Morgan County Farm Bureau Member Creates Wall Hangings for Churches Across the Globe
When Morgan County Farm Bureau member Sarah Brogdon was a young wife and mother of two children in the early 1970s, she started a home-based business as a dressmaker.
“I love to sew, and I knew I wanted to stay home with our kids, so my career as a dressmaker began,” Brogdon recalls. “When I started custom sewing, it was small projects for local customers. My small sewing business grew into a large clientele from all over the United States.”
Fashions by Sarah
Over the years, Brogdon’s sewing work shifted focus from making dresses and clothing to an unusual art form called cutwork. Today, she is known in religious circles around the world for her handmade wall hangings that depict scenes and verses from the Bible, and they hang in churches all over the United States and as far away as Africa, Canada, Iceland and Israel. Through her business, Fashions by Sarah, Brogdon also creates custom clergy stoles, banners, vestments and church paraments that adorn altars, pulpits and communion tables.
Brogdon began dabbling in cutwork in 1997 after her sister’s fabric store in Jacksonville – where she got all of her fabrics – burned down.
“With that disaster, my resources were gone,” she says. “At that time, God opened the door to cutwork, and I was guided into creating religious wall hangings. Cutwork is a negative/positive art form where part of the design is removed. The negative part refers to the part you cut out.”
Brogdon’s first piece was a cutwork collar she made for her sister for Christmas.
“That’s how it all started,” she says, with a chuckle. “A local Roman Catholic priest saw the collar and said he had to have one, so I designed it for him, and he cut it out.”
Brogdon put her many years of Sunday school teaching to use and began making her wall hangings and other products, each with its own story to tell.
“I’m very fortunate to have been given the gift of loving to create and glorifying God with my creations,” she says. “Communicating a Bible verse using pictures is not always easy, but with God leading the way, I’ve had success.”
Cutwork as Artwork
Churches can purchase Brogdon’s cutwork pieces ready to hang or in patterns or kits. Her wall hangings are made from felt and nylon netting. She cuts each one by hand with a pair of scissors and a rotary cutter. Clients are often surprised to learn she doesn’t use a computer or laser to cut the wall hangings.
“It’s a unique form of art – I’ve never met anyone else who does exclusively cutwork,” she says. “Your brain has to work two different ways. If you hang them about a half inch away from the wall, they will throw a shadow that makes them look 3D.”
Much of Brogdon’s work can be found in Methodist churches, but she also creates decor for Catholicsisciples of Christ, Presbyterians, Unitarians and other denominations. Many of her clients find out about her work at international church conventions and conferences.
“When I started exhibiting at conventions, my wall hangings were the talk of the shows. People said they had never seen anything like them,” Brogdon says. “The cutwork wall hangings are unusual because when they are hanging, the color of the wall comes through the cutaway areas, making the design look like it is floating.”
Brogdon received so many questions about her process that she wrote a book about it called, “A Cut Above.” It has detailed, step-by-step instructions about the cutwork process.
“I call it the book of courage for people who are afraid of the process,” she says, knowingly.
Rooted in Illinois
Brogdon still runs her art studio from the Franklin farm where she and her husband, Terry, raised their children. Her studio has windows on three sides, so she can watch the crops grow and be harvested while she works.
“I love what I do,” she says. “Each wall hanging I make, I learn something or discover new meaning to the symbols I’ve used in it. For example, my ‘River of Life’ wall hanging that represented water had hidden symbols in it. When ‘River of Life’ was done, I discovered if I were to make it red instead of blue, it could be used for Pentecost as wind instead of water.”
Often Brogdon feels she receives divine intervention when making her creations.
“I’ve had many times when my eyes were opened and received a gift,” she says. “What astounds me is that I’m the one who drew it, but I didn’t see it at the time.”