And Sew It Begins…

Have you ever found yourself in a dark, perfectly still theatre, and when the curtain rises, the silence is disrupted by the collective gasp of an audience reacting to a particularly stunning costume visually transforming the actor into his or her character?

Do you ponder how that costume came to be? Seeing as we have a bit of experience in the matter, we thought we’d share a little behind-the-scenes magic with those inquisitive minds! Every costume has a story to tell—and a history.

It starts with a concept—swirling colors and lines that dance together in the mind until they create the semblance of an idea. Slowly the idea grows and solidifies as pencil meets paper. The sketches begin rough and raw, and through careful deliberation they become polished designs. The design process is different for everyone; music, mood lighting, and uninterrupted solitude can all contribute in getting the creative juices going! All the senses become engaged during the process which forms the artist’s mood. When all the elements fall into place, the vision takes its final shape.

Once the design is completed, it moves into the next phase. A discussion takes place between the designer, pattern maker, and shop manager to determine the right materials, shapes, colors and any other special functional needs required of the garment. If the garment is for a specific actor, measurements are carefully taken of his or her body in key areas for properly fitting clothing. Not too tight and not too loose!

The pattern maker then plans the engineering of the costume by taking fabric, such as muslin, and manipulating it on a dress form into the shape desired, which is known as draping. Together with the designer, they discuss adjustments until the mock-up is approved.  From there, the pattern is created along with sewing instructions, which explain to the production team how the material should be cut and sewn step-by-step. Following the creation of the pattern, the fabric is cut and a sample is made to the pattern maker's specifications using the final selected fabric. This serves to demonstrate to the team how the piece should be constructed during production, and also allows for any necessary tweaks to be made by the designer. This is truly the only way to see how the garment will flow and lay in physical space on a form.

Once the sample is approved by the designer, the costume goes move into production. Each piece is built as decided by the shop manager via the sample making process, and assembled into a finished garment. As the costume is assembled, the production team takes time to press the fabric as they build to ensure no unwanted wrinkles or creases form. While the garment is constructed to accurately fit that pre-measured body, it also includes extra clearance in the seams in case it needs to be altered—especially around the holidays! Then comes finishing, which includes adding rhinestones, lace, trim, patches, and special embroidery to the pieces. The members of our production team treat each piece with reverence, taking pride in their work and striving for quality in all they do.

When the costume is complete, it is carefully packaged and shipped to where it finally gets the opportunity to dazzle and fulfill its destiny to entertain an adoring audience—some of whom no longer have to wonder how it came to be!

Roger Agness