My summer in Winona, MN

The summer of 2011, between my 2nd and 3rd year of grad school, I went to work for the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona Minnesota as a First Hand. I would recommend working for this company to anyone. Yes, it’s in a small town and its not as well known as some festivals, but I had a really pleasant and enjoyable summer working with some really wonderful people. I wish that I could have gone back again but it has never quite worked out for me.

That summer the company produced three shows: Henry IV Part 1, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Fantasticks. The costume shop had one draper and two first hands. The draper was only there for the first 2 shows and assigned each of us first hands to a show. The third show was mostly simple builds and alterations so a draper wasn’t really needed and responsibilities were divided up between the two first hands. I was assigned to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t work on Henry, I helped when that show needed help just as the other first hand helped me when my show needed the extra help.

Mostly what we made for the show were fairy costumes. Titania, Oberon, and all of the other fairies were made from scratch. Making these costumes was an interesting process. The draper and designer knew what the direction we were going was but how to get there was something to figure out. We ended up making base costumes and taking pieces into the fittings to pin in place and stitch down later. It was my task to guide the intern stitchers in assembling these creative costumes. They learned how to stitch stretch while simultaneously stitching inside of armhole and legholes. The rose to the occaision! Here are pictures of Corey Allen as Oberon, Kate Fonville as Titania, and Tarah Flanagan as Puck. Puck’s costume is very similar to the rest of the fairies, though the other fairies had some sprouting floral additions courtesy of the crafts artisan. The costumes were designed by Devon Painter

Tarah Flanagan, Corey AllenKate Fonville  Tarah Flanagan

When it came to The Fantasticks, I made a few capes and a vest. Nothing fancy but after making the fairy costumes I didn’t really feel like I needed anything more. I was satisfied with what I had accomplished for the summer. But here is the vest that I made worn by Tarah Flanagan. Costumes for this show were designed by John Metzner.

I spent the remainder of the summer at home and working for the National Black Theatre Festival. My work there doesn’t get much mention in this blog because it isn’t costuming work. I worked NBTF in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011. It is a biannual festival in Winston Salem, NC that I got involved with through friends from home who also worked there. I word backstage there helping to get venues set up, shows loaded in and out, and various other backstage tasks none of them related to costumes. But it’s nice to change it up a bit sometimes. Doing something different every now and then feels restful and liberating in a way. And I love the people who I work with there. It’s a little bit of a reunion each time the festival comes around. When it was done, I headed back for my last year of grad school!


Big River

Big River might be the show I most enjoyed working on while at PlayMakers. I was assigned as a draper for the production and the shop manager came around early in the process (we were still working on Angels in America) and asked us which look we would like to make. We weren’t promised anything but he wanted to know our preferences and try to get it for us. I saw the following rendering by costume designer Bill Black and knew immediately that I wanted to make it.

I was so excited to make this dress. I loved the pleats that transitioned into rouching/smocking at the waist and couldn’t wait to figure out that puzzle. Little did I know what was coming!

I draped in muslin on a dress form to get the pleats just right and then ran multiple rows of gather stitches for the stomach area. I worked late nights trying to get the mock up done as well as all of my homework. Fitting day arrived and I was exhausted but excited to see what it would look like on the actresss. Thirty minutes before the fitting we found out there had been a casting change! and we had no idea who the new actress was whom would be wearing this dress. I wanted to cry. I managed not to cry but I was so frustrated that I did have to go for a walk. I needed out of the room and to get some fresh air so I could collect myself and try to keep from screaming. I managed to calm down but was still anxious to find out who the new actress was. A little later we found out and my urge to cry returned. The actress had a completely different shape! The first actress was very thin and not very curvy. The new actress was a much curvier girl which meant that not only would the dress not be able to be fit on this actress but it was going to have to be re-draped. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around adjusting those pleats on the pattern to fit someone whose shape was so different.

I needed to make the new mock up quickly. No matter what I did, I was going to have to fit it without the designer because he was leaving town before I could manage to make a whole new mock up. Fortunately the re-drape went well and the dress fit almost perfectly. I made a few minor adjustments and we took pictures. The designer loved it and I proceeded into real fabric feeling good after such a smooth fitting. Everything continued smoothly for the rest of the process and she looked great! I was back in my happy place and loving the dress I made. Here is Jessica Sorgi as Joanna Wilkes in Big River.

This wasn’t my only project for the show thought. I also was responsible for helping to make a tar and feather costume. Here is Bill Black’s rendering for that costume.

We shopped out the clothing portion of the costume. And the tar was the craftsperson’s responsibility. But a base was needed to put the tar onto because there wasn’t time to apply the tar to the actor between scenes. We decided to make a powernet leotard for the actor. I had several discussions with Rachel E. Pollock, our resident craftsperson about this leotard as it was a collaborative project. We discussed how much tar could be applied and still get the leotard on, we discussed where the leotard would open and how to cover those openings, and we even at one point discussed the possibility of adding a steaming effect though that ended up not happening. I made the leotard with a opening at the crotch so he could put it on like a shirt and a placket at the neck so that he could get his head through. There had to be a collar so that the tar could come up onto his neck. The placket was covered with tar so it wasn’t visible.

Here is Scott Ripley as the Duke in Big River.

Pretty good huh?

Making Mormon Underwear

One of the most unusual things that I’ve been asked to make in my career was Mormon Temple garments. This was my assignment for Angels in America. Apparently you have to actually be Mormon to order the official undergarments. But we needed them because some of the characters who are Mormon get undressed or partially undressed onstage and the undergarments needed to be accurate. So, as usual, I started with an image. This is the picture that costume designer, Jan Chambers provided me.

mormon temple garments

You’ve probably seen this image on the internet. Not the most flattering things in existence and since I’m not Mormon, I don’t know if this is accurate at all but this is what was asked of me and what I made. The male t-shirt was purchased and I simply scooped out the neckline. Everything else was made from scratch from a stretch linen-like fabric. Everything went pretty smoothly on this but i will say the fittings were some of the most awkward that I’ve ever been in. Fitting underwear means getting up close and personal. But here’s how it turned out! Here are actors Christian Conn and Marianne Miller in their undergarments.

002 005

They were troopers! Both agreed to pose for me in the fitting room because none of the production photos showed the undergarments. The photographer was asked to stop taking pictures when the actors began removing their clothes. Great for their modesty since they did get down much further than this but not so great for my portfolio. I was really grateful that they agreed to let me take my own pictures.

Learning How to Dye

Dye class was a fun and interesting class but I definitely learned that I am not a dye person. In the first part of the class we focused on making swatches of each of the colors for reference with different dyes (RIT, acid, fiber reactive). That part I did fine with. It’s kinda like basic cooking, just follow the directions. My struggles came with color matching. I excelled at getting the swatch in the small pot to the right color, there’s nothing wrong with my color theory. But somehow every time I moved to the large pot with the larger amount of fabric I just could not get the color to turn out the same as the swatch. I couldn’t understand the ratios to get the amount of dye right for the larger pot and kept getting in trouble with my reds taking much faster than the other colors. Fortunately this is a class graded more on learning and understanding than succeeding. I could talk about what went wrong and why, I just couldn’t actually get the right color. Again, it’s like cooking. When there’s no recipe or when you’re significantly increasing the amounts, it’s an art form. I have a deep respect for a talented dye person.

Then we moved into other techniques that I was better with. We did shibori and were allowed to choose the type of shibori project that we wanted to work on. I found these images.

These are a set of kimonos done by Nancy Marchant. I decided to replicate the top two, though as wall hangings, not kimonos. With this stitched shibori technique I used double rows of hand stitching with hymark thread and then pulled up all of my stitching lines as tight as I could. Then I used fiber reactive dye in the areas I wanted to turn blue. These are my results. There’s no way to get an exact replica and I have a little more bleed into the white areas but I’m happy with it!

Then we did a resist project. We were given the opportunity to do either batik or silk painting. I did some silk painting in undergrad so I elected to try batik while most of my classmates chose silk painting. I started off liking this project and then had a few mishaps that turned the project sour for me. Batik involves using a wax resist and dyeing in layers applying wax each time to the area you want to keep that color. I chose this image.

First of all, I had a little more trouble applying the wax than I anticipated. I wasn’t moving across the fabric smoothly enough. But that got better as a kept going and learned how to do it. The big mistake that I made was setting my piece upright to set. The dye that I used requires being wrapped up and allowed to sort of steep in the fabric for a while. I had a rather large piece and needed to get it out of the way of my classmates and sat it upright in it’s frame to do this. Thus when I unwrapped it, my colors had jumped the resist lines and bled into the areas below. I did a couple of layers to see how well this could be hidden before I simply gave up on the project. Here’s what it looked like when I tossed in the towel.

Had I continued on the the black color, some of this would have been fixed, but there was no fixing areas like the face so I just called it quits. Not every project can be a success and I did learn many things in this process and could probably do much better if I were to attempt it again. Who knows, maybe once day I will!

The next project was printing. Once of my classmates had used a screen printing technique in her silk painting project by screen printing with resist instead of paint. Then she painting the remainder of the silk. I decided to try this for my printing project, as it met the requirement. However, we were also supposed to use a second printing technique so I made a stencil and used textile paint to subtly add to my screen printed silk painting. There is no research image for this because I made it up as I went. Here are the results!

Our last dye projects for the semester were distressing projects. We were given some garments and a scenario and told to distress them accordingly. This project was a lot of fun because I got zombies and spent time ripping apart clothes, beating up shoes, and applying dirt and blood stains. The pictures exist somewhere, though I cannot find them at the moment. Rest assured that if I do find them, I will post them.

Period Pattern Round 2

The second semester of my second year contained the next section of period patterning, advanced draping, dye class, and lab. Somewhere in my second year, I don’t remember which semester, a CAD (Computer Assisted Drafting) course was also included. This was interesting to learn but I have found very little use for it in my career. Most shops that I have worked in aren’t equipped with the software or large scale printer to make this a patterning option. I think that many of us are also more comfortable with hand drafting having learned that method first.

The advanced draping class essentially taught how to drape the techniques that we had learned to pattern on the flat in the previous class. By the end of two flat patterning classes and two draping classes I had learned that I preferred draping for the most part but that sleeves and collars are hateful things to drape and I have since flat patterned them whenever possible. Sometimes a drape is needed to see what the sleeve or collar will look like but even then I usually start with a flat pattern, quickly cut it from muslin, put it on the form, and make necessary adjustments from there. It’s simply a really difficult task to access the neckline and armseye areas of collars and sleeves as the fabric is in the way.

Dye class was the last of my costume crafts classes. We worked on various techniques from dying fabric to match a color to shibori to distressing techniques.

The lab included two shows. I was assigned as a draper for both Angels in America and Big River.

But for this post I want to cover the period patterning class. I think that this series of classes was my favorite in grad school. There are simply many time periods that don’t come up very often in productions and this class meant that I had the opportunity to make at least one garment in each time period.

First I have to cover one that I left off of the last post on period pattern. I somehow forgot to include the Revolution time period. I had a men’s garment for this one and chose to use a reasearch image of an incroyable. These men wore exaggerations of the clothing of the time. Here is my research image and recreation.

Now on to the projects in the second installation of the period patterning classes. Since men’s garments change very little from this point on, the class focuses on women’s garments in this section of the class as well as the third section.

We started with the empire time period. Unfortunately I somehow forgot to take pictures of the dress that I did and I kick myself constantly for that oversight. Lesson learned, always take pictures! I really liked that project too. The dresses of the period were fairly simple but the way that they opened so that the closure was hidden was fascinating to me. Maybe one day I’ll make another!


I really really liked the sleeve on this one. It’s basically a large circle pleated down to this shape.


I borrowed a petticoat from stock for this one and it wasn’t quite the right shape. I attempted to temporarily alter the shape but didn’t quite get it perfect so it drags on the ground in the back. My classmates and instructor thought I was a little crazy for doing this particular dress as all of the design work is ribbon that I stitched on. I admitted in class that while I had done most of that and maybe it was a little crazy it wasn’t all stitched. The night before it was due, I was working on stitching the ribbon and ran out. I found some black fabric paint and did the lines at the hem with that. Until I pointed it out, no one noticed! I thought I might get in trouble for that shortcut but my teacher was actually amused and thought it was a pretty good solution to my predicament.

Small Bustle

I dropped the ball when it came to documenting this one as well. First of all, I don’t have my own photos of this. I forgot again. I didn’t actually learn that lesson about taking pictures until the end of the semester. One of my other instructors has a blog and I was able to find this dress amongst her pictures. Mine is the polka dot and striped dress. I actually remember trying to go back and take pictures of the ones I had missed but couldn’t remember which dress forms I had used for each and it had changed from project to project based on availability.

Small Bustle


I am still not sure if I ever actually solved the patterning of this dress correctly. It looks close, if you ignore that the dress form I used is a more modern shape. But if you’re good with patterning puzzles, check out the Met’s website for this dress and zoom in. It’s trickier than it looks at first sight. Beautiful though!

1890s Evening

Early 1900s

Third fail of the semester. I have the research image but no pictures of the actual dress and what is one without the other? I actually remember photographing this dress while it was on display but I can’t find the pictures anywhere. If I ever find them, be sure that  I will post them!


I forgot that Fences was also done in the fall semester that year. I was a draper for that show and responsible for two of Rose’s looks. I was also my own first hand and stitcher. Here are the designs by costume designer Helen Q. Huang that I was given to work from.

ActOne ActTwo

Now the challenge for this show was that the actress cast was nowhere near the size and shape of the character rendered. The actress had a rather substantial bust that did not lend itself well to the kimono sleeve that the designer wanted for one of the dresses. After futzing with it for a while I got frustrated and walked away for a bit. When I came back, I threw every rule I knew about kimonos out the window and just let the fabric do what it wanted to do going over the shape of that bust. Other than that, this was a pretty easy show. Also, the apron with the bib became a half apron as that wasn’t terribly flattering on the actress. Here are the finished results on actress Kathryn Hunter-Williams.

As You Like It and Shipwrecked!

My two show assignments in the fall of my second year of grad school were as draper for As You Like It and first hand for Shipwrecked! An Entertainment. For As You Like It I was assigned the character of Celia in her disguise as Aliena. She wore a skirt that was a circle and a half fullness made of embroidered cutout cotton print and a peasant blouse. Here is the rendering that I was provided by costume designer Anne Kennedy:

At first, I thought that this was simple enough and made a mockup without hesitation. Then I fit the mockup and everything was going smoothly and the fit was great and the designer loved it.

Then the fabric arrived.

No problem on the skirt but the fabric that came for the blouse was a border embroidered fabric. Having not known this previously, I had not planned my blouse accordingly. After all, necklines are usually curved. Now I had to solve this problem. How was I going to cut out my blouse with it’s curved neckline from a fabric with a border embroidery? The answer: I wasn’t. I re-patterned the blouse knowing that I wasn’t going to get another mock up fitting and that the pattern was going to have to be completely different. I made some educated guesses and then crossed my fingers and prayed that it would work. Fortunately it did.

I also got to experience for the first time having someone else work from my patterns. I had been assigned a first hand for this show. So I patterned and then handed it over to her to cut and sew. You learn a lot the first time you hand your patterns to someone else. All of those things that you just know…they don’t. But she asked her questions and I answered and we got through it.

And here’s the finished product! The actress pictured is Alice Whitley.

I also ended up doing some crochet work around the neckline and sleeves of the blouse at the request of the designer. That’s what is giving that nice blue edge.

As a first hand for Shipwrecked! An Entertainment my main assignment was Louis de Rougemont’s swimsuit. With my recent experinces working with stretch fabric at Parsons-Meares, Ltd over the summer, it was assumed that I would be best for this project. I wasn’t so sure that I agreed. We had highly experience stitchers at Parsons-Meares and they did all of the sewing. I had gained a lot of experience with pinning stretch (not exactly hard or anything special) not so much with the sewing. But I resigned myself to figuring it out.

I used our cover stitch machine for a lot of it. And I spent hours cursing it for breaking and being all together unreliable. However we only had one and it makes the most appealing stitch for topstitching knits. So it took me longer than I would care to admit to get such a simple garment together but I did eventually gain an intimate knowledge of that cover stitch machine and also eventually got the swimsuit together.

Here is Scott Ripley as Louis de Rougemont in the swimsuit that I made.

Just so you know the extent of my struggles, that fabric didn’t come striped. The stripes were cut and applied from a second fabric.

And that gets us through fall 2010 and the first semester of my second year of grad school.


Millinery Part 2

After brimmed buckram hats, we moved onto blocked felt hats. I found these images to work from:

To do this, I needed to both block and drape the hat. Lots of steam and lots of futzing got me to a place I was happy with. Not exactly the research image, but something I liked a little better. And then I decided to add some chains. Here’s the hat that I ended up with:


I really liked the way this hat turned out. My only problem with it is that when I put it on I feel a little like Robin Hood. Not exactly what I was going for. It also makes it hard for me to find occaision to wear it. Oh well.

Then we moved on to wire frame hats. This is a broad category that encompasses any hat that is built with a wire framework. For instance, the hat I chose is a top hat shape made of wire with sheer fabric draped over so that the structure still shows through. One of my classmates made a collapsible hood like the ones women were wearing when they wore panniers and had tall intricate hairstyles. Completely different hats but they fall under the same category for our class. Here is the image that I was inspired by:

In the image the entire hat is wire including the meshwork and the feather. I didn’t have enough time, being a full time grad student, to do all of that. What I liked though was the underlying idea with the squiggle wire supports on the crown and brim. So that’s what I started with. To wrap the joins, I used black jewelry wire. Since my hat was going to show the structure underneath and I was using black millinery wire, I needed a tie wire that was also black. But tie wire doesn’t come in black, or at least our shop didn’t have any. But black jewelry wire was locally available and worked really nicely. When it came to figuring out what I would do instead of the mesh, I had to think. I went to the really nice fabric store to find inspiration and found a beautiful cross woven silk chiffon. I didn’t want to see seams so I didn’t make a fitted cover. I decided to just use the whole yard of fabric and drape it nicely. So I finished the edges with a satin stitch and played with the draping until I had something I liked. What I got was something that looked like a modern version of a riding hat.

I really love this hat and have managed to wear it out a few times. I wish I had more functions to attend that were fancy enough for this!

Then we moved on to wig hats. Since the program I attended is a theatrical costuming program, this is a good thing to learn. Sometimes you need crazy wigs that fall more into crafts and millinery than into wigmaking. I came across these images in my research:

These paper wigs were not only really cool, they got me to thinking. How would one make something like this for theatre? Paper wouldn’t hold up. As I was walking around the crafts store mulling it over I found the craft foam and thought that would be perfect. So I bought a bunch and set out to make my wig. I started with a buckram base and built up a little shape with some quilt batting. I used some millinery wire stitched to the base to support the bun piles. For each bun I used a styrofoam ball as the base and used popsicle sticks and glue to attach them together. All of that was covered in strips of craft foam and glued in place. My final result was this:

It is an absolute shame that I don’t have anywhere to wear this hat. I did keep it in the costume shop for a while to put on when someone needed a pick me up! It makes people smile.

Our last project for millinery was a wild card. Anything that you wanted to do and hadn’t yet. I had not worked with straw yet and decided to do that. I also had this image that I liked a lot.

While the interesting fold could just be draped on the block while the straw was wet, that wasn’t a problem but the half pinch was. Hat blocks mostly have both sides of the pinch. So I made a hat block. I am not a wood worker so I used blue foam found at Home Depot. I had to glue several layers together to get a thickness that I could work with but after that, carving was fairly simple, just time consuming. Once I had the shape I thought I needed, I covered the foam in aluminum foil to protect it and the straw from each other. The foam hat block worked great. I draped the fold in because I didn’t want to attempt carving it and that worked well too. Here is my hat:

I also really like this hat but can never find anything that it goes with. One day though…one day!


I was really excited about taking millinery. I have always liked hats but, due to having a larger than average head, have rarely been able to find hats that fit. So of course during the class, I made all of my projects to fit me. Not only did I acquire several great hats to wear, I also discovered that I really enjoy millinery. I also now understand why hats are so expensive!

We started simple with making fascinators. Like most of my grad school projects I began with a research image. The research image is mostly because I am uncomfortable with design. As long as the project meets the requirements, we are really allowed to do whatever it is that we feel inspired by. A research image is good practice for a costume technician since we are usually working from a designer’s rendering or research image. However, most of my research images turned into inspiration images. This too is good practice as sometimes a designer will hand a costume technician an image that they like parts of but want to make a number of changes. For my fascinator I chose this image:

I liked the look but not the color. I also used some different feathers due to what was available to me and made a few other minor modifications along the way but the basic idea was kept. What I ended up with was this:

I have happily worn this hat on several occaisions!

We then moved onto pillbox hats. I found images of this hat for inspiration.

This time I deviated even further. I didn’t have the open weave base that they used. I also was supposed to mull and cover my buckram base as a part of the project so my pillbox isn’t see through and I decided to use a ribbon for the scallops instead of the folded fabric that appears to be used here. Here is my pillbox:

I don’t think that I have actually worn this hat. The pillbox isn’t really my best look. But I think it’s adorable!

From there we moved onto brimmed hats, still working with the buckram base. Again I chose an image more for inspiration than to replicate. The image I chose was this:

One thing that you may find interesting is how we go about figuring out the pattern for these hats. It’s much simpler than you might think. You start with what you think the shapes are and then put them on paper, cut it out, and tape the paper hat together. Then make whatever modifications you need to make the hat bigger or smaller, taller or shorter, add curve to the brim, flatten it out, etc.

I actually used some fabric for the brim instead of the paper so that I could get a better idea of how it would round and shape. Once I had my pattern I set about making the hat. I actually intended to make the hat much closer to the original image but I encountered some difficulty in dying the feathers. My beautiful fluffy ostrich plumes kept burning down to sad skeletal things. I couldn’t figure out how to dye them without ruining them. And it wasn’t just that I couldn’t get them to fluff back up, there are several secrets to this that were shared with me and all involve patience. But the feathers were actually burning to the point that there wasn’t anything to fluff back up.

After several frustrating attempts my crafts instructor and I agreed on a trade. I could raid her feather box and I would give her my burnt feathers, which were cool looking but not what I wanted. I think that she actually ended up using them on a hat in a show. Amongst her feathers were some pieces of blue ostrich plumes that I liked and ended up putting together for a slightly different effect than the whole plumes. So my hat turned out like this:

I have also managed to find occasion to wear this hat. Let me tell you, this hat gets you noticed!

This post is getting a little long so the rest of the hats will come later!

Back to School

Once I was finished with my summer of Dragons and Flying Monkeys, I headed back to my second year of grad school. Fall semester of year two includes classes in Advanced Flat Patterning, Period Patterning, Millinery, and of course Lab which is our show assignments.

Advanced Flat Patterning is the next level of the Flat Patterning classes building on what was learned in Beginning Flat Patterning and Beginning Draping.

Period Patterning is a class where we study costume history from a patterning and construction viewpoint and make half costumes to go with each of the time periods that we study. The course is actually in 4 parts and takes 2 years to complete all sections with 6 or 7 costumes each semester. The reason that we only make half of the costume is to save time. It’s never worn onstage and a new one is due every other week. Unless the garment is asymmetrical, there is no need to make a full costume. Students may do so if they choose, but with all of the other classes and the show work most of us decide to stick with the half. Students also choose their own projects so we can make sure that we choose projects that are symmetrical and not unreasonably complicated for the time frame.

Millinery is a class in making hats. There are 7 projects in this class as well: a fascinator, a pillbox, and brimmed buckram hat, a blocked hat, a wire frame hat, a wig, and a wildcard/students choice.

And the show assignments that I had for the Lab that semester were Draper for As You Like It and First Hand for Shipwrecked! An Entertainment.

Since I don’t have pictures of my flat patterning class, lets start with Period Patterning. Since these classes take two years to complete, they are offered on a two year cycle. With the  program being a 3 year program this means that sometimes students start at the beginning and sometimes they start in the middle. I was able to start at the beginning. For me this was preferable. One, I got to work from the beginning building upon my knowledge similar to the way it was historically done. For me, this helped to understand the evolution of the shapes of the garments that I was working with. Two, my earlier work is not the same quality as my later work. Obviously my third year work should be better than my second year work. But when it comes to photographs and my portfolio, I would rather have my bustles and crinolines look nicer than my tunics and hoods. So I was glad that my less polished projects were the medieval ones. So here are my projects from that first semester of Period Patterning in order and with research images included.

14th Century

I used the man on the right from the research image.


15th Century

Norris plate XXIIHats 014  Hats 021Hats 016 Hats 019

16th Century





Since children wore what the adults wore only in miniature, I decided to do this child’s clothing in an adult size.