Stitching A Niche With Stoles

By Joel Waldinger | October 31, 2019


White, green, purple, red. Melinda Halom knows her church colors and the corresponding seasons. Halom is a part-time pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in New Auburn. However, it’s her other job that is attracting attention. In her basement, you find her self-proclaimed “woman cave” filled with fabric and sewing equipment.

Like the seeds of a dandelion, word spread quickly about what was happening in the woman cave. Creativity, craftsmanship and custom stoles got Halom noticed. Stoles are the cloth that pastors where around their necks when preaching a sermon or delivering a special service.

Halom’s stoles are probably unlike any you’ve seen. Halom says, “It started with a pastor who loved camouflage. As we go into hunting season, many congregations are gathering their hunters together, and blessing them, and blessing the orange, as it’s often called.”

Stoles for special occasions and Wisconsin traditions didn’t stop at hunting. During Packers season, there are green and gold stoles, or a Viking stole, or half Packers-half Viking for those pastors in congregations with a split allegiance. Halom says on Sunday mornings, most of her congregation will be in football attire. She says, “You’ve addressed the elephant sitting in the middle of the church; you can get on with worship.”

Halom now makes stoles for all seasons and all reasons. Halom notes a couple of stoles in particular, “This stole is very specifically rainbow colors to make a clear statement to folks that would come in and see the pastor wearing it, that says LGBTQ folks are welcome here.” There’s also a stole of “Holy Humor Sunday” that’s filled with emojis. Another stole features animal prints for “Blessing of the Pets.”

Behind her sewing machine, Halom is truly on a mission. Halom says, “I think I would have given up on these eons ago if the people that received the stoles in the mail didn’t come back to me and say, ‘It’s more than what I wanted.’” Halom’s basement is filled with the noise of a sewing machine or the tat, tat, tat of the embroiderer. Even with modern equipment, the process can be time consuming. “It can take anywhere from three to four hours to a few days when I’m designing a stole from scratch. Just that designing piece can take a couple of weeks.”

The stoles have been shipped around the world, about 1,300 in all. Her stoles are unique and a piece of Halom is sewn into every design. She says, “It is so much a part of my heart. I never would have dreamed the stories that I have gained. The people that I have met and shared ministry with. And often I’ll see a fabric and just go, ‘Oh, I know what I need to make out of that.'”

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project and considers a sunset over the “big island” on Manson Lake to be a perfect ending to a day of fishing and fun in the Northwoods. 
2019-10-30T22:16:40-05:00Tags: |

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