A Tailor-Made Friendship: the embroiderer, the dancer, and the priest
by Renée Kurz July 6, 2012
Reading time: 8 min.
At the end of January I received a “hello from Switzerland” from my friend Alexandre Morard who was preparing for his priestly ordination in the sacerdotal fraternity of Heart’s Home. In his brief email he shared with me his dream: a collaboration between myself, a free-lance fashion designer, and Jean-François Lesage, a highly regarded embroidery designer, in the creation of his liturgical vestments. Furthermore, Fr. Alex desired this collaboration to bring forth a new kind of beauty to the Mass… a chasuble that was not just decorative or following rules, but a chasuble that consoles and leads one to contemplate the divine through its beauty. I felt so small before such a grand proposal making my first reaction a laughing, “No way, this is not possible; I have no idea how to go about this." You can see by the photos that I overcame my initial doubts and surrendered to the truth that "all things are possible with God…"
Renée Kurz contemplating for the first time her design embroidered on the chasuble.
Through this experience, I was struck with how often we get in the way of ourselves, or really, in the way of God, and say “no” to something good. Often this refusal flows from feelings of fear or unworthiness or incapability. This was exactly my position and I only admitted to Fr. Alex afterwards how afraid I was of his dream; that I almost told him, “No. You’ll have to find another way." Never before had I designed a pattern for a chasuble; never before had I drawn designs to be embroidered; never before had I made such a collaboration… I was in a place of complete poverty before this project. But in God’s eyes, it was the perfect place to be in order to allow His creative Spirit to move. So I simply stepped forward in trust to realize this beauty.
I reconnected with the team of Jean-François Lesage that assisted in creating a dance costume for me one year ago while I was serving and dancing for Heart’s Home in Chennai, India. Through frequent visits to their workshop, I came to know first hand the workings of the JFL House of Embroidery. I was mesmerized by the variety of projects I witnessed on the low wooden frames that stretched fabric as a painter’s canvas between the hands and eyes of the highly skilled Indian craftsmen. I fell in love with this beauty and the dignity of such a refined art and longed for a way to stay engaged. Saying “yes” to creating this chasuble was an opportunity to rekindle the friendship and go further with the desire of Heart’s Home to engage in a dialogue with artists in order to bring a new way of beauty into the liturgy.
This project began with many questions… first of all, “How?” How will I incarnate the charism of Heart’s Home in the chasuble design? How will I bring something new to the liturgy without straying too far from tradition? How will I reveal compassion through the colors and forms of the design? How will I engage the congregation more in the liturgy through the symbols and beauty of the chasuble? And then… What shape and size should I make the pattern? What details are important in the tailoring? What fabrics should I use? I did a lot of research and listened well to the inspiration of Fr. Alex and his desires. What a task! It was truly a holy endeavor.
In the foreground, Father Alexandre Morard, wearing the chasuble on the day of his first mass.
With all of these thoughts in mind and taking time to contemplate the task, I put my hand to paper and with a calligraphy pen still full of indigo ink from India, I began sketching ideas: a movement of spirals and arcing lines emerged, revealing something of an embrace around Christ… a dance of the friendship and love of the trinity married to the cross; piercing thorns and shadowing wings; a burst of fire of Our Lady wed to the Holy Spirit and standing at the foot of the Cross. I sought to emblazon the back with the Paschal Lamb at the center of a spiral of life and death… the Lamb that unites our mortality to His divinity. I included the sparkling pure lily and the guiding shepherd's staff; a mystical swirl of creation from which we are all spun… the mystery of the Mass, when Christ comes down to meet us…a mystery which is planted within the heart of the priest who serves as a channel of God’s grace and love. A lining of rich blue silk creates the discreet presence of the Virgin Mary who goes wherever Christ goes and assists in our every step; a blue ocean of her compassion and embrace mediating between the priest and Christ.
My simple sketch was refined and enlarged by the JFL designers and left in their hands to make magnificent, which I fully trusted they would do. The context of our collaboration demanded this trust as I was communicating only via email to their office in Chennai. So much of this project was out of my control. I could not personally visit the workshop and make demands over the choice of beads and colors and stitches. Neither Fr. Alex nor I could imagine how the Lesage team would bring such splendor and radiance to my simple sketches. But I had a vision and trusted that through the Holy Spirit there would be a magnificent communion. And there was! When I unrolled the completed work I knelt in awe… in awe before Him. The One who answered all my questions and rewarded my trust with such beauty!
In the design of the chasuble itself I was interested in elegance and simplicity… in the integrity of the line and the movement of the form. I felt led to create a design that speaks of the freedom and dignity of man… a dignity lived and respected in all the hands that pierced the silk with needles to make this splendid garment and in turn reveal the dignity of the one standing before the priest at Mass. It was a complete experience of depositing myself further into the creative mystery… into the communion of friendship. It was an effort of embracing all the “I don’t know how” moments and risking to discover my own way. What a gift to be a handmaid of the Lord in a very concrete way, mingling my stitches of prayers with those of the priest’s… participating in the sacrifice and offering of our Lord, while at the same time cloaking Him in splendor.
I devoted the Saturday before the feast of Corpus Christi to complete the work and with the layers of silk and beads draped across my lap, I hand stitched the perimeter of the chasuble. While the weight of the chasuble rested in my lap, I was drawn into the overwhelming nature of all I was participating in… of all that is beyond me, existing in the supernatural realm that through such a work I am allowed to cooperate. I was moved to feel united to all the hands and eyes that touched this work: the keen eyes of Mr. Lesage that are so attuned to the highest regard for beauty, the assistants who carefully traced my design onto the silk, the sensitivity to color and texture of those who chose each bead and thread, the steady hands of the craftsmen who immersed themselves in the contemplative act of securing each bead in its right place, the attentiveness of those who wrapped and shipped this precious work across the world to me … every detail covered and accounted for with great care and love.
I am deeply moved by the reality that this work is unlike any piece I have ever participated in creating, for it has now been blessed and given a mission that reaches far beyond functionality or pleasing aesthetics. This chasuble carries a special story unlike any ever made. I feel honored to have been a part of this story and to initiate an effort to restore the creation of liturgical vestments into the hands of skilled artisans. My hope is that this is only the beginning of what will become a greater evangelization of truth through beauty and will encourage many others to say “yes” to God’s desire to design compassion through us!
Renée resides in Philadelphia, PA, and is available for personal design commissions of any kind. To discover more of her work visit: www.reneekurz.com
Father Alexandre saying his first mass on Monday, June 25, 2012.
Comments are closed.