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A Round of Applause for the Costume Shop (Grade 7)

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A Round of Applause for the Costume Shop
by Mariah Bowers

If you've ever been to see a play at a professional theatre, you know that it can be a wonderful experience to watch skilled actors, look at the detailed scenery, and be dazzled by the lights and sounds. But no play would be complete without costumes! Have you ever wondered where those costumes come from, or who makes them?

The clothing for a professional theatre production is created in a costume shop in which a team of skilled, creative people work. The costume shop team is usually made up of the following people: a designer, a design assistant, one or more drapers, one or more first hands, the stitchers, a craftsperson or craftspeople, and the shop manager. Sometimes there are other specialty artists employed by the shop as well, such as wig makers or makeup artists.

The designer comes up with ideas for what each character should wear. They have discussions with the director of the play about those ideas, and then create drawings or paintings that illustrate the clothing each character will need. These illustrations are called renderings. They then present the renderings to the rest of the costume shop team.

The assistant designer works closely with the designer to help find all the necessary fabrics and materials to create the garments that have been designed. Sometimes they will shop for pre-made clothing if that is the best choice for a given design. They are also responsible for buying the shoes and any other needed accessories.

Drapers are very skilled artisans who create pattern pieces for the garments that need to be made. They study the renderings to determine what articles of clothing are depicted in the design, and using the actors measurements, they create pattern pieces for each garment. This is a very painstaking process that requires artistry and math. They make the pattern pieces out of paper and write detailed information and symbols on each piece to help explain how they should be placed onto fabric and cut out. They then give those paper pattern pieces to the first hand.

The first hand carefully lays the pattern pieces out onto the fabric that the designer has chosen for each costume. They mark the shapes onto the fabric, along with all the important symbols that help explain how the pieces should go together. They cut all the pieces out and give them to the stitchers.

The stitchers put the fabric pieces together to create the garment. They often use pins to temporarily hold the pieces in place. This helps make the process of sewing the pieces together a bit easier. Usually the stitcher will use a sewing machine to create the garment, but sometimes hand stitching is required. The garment is then pressed with a hot iron and made ready for the actor to try on to see how it fits.

A craftsperson makes the costume items that require tools and skills outside of the sewing room. Some examples include hat making, fabric dying and painting, and creating jewelry or other accessory pieces that would be very difficult if not impossible to find at a store.

The shop manager has many important duties, and is responsible for making sure all of the work gets done on time in the shop. They coordinate costume fitting appointments with actors. They make sure the designer and assistant keep their spending within the budget for the project. They also make sure that everyone is communicating with one another, from the director of the play to the designer, to every person employed by the costume shop.

As you can see, it takes a whole team working together to create the clothing that the characters in a play will wear. Whether it's an elaborate gown for a queen, a tailored suit for a businessman, or a tattered uniform for a soldier at war, a group of creative people have come together to make it. Next time you see a play, take a moment to appreciate the costumes and all the work that has gone in to making them.
What is the main idea of this piece about the costume shop?
  1. It takes a team of people to make something wonderful.
  2. Designers do most of the work in the costume shop.
  3. Costume shops can make a variety of costumes.
  4. No design can be completed without a pattern.
What might a craftsman be asked to do?
  1. cut out a pattern for a dress
  2. construct an elaborate headpiece
  3. oversee costume fittings with actors
  4. come up with the ideas for costumes
If you are really good at math, which job in the costume shop might be best for you?
  1. assistant designer
  2. stitcher
  3. draper
  4. first hand
Which statement best describes the job of the shop manager?
  1. The shop manager comes up with the design and sees it through to creation.
  2. The shop manager helps ensure everyone stays on task and communicates during the project.
  3. The shop manager spends a lot of time in front of a sewing machine piecing the costumes together.
  4. The shop manager regularly inspects all of the equipment and knows how to fix machines if they break.
Which members of the costume shop likely work most closely with the director? (Choose all that apply)
  1. designers
  2. drapers
  3. stitchers
  4. craftsmen
  5. shop managers
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