Sacred Clothing-The Cloak of Protection

Sacred Clothing-The Cloak of Protection

The Cloak of Protection


Twenty years ago a fiber artist friend named Louise Todd Cope, told me about the process of her Father’s illness and how she had made a “cloak of protection” for him to lay over the end of his bed. Included in the cloak that she made were pieces of cloth from her past, and threads woven in that reflected moments and memories of the time they had together as a family.

Paula Garret, pictured above, was a dear friend who frequently participated in the same art shows around the country, and was an artist who loved to create. She was an extraordinary metalsmith and sculptor. Paula was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2005. I had told her about the “Cloak of Protection” that Louise made for her father, and Paula asked if I would facilitate a group of friends to make one for her. Paula and I shared a special friendship, and held weekly “creative nights” where we created whatever we wanted to make as long as it was FUN. Making something for her, with her participation was a way in which each of her friends could openly express their love for her, and to gift her with the very thing that she gifted us all with which was joy, laughter, and an appreciation for the gift of life.

We gathered in the morning (there were 7 or 8 of us). I lead everyone in a ritual of opening which was our intention for being together, and all of the things that we were grateful for in Paula’s creative gifts to us. We had wonderful food that everyone brought, and Paula pulled LOTS of fabric out to work with. Included were skirts that her mother had made for her, shirts that belonged to her Father, quilt pieces that her grandmother had made and some special stones and buttons that she wanted to include.

We worked, ate, and enjoyed 12 or more hours together making the cloak, with each person working on a part or a piece to be added to the cloak.  Paula wanted a hood, and one person worked all day creating the hood. Around dinner time, Paula gathered us all together, and gave us each a stone, and told each of us how much we had added to her life and in what way we had each added to her experience of being alive. It was a really wonderful day. We added a pocket on the inside of the cloak to hold her medicine (stones, and sacred objects to her) The pocket sewn next to her heart was a pocket from her father’s shirt.

On the day that she died in Santa Fe, we surrounded her with color, and a quilt that I had made for her, and we laid the cloak over the end of her bed. Paula requested that Jan Brooks sing, so Jan went home to retrieve her guitar, and we all sang songs and surrounded her with pictures of her family, and told her how much we loved her. After she died, we bathed her in ancient oils, and wrapped her in the cloak of protection. She was cremated in the cloak.

To create a cloak for someone you love, it is important to include any expression that might be a signature for the person that marks events and experiences in their lives…..because the cloth itself is encoded and embued with messages that mark time and memories throughout one’s life. The inexplicable messages of love, grief, forgiveness, joy and memory are communicated through the cloth itself. . People could also contribute a small piece of fabric that could be added to the cloak, like a piece of clothing from a time that was important in their connection with the person, or a poem or something written on the cloth itself that could be embedded between layers of the cloak.

Herein is the power of cloth to convey vast amounts of information that embody the whole of a person’s life. Joan Halifax, Author, Anthropologist, in “The Fruitful Darkness,” speaks of a coat that was made of pieces of fabric from all of the people that she had witnessed dying. When she was in a fragile situation in Tibet, and almost died herself, she spoke of the coat being like threads that tethered her to the earth, and the love that she felt from all of those people that she had been with during the last moments of their lives.

Another story that I love to share is Blaise Pascal’s coat. He was a wonderful inventor and mathematician, but also a very religious man. When he was found dead, a manservant found a piece of cloth pinned to the inner lining of his coat next to his heart. Written on the cloth were the words which connected him to the divine…..  so the same “idea” could be conveyed  and embedded or sewn next to the person’s heart with whatever connects them to life, love and loved ones…..

It is important to have someone facilitate, or guide the process of making the Cloak of Protection. Including an “opening,” or invocation, spoken out loud, synthesizes and knits everyone together. It is also helpful to have a structure around time such as “We’ll work until 5, then eat, then perhaps have a time for the person to convey whatever he or she might want to share with everyone. The process bears meaning when there is an open exchange between participants AND the person who is ill to their feelings…..Then the cloak is encoded with messages that are really alive….

If there is not one who sews, to facilitate the process, then try using a ready made coat that the person has and sew the pieces directly on the coat. They may also be fused onto the coat by ironing the pieces directly to the coat. The process does not have to be a masterpiece, and the pieces may be sewn on like postage stamps. It is the intention and the gathering of friends and loved ones that gives the process  meaning to convey inexplicable expressions of love and tribute for one’s time on the earth.