Skilled Artisans Bring Costumes to Life

SCR Staff
 | Mar 30, 2020
An array of costumes built by SCR's Costume Shop.
Costumes from SCR's production of Little Black Shadows (2018).

As you step into South Coast Repertory's Costume Shop, bolts of fabric are stored by color, making the perimeter of the room a visual delight. Large tables, sewing machines, mannequins and more populate the space. So what does it take to bring a designer's illustration to life as a costume for an actor to wear on stage?

The Costume Shop is tasked with supplying all of the clothes for a production. The Wardrobe Supervisor works backstage and is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the clothes once the show is running in the theatre.

Here's a look at some of the most common positions in a Costume Shop.

Cutter/Draper – This position basically takes a two-dimensional rendering and engineers it into a three-dimensional garment that fits an actor.

A cutter/draper studies a drawing of what the designer has in mind, takes the measurements of the actor and, on a piece of plain brown paper, develops the patterns needed to construct the garment. The cutter/draper cuts the pattern out of muslin for a mock up, fits this and then, after correcting the pattern, cuts it out of the fashion fabric.

The cutter may develop this pattern mathematically, in what we call flat patterning, or may drape muslin on a dress form and then transfer that information to the paper pattern. In addition, they are well-versed in fabrics and which ones will produce the effect the designer wants.

The cutter/draper also oversees the fitting and alterations of pulled (from SCR's inventory of costumes from previous shows) and purchased costumes while they are building the costumes that they are patterning. In addition, they supervise the work of the first hands and stitchers.

First Hand - This position is the assistant to a cutter/draper or tailor. This person is knowledgeable about fabrics, is an excellent stitcher, can produce simple patterns for things for things including aprons, linings and collars. The first hand will assist in fittings by taking notes and helping the cutter/draper keep track of items of clothing. The first hand may also help guide the stitchers with construction techniques and may also help cut the fabrics for costumes under the cutter/draper's supervision.

Stitcher - These people come in many skill levels from beginner to highly experienced. They primarily sew all day, either on the machine or by hand.

Crafts - Craftspeople have a wide range of duties that they may perform. They dye fabrics; paint fabrics or shoes; make hats, jewelry, body padding, wings, armor, tails, ears, masks, amd other items. A craftsperson should be familiar with working with plastics, foam, fabric and other non-traditional materials. They take perfectly good clothes and make them look years old, muddy, dirty or bloody.

Wardrobe Supervisor - This position takes responsibility for the costumes once they are moved from the Costume S​hop to the dressing rooms. The supervisor cleans, repairs and sets costumes where they're needed during a show (called presets). In addition, the supervisor must track costume pieces ​through a show, making sure to always know the costumes are where they need to be. The ​position will choreograph the quick changes for other dressers when necessary, set schedules for maintenance, assign duties for the run of the show and send out dry cleaning when needed. The wardrobe supervisor may also have to train stage management interns or wig run crew to perform quick changes when there are not enough hands backstage. The primary goal is to maintain a production, so that it looks the same on closing as it did on opening and all that entails.

Learn more about SCR’s 2020-21 Season.