A fellow magician contacted me today, and asked whether he (she? they? I’m not clear on pronouns) could simply buy some fabric, and take it to a tailor to have a magical robe professionally made. And the answer is “yes, you can do that.” But if you’re serious about making your magical practice real and meaningful in ways that you couldn’t have imagined, I would ask that you not do that.
Make your robe, don’t have it made for you.
Now, to be sure, there are many parts of making a magical robe which are inconvenient or difficult. If you don’t know how to sew, or don’t have a sewing machine, for example, you have a skill-set that you must learn before you can do anything else; or an expensive and complicated machine to buy, which then requires training to learn to use properly. At the least, you must purchase a great deal of fabric, and then figure out how to cut and shape it to be sort-of vaguely robe-like.
But there are three reasons why you should make your robe. And then, at the end, I’m going to point you to some resources on how to make your robe, and provide some pointers.
Why You Should Make your own Robe
There are at least three reasons why you should make your magical robe yourself. And as is customary with magic, these reasons can be mapped to the terrestrial, intellectual, and spiritual realms.
The first reason is terrestrial — that is to say, earthy. Cloth here means flax, silk, hemp, cotton or wool (please don’t make your robe of synthetic materials like polyester). These are products of Earth — you are unlikely to find cotton on Mars. But they are also physical matter. A magician is expected to learn to understand physical matter, and cloth is one of the earliest unpredictable materials that humans learned to make.
Cotton cloth hangs and wears differently than linen (which is what the flax plant gets made into), which behaves differently than hemp (I must warn you, a robe of hemp cloth could get mighty expensive!), which behaves differently than silk or wool. Each of these types of cloth have different magical qualities — silk and linen are magical insulators, and can protect magical objects against contamination or casual de-consecration (I wrap magical wands, staves and tarot decks in linen, for example). When you learn to work with these fabrics, you’re actually learning to work with the powers of earth — you are learning to manipulate and manage plant and animal material and bend it to your will.
Cloth does not like being bent to anyone’s will, really. It will disobey you and make you miserable in a number of ways. Which brings us to the second level of why you should make your robe.
Making a robe is an intellectual act. At a minimum, a robe is four pieces: a front, a back, and a pair of sleeves. Most people (especially me, who tends to be round around the middle), will find that it works even better if it has six or eight pieces, and it will fit in a more flattering way.
This means taking a flat, floppy, highly-flexible material like cloth, and turning it into a three-dimensional object that will never really lie flat again in its entire life. You will have to measure, mark, double-check measurements, correct your marks, cut, sew, swear, undo your sewing, swear some more, sew some more, and so create an object from a material.
This is a phenomenally magical act.
At the completion of this work, you will feel a certain sense of deep magical satisfaction, and your mind will expand. You will now understand secret things that before were hidden from you. The spirits will stand around you at cocktail parties and formal gatherings, and tell you who is well-dressed, and who doesn’t know that they’re not well-dressed. You cannot get this same sensation, this same mental expansion, from receiving a robe from a tailor and paying for it; this sense can only be experienced by making the robe yourself, and going through both the trials and successes of learning how to do it. The act of making a garment reveals certain realities that cannot be unlearned; and at a minimum, learning to make the robe, the simplest garment of all, is the initiatory procedure that helps you begin to learn to make all other garments. Intellectually, this will join you to the lineage of all the other people in the world that have ever had to make their own clothes, too.
Then there is the will-power component of this intellectual exercise. It is challenging to make a robe in some ways — but it is not, for the most part, a life-threatening challenge. You may suffer embarrassment that the robe is not beautiful. This should spur you to learn this craft more effectively. But more than that — today we tend to think of sewing as “women’s work”. Making your own robe, though, helps break down the barriers of gender that prevent you from being a more complete and more capable human being. Making the robe will undo many layers of corporate programming that permeate the western world, that only poor people have to make clothes themselves, and that no one should have to wear anonymous garments without status markers like labels and logos; which means that you will feel more comfortable communicating with people outside your social class or caste, and you will not be ‘branded’ by other powers when you communicate with the spirit world as a magician. It tells the spirits that you are not unwilling to learn a trade to communicate with them; or to practice unrelated skills or hobbies in order to reach out to them.
More than this, though — what the hands DO, the Mind KNOWS. By the time you are done making a robe, your hands will know how to sew two pieces of cloth together. This is a skill that can be applied to the spirit realm, to sew two pieces of soul back together. You will know how to cut cloth; and this means that you will know how to snip a spirit-thread, and cut away a dark power in your life. You will know how to tie knots, and stitch up a seam, and use a seam-ripper to cut it open when it is wrong; and so you will know how to bind and to loose. The work of making a robe teaches the hands and the mind together to do powerful Work, which cannot be replicated in any other way — and the very act of making the robe will give you somatic actions that can be woven into other spell work. Yet your hands must have confidence in the power of these movements to work change — and so making the robe will weave these actions into your very clothing, which will be your armor in the spiritual realms.
Which brings us to the celestial reason why you should make your own robe. The act of making a robe is itself a magical act, as I hope I have already made clear. The black robe, sewn with black thread, shows few mistakes — but it is the habit and raiment of a beginner. While the white robe, either worn over the black as an alb is sometimes worn over a cassock in the catholic churches, or on its own over street clothes, shows defects and mistakes easily — and so it is the work of the master of the craft, and an Adept. The spirits note these things — are you humble enough to wear the black robe that your own hands made, defects and all? Are you proud enough to wear a white robe even if it has flaws? Or perhaps you have advanced in skill enough that your perfect white robe shows no obvious errors at all… and yet you have still worn your black robe, with all its imperfections, underneath the shining white silk.
The robe, or robes, are thus markers of the advancement of your skill, and of your Work. You are proclaiming to the angels, the daemons, the spirits and the intelligences how far you have come, how long you have practiced, how deeply you have understood. Your white robe and your black robe are not ordinary physical things; they are transfigured objects which exist thoroughly in your own mind, as clearly as if they were a journal written in your own handwriting.
And this makes them armor. You will know, by the end of your sewing experience, every seam and every thread in those two robes. You will know where those garments are weak (and where you have repaired them to strength), and where they were strong to begin with. You will know where they are flawed; and you will know something of how to fix them; and you will know where they are strong, and in what ways, because you will have shaped the cloth yourself, and cut it and pinned it and sewn it yourself.
These are skills, and habits of mind, that you will have cultivated in yourself, that no one can take from you. But more than this — they will increase your powers of imagination. And this will increase the range of metaphors with which spirits can communicate with you more clearly. For now they can talk to you of pinning and sewing, and you will understand, where before you were muddled.
Most of all, in the celestial reasons, you will find that your will is increased, and your confusion lessened. For the robe will not be made in a single sitting. You will work at it for several nights, or for several weekends for a few hours each. It will not be finished right away. And it will require ingenuity and care and attention to detail to complete. You might decide to dedicate the robe to your gods as you make it, and work on it only during their appointed hours and days. And as you work, you will find that greater clarity emerges on what the spirits can do for us — and what they cannot, and what we must do for ourselves.
And so for these reasons — terrestrial, intellectual and celestial — please, o Magician, make your own robe.
Resources to Make the Robe
The how of making your own robe is a much more complicated process. You can buy a commercial pattern such as this one, or you can follow instructions on creating a pattern from another order, such as this one. Or this one.
There are numerous YouTube Tutorials on making:
- A Jedi Robe
- A bathrobe
- a harry potter Hogwarts robe
There’s also Eqos.deviantart.com. I think this designer is amazing, although I have to alter these designs quite a bit to make them fit my physical frame:
- A viking knee-length tunic (basically a robe)
- A large hooded cloak (an open-front robe)
- A tunic with T-sleeves (a hoodless robe)
There are also at-home commercial pattern makers. My own robe (and the formal sashes of the grades in my system of magic) are based on patterns from this supplier:
- Simple Vestments (I use the deacon’s dalmatic pattern from them for my white robe, the deacon’s stole for my grade sash, and epos’s knee-length tunic [above] as the basis for my black robe).
You also need some tutoring on learning to sew. I didn’t learn online, but this looked good at first glance:
The best place to learn to sew is from a friend, but you can also take a class or two at a physical location. In the US, most Jo-Ann Fabric stores offer in-store classes at cheap rates. Some places have local sewing stores where you can get lessons and buy fabric. Here’s what you want to learn in the first 10-20 hours of class:
- how to measure and mark fabric without damaging it
- how to use a commercial pattern
- how to size a commercial pattern for your personal use
- how to press fabric with an iron for professional-looking seams
- how to cut fabric cleanly
- how to work from the inside out
- how to turn a fabric project outside in
- how to pin pattern to fabric
- how to cut fabric to a pattern
- how to read pattern instructions
- how to sew a pattern by hand
- how to close up seams by hand
- how to use a sewing machine
- which parts of a project to sew by hand, and which by machine
For the most part, this set of skills can be taught in twenty hours or less ( I learned 80% of them in 3 hours at Beehive Sewing in Northampton, MA; which was sort of a refresher course from a home economics class [sewing and cooking] in junior high school). Many of these skills can also be learned from a careful reading of how-to books. I’ve used these:
Some Final Encouragement
Some readers are now thinking, TL;DR. Actually, they’re thinking, TH;DD: Too Hard, Don’t Do.
But let me offer a counter-argument, and encouragement. The making of the magical robe(s), with its terrestrial, intellectual and celestial implications, is not only designed to bring you closer to the spirits. It is intended, also, to make you a person more attuned to the powers of your own hands and mind — to make you into the sort of person who sees a task which requires learning, and dives in, celebrating the chance to learn something new. At the end of this process, you will likely be a better reader, a better interpreter of diagrams, better at asking for help when you need it, more confident in your own abilities, and more skilled at learning to work with initially-unfamiliar tools. You will be substantively more skilled than any magician who has not made his or her own robes, in a genuine and obvious way. And it will show, not only in your work, but in your Work.
Neglect not the robe. It seems like a little thing. But in truth, the making of the robe is a secret door to powers which most armchair magicians barely comprehend.