How To Make A Beautiful Altar Cloth
I believe that we, as witches, hold a lot of power. Because of this, I love to add my own personal touches to my magical tools. With a bit of intention, creativity, and love, a regular object can be elevated to become something powerful and sacred. A handmade altar cloth is a wonderful and surprisingly simple way to add a bit of personal power to your sacred space.
What Is An Altar Cloth?
Altar cloths are pieces of fabric (or sometimes other materials) that are used to decorate a special area where you perform your magic. Some witches always keep their altar cloths spread open on their altars. Other witches choose to fold them up and store them after use.
You can also use your cloth as the altar itself, spreading it out wherever and whenever you choose to perform some witchcraft. If you don’t practice with that many magical tools, you might choose to wrap your candles, oils, and crystals in the cloth and tie them up. That way, your altar cloth doubles as a “bag” to keep all your magical tools together.
Sometimes altar cloths are used exclusively for wrapping oracle and tarot cards. Witches will fold the cloth around the entire deck of cards and tie the ends to secure it. This keeps the cards from getting damaged when you’re carrying them around. When the witch is ready to draw cards for a reading, he or she will place the cards right on the cloth, arranging them in a spread.
No matter how you choose to use your altar cloth, the main thing is that this cloth is in some way special to you. Whenever you spread it out on a space, that space becomes sacred and ready for magic. When you wrap anything in it, that tool is charged with the inherent power of your cloth.
How To Make An Altar Cloth
There are several different routes you can go with this, but I’ve included the two options I’ve used. Pick whichever one sounds like the most fun to you, or get creative and use something more unique for your altar cloth. Also, know that you can definitely have more than one altar cloth in your magical toolbox. Maybe you use one cloth for love spells, one for money spells, and one for divination rituals.
Option One: A Repurposed Cloth
Cloths or pieces of fabric that once belonged to your grandmother or someone else special to you make for excellent altar cloths. This can include a piece of lace, clothing, a handkerchief, a scarf, a tablecloth, a blanket, or a bandana.
You can cut the cloth down so it’s an appropriate size. If you want to decorate the cloth, you can use one of the methods featured in this article, or use the cloth as is.
Option Two: Fat Quarter Quilting Fabrics
“Fat quarters” are eighteen inches by 21 inches of fabric that are used for sewing and miscellaneous craft projects. They also happen to be the perfect size for altar cloths. Another benefit is that these bits of fabric are very inexpensive and come in a variety of patterns, colors, and materials. You can find these cut pieces of material at any craft store, or any big box chain store.
How To Decorate Your Altar Cloth
Tie Dye Method
Purchase dyes at a craft store, or make your own with different plants. (Just make sure you use proper safety when working with herbs and plants.)
You can flick the dye onto the cloth to create a lovely speckled pattern. Another option is to use rubber bands to create designs on the cloth that will show up after you dip the cloth in dye and remove the rubber bands. There are a lot of helpful tutorials on youtube that show you how to make a huge variety of designs with tie-dye.
Spray Paint & Stencils Method
You can get some seriously beautiful metallic spray paint and decorate your cloth with shiny designs.
Copper and gold colored spray paints are my favorite. Make sure you get the kind that can be used on fabric.
As far as stencils go, you can buy some at a craft store, online, or use some cardboard and cut out your desired shapes with scissors or an x-acto knife. Cardboard from a cereal box works well for this because it’s sturdy enough to keep its shape, while also being able to lay flat on whatever material you’re spray painting.
Permanent Marker Drawings and Tracings With Stencils
Use stencils or shapes to trace with a permanent marker to create designs. Trace a tarot card to create a tarot spread design, or draw out dots to represent your favorite zodiac constellations.
Flowers & Herbs Method
This is my favorite method. Collect an assortment of herb leaves and flower petals. You’ll want these plants to be fresh enough that they are still holding their moisture and color. Don’t try to use any dried plants.
Fresh herbs like rosemary, sage, and basil work very well for this kind of project. Roses are excellent flower options for this as well because of their vibrant, large, and relatively flat petals.
In addition to the leaves and flowers, you’ll need an old cutting board, a hammer, and two fat quarter cloths (or any two pieces of fabric that are about the same size.
Keep in mind that you will be making a lot of noise with this project, so unless you live in the country with no neighbors for miles, plan to do this project at an hour when you won’t be waking anyone up.
I also recommend doing this project outside or in your garage because the colors of the plants tend to get a bit messy as you work.
To do this method, place the cutting board on a flat surface such as on the ground or on a very sturdy table. Consider setting it on a welcome mat to absorb some of the noise. Next, lay one piece of fabric on the cutting board. Arrange your flower petals and leaves on the cloth in the design you’d like them to appear on your altar cloth.
You can make any kind of design that appeals to you—symmetrical or more random. Maybe you’d like to use the plants to make a circle, mandala, or a pentagram. Once you create a design you’re happy with, carefully lay the other cloth on top, so the plants are in between the two cloths.
Begin to hammer away. Pound the fabric in the places where there are plants underneath until you see the imprint of the plant coming through the fabric. Focus on getting the outer edge of each plant before filling in the middle. Enjoy the wonderful smells that you experience as you do this. Thank the plants for sharing their beauty with you.
Once you’ve hammered each plant so it shows through the top side of the fabric, carefully peel apart the two cloths. Brush the plants off your cloths with your fingertips.
You should have two cloths with identical botanical markings. Use them both for your altar and magical practice, or give one to a witchy friend.
Wait a day or two before you wash these cloths (if you choose to wash them at all). You may opt to use them without washing and enjoy the scents that the cloths retain. Use plants with traditional correspondences to create a cloth for a specific intention such as love or money, or go by intuition and use plants that you think would go nicely together.
Iron-on Designs or Other Fabric Image Transfer Options
Purchase iron-on image transfer fabric sheets at a craft store, and use them to create designs for your cloth. This method will allow you to get some very detailed, intricate images on your cloth. This works especially well with photographs.
Use good, old-fashioned paint to decorate your altar cloth. You can try painting a design right on the cloth, or you can use the cloth to wipe off your paintbrush while you’re working on another piece of artwork. The latter method will give your altar cloth a colorful organic look that will match the color scheme of whatever project you're working on.
Common Altar Cloth Symbols & Designs
You can create any kind of design you want on your altar cloth. This is your space to create anything from your imagination. However, if you need some ideas, you can choose to re-create one of the common images found on altar cloths.
Tarot Spread Design
Create rectangles on your cloth that are the same size as your favorite tarot deck. Use these spaces to place your cards during a tarot reading. You can write a word or phrase to describe what each card in that position means, or just use the spaces you’ve marked without following a set spread.
Triple Moon Design
This is the image of the two crescent moons on either side of the full moon. Consider using this design if you perform a lot of lunar magic.
Place a symbol to represent the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) on each quadrant of your altar cloth. Lay the cloth so the earth symbol is pointing north, the air symbol is pointing east, fire is pointing south, and water is pointing west. Create this design if you perform elemental magic or you usually open and close your rituals by calling in the elements.
Quotes and Incantation Designs
Write out your favorite poem or magical incantation on your cloth. You can write it out in straight lines, or use the words to create an image like a circle, square or triangle.
Creativity Is Magic
Get as creative and as experimental as you like with this magical project. There are many other methods that haven’t been mentioned here like cross stitch patterns, quilted altar cloths, cut out designs, and many more. Try a medium you’re comfortable using, or explore a completely new art form. This is a great activity to do as a solo witch or as a group ritual if you have other witches you practice with. Have fun, and trust that whatever you create is exactly what you need.
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by Julie Hopkins
Julie Hopkins is a writer, yoga teacher, and founder of Power Within, a whimsical online space created to help others improve their lives with magic. She’s from Chicago, but spends most of her time traveling to cool places.
Julie discovered the world of magic after she got tired of reading personal development books and hearing the same ideas over and over. Looking for a new way to grow, Julie started experimenting with tarot cards and felt an immediate connection to her intuition in a way she’d never experienced before. After that, she began studying magic in all its forms, never looking back. When she’s not writing about witchy things, you can find Julie making candles, daydreaming, and playing with other people’s dogs and babies.