longer than the top of your banners are wide. Tie fishing line to each end of the dowel for hanging.
We suggest that as you work, you repeatedly take your banners to the front of the church to make sure the image is easily visible and that you have added enough highlighting. At our church, the banners hung to the right and left of the cross, which had been draped with black fabric for Lent (see photo).