Cinderella had a Fairy Godmother who bonked her on the head with a rickety wand, causing birds and rodents to fly about with bits of fabric.  Ta Da! She had a dress to wear to the ball!

Project Rodent

Project Rodent

Now I ask you—is this dress attractive? Would you want your leading lady to wear a bow that obliterates her bust line, or skirt bows that compete with the bust bow– and placed by rats that can’t reach any higher than mid calf?     Fortunately, professional shop staff and designers don’t leave the outcome of their work to small animals wearing wilted accessories.  We use the Costume Bible to store our records so when we leave the room, we don’t have to rely on the Fairy Godmother for information.


Three types of bibles used in pre-production planning

The Design Bible

A complete show bible, with research, measurements, actor head shots, contact information, schedules, renderings, shopping sources, planning lists, piece lists, notes from director meetings, records of where each item came from should the show revive or tour, and rehearsal notes.  Many designers ask for final copies of the wardrobe dressing lists in case the show has “legs.”

These bibles function as a portable office, enabling a design team to make calls, answer questions and purchase items easily.    After the show, this bible is an archival record of the design process.  When you hear of famous theater artists leaving their “papers” to libraries, these bibles form a large part of their records.  Many designers have boxes or shelves of former shows in their studios.

If you are working on a project not using a resident shop—such as Broadway, Off- Broadway, Equity Waiver, most LA-based LORT contracts, film or tv, music videos or independent film, the design bible will be the only comprehensive record of the project.

Accurate Purchasing Records are vital! Please get into the habit of taping your purchased store tags into your bible for future reference.  Keep tags with manufacture name, style name, size and model or inventory numbers.  You may have to buy duplicates of these items and the stores can bring them from other locations if you have this information.

The Shop Bible

Every costume shop prepares a bible, and keeps it after the designer leaves the project.  This bible functions as a contract for the exact work they will do, and a record of their completed work, including spec sheets, construction drawings, fabric swatch sheets, purchasing information, wardrobe running crew information and information essential to strike and budgeting.   Costume shops often consult these for past fabric sources, or to re-visit a particular technique used in the show.  If the show is sent to another theater, the costume shop uses the bible to initiate much of the negotiations for costume use for recasting information.

The designer provides a copy of their paperwork for the shop bible.   In large shops, a resident design assistant or assistant costume director will create the bible using copies of the designer’s renderings, scene charts, piece lists, etc.    In turn, many designers make their own copies of final shop bible paperwork. Swatch sheets are particularly valuable to keep copies, as they form the most complete record of all your materials and dye notes, whether purchased or taken from shop inventory. As a student, you may want to take an exceptionally well organized bible on a job interview to demonstrate your ability to function as part of the design team.

The costume shop often assembles more complete measurements than the design bible such as more complete construction notes, or store tags taken from purchased items in the event they must buy a duplicate during the run.   After opening, they may be responsible for costuming understudies or replacement actors, and during strike the shop must handle rental returns or processing for re-stocking.

At UCI, as well as many universities, we do not have enough staff to fill all these clerical functions.  We ask the design team to decide among themselves who will provide copies of the show paper work to begin the shop bible, and to provide copies of rental paperwork as you find them.  The shop must process invoices, and may have to ensure all pieces are returned.  Even if you will be doing the returns, some one else should have a copy of the paperwork in case of extenuating circumstances.  Make it a professional rule:  NEVER allow yourself to be the only keeper of an essential document- we work in a strange business.  You may be discovered by Steven Spielberg and be whisked off to Brunei when rental returns are due.  Stranger things have happened……

The UCI Shop Bible Contains the following items:

The Shop Bible never leaves the shop, as it is the only collective resource for the many people working on your project.

  1. Contact sheet for the show issued by stage management.
  2. Measurements for each actor.  Measurements must be pulled from shop files, and new measurements added.
  3. Dividers with actor names to store piece lists, fitting notes, etc
  4. Budget information and vendor contact information
  5. Show calendar– deadlines, tech rehearsals, photos calls and performance.
  6. Crew calendar and contact information.
  7. Rehearsal reports, director notes and production meeting notes issued by stage management
  8. Costume piece list for each actor
  9. Scene chart for the entire show
  10. Rental lists
  11. Copy of sketch and the research that matches it
  12. Period silhouette guide (put one in the fitting room also!)
  13. Swatch pages– see sample provided.  Swatches must be attached in the direction the fabric will be used.  If you attach it backwards or sideways, the cutter will think you are using the fabric that way.

The Cutters Bible/ Craft Bible

Each area within a costume shop will keep its own form of paperwork.  A draper or crafts artisan will assemble their notes, often made while talking with the designer.  Note: at UCI we do not have a head of crafts to assemble this information; we put crafts information in the larger shop bible so TAs and staff may access information when you are absent.

The UCI Cutter’s Bible Contains the following items:

While each cutter will create their own bible, the designer must provide the initial copies and meet with each cutter to mutually agree on construction details.

  1. A copy of the working drawing used in your meeting with a design mentor and the cutter to determine the exact construction details of each built garment.

  1. Swatches for each garment.  During your meeting with the cutter, provide access to the costume bible swatch pages, your personal swatches or swatches cut from fabric bolts.  It is essential to communicate which fabric each area of a garment will be made from.  Mistakes can be costly, waste precious time and lead to frustrations.   The cutter can tape mini-swatches to their working drawings, or both of you can do this together.  A designer may want to create their own version of a swatched working drawing as an archival record or aid to further shopping.

Many professional designers also provide a copy of the exact research that applies to each garment a cutter will build.  The rendering will be a guide to the overall look, proportions on the body, color, fabrics and mood.  But research of the specific 1820s collar you found, the exact 1945 girdle, or the pocket detail from 1982 is actually MORE valuable to the cutter who must generate the specific pattern.  Clip the research to its working drawing, and give those items to the cutter to create their bible.



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