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Talking with a Costume Designer about the Loom of Heaven


On the cover of the lesson study guide for this quarter, Christ stands like a tailor holding a coat for a man who is slipping his arms into the sleeves.  “Garments of Grace: Clothing Imagery in the Bible” reads the title.  Is the garment of grace really something so easily slipped into and out of I wondered? What would a clothing designer have to say about the topic that we are delving into this quarter? My friend Laura Lamar makes period costumes for Renaissance productions at her church and for Old Western re-enactments. I decided to have a conversation with her about clothing imagery in the Bible.

What do you consider when thinking about a costume? Does a costume need a back-story?

Yes, very much so. For the Renaissance costumes, we design for a specific character from history, or for a fictional character from our script. Last year, Sir Francis Drake was in our play, so I researched portraits of him and based his costume on one that I particularly liked, using scraps of fur and chain, modifying a felt hat brim to match his, selecting jewelry from our cache, and so on.

For the western characters my husband Max, who is a history buff, will research the period and create a character with a complete back-story. One year he might be a cattle broker from Westport (early Kansas City) in a frock coat, fine hat, brocade vest with a watch on a chain; another time a prospector with a ratty old hat, shabby clothes and suspenders.

How do garments signify character?

The obvious ways: by showing the class, status, wealth of upper class characters in brocades and lace and jewels; or the poverty of serving maidens with hand-patched skirts and odd bits and pieces put together; the pride and strength of guards in their matching tunics and weaponry.

I once heard the novelist Margaret Atwood describe her research for a book of historical fiction. It included having a seamstress make her a complete costume from the period to wear, right down to the underwear. Her quip was to understand a character you have to get the underwear right.

She’s right. Underwear forms the basis for a costume. You move differently in a dress with a large skirt or tight lacings. Wearing the clothes of a character helps you understand and become that person.

Have you ever made any costumes for Biblical characters?

Max had a great striped cotton robe that looked very Nazarene; he wore that sashed, with flat leather sandals one year, but I can’t remember if he was an actual character, or just vaguely biblical.

When you read a Bible story that includes description of clothing, how does the clothing affect your understanding of the story? For instance, what does the text in Galatians mean to you when Paul tells his readers that being baptized is to put on the clothing of Christ?

If clothing makes the man, then to wear the clothing of Christ makes us new and like Christ. Just the idea of Christ’s clothing gives me chills! Not that they might be visually grand or elaborate, but surely they would be infused with spirit-color and glory…maybe it’s like wearing lilies! You couldn’t help but feel new, and wonderful, and loved, and in tune with all creation!

How would you describe a garment of grace?

A garment of grace should be joyful, comfortable, special, and yet so perfect for you that it becomes invisible and lets you shine. It should not make those around you uncomfortable. And once put on, it should become your skin, and you should forget about it. It could be grand, or just a rag; it is more about your attitude and how you wear it that gives it, and you, grace.

You said that the idea of Christ’s garments gave you chills. What would putting on the cloak of Christ mean to you?

Putting on Christ’s robe would make your skin tingle, it would touch you down to the core.  It would burn a hole through you with power in a good way.  If just touching the hem of his garment could heal you, what would putting on his whole cloak do to you?

Certainly the cloak of Christ changes our character. In Him, we are new creatures—and, in Him, we have the clothes to move through life more gracefully. Our back-story of sin no longer shapes us. Christ has designed new clothes for us—right down to the underwear. In Him we move and have our being. In Him, we can do all things.

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