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Costumes for 18th century play require a scandalous amount of sewing

by Terry Pratt

Five sewers with Lady Sneerwell’s costume for The School for Scandal, from left: Jo Edge, Pam Jewell, Rachel Fitzpatrick, Margaret Dawson and Linda Kerr.Sit down five sewers, for ACT and ask them why they do it—given long hours, minimal recognition, and no financial reward—and the answers are both inspiring and humbling.

As director of the forthcoming production of The School for Scandal, I recently had that experience.

From Pam Jewell, sewer and overall designer, “I guess the real fun starts in the fabric store for me. After I talk to the director and I do some research on my own, I have these ideas in my mind of what I’d like to see the character in, and so I go in the fabric store and that’s just pure joy, picking out a fabric that I think would suit the character and the colour scheme. The challenge is the fittings, because it’s an exacting science: there’s a certain way that they are supposed to fit the characters, despite different body types and body shapes and heights and leg lengths.”

From Maraget Dawson: “Probably the most fun for me is seeing the costumes come to life, because they are of a different era, and it’s fun to see what people did wear in those days. It makes you wonder how they wore it all, and why.”

Jo Edge’s first love is set painting, but she sews as well: “I think the best part of it for me is to see the production when it’s finally on the stage, and feel that you’ve been part of that. Since I do some of the scenery as well, I get an enormous thrill out of it all, seeing what I can actually do, effects I can get that I didn’t realize I could do before.”

Linda Kerr is making one dress for The School for Scandal that requires eleven meters of cloth: “I’m with Pam, it’s fabric, I love fabric, I could buy rolls of fabric and put in on the floor and roll around in it. I love the texture, and the colours. It’s a tremendous amount of work to make one of those costumes, but I love the opportunity.”

Finally Rachel Fitzpatrick, sewer and sometimes actor: “The challenge of trying to create something that I haven’t tried before is very exciting, especially period costumes. You say ‘Oh that’s really exciting, how would you do that?’ Then you’re staring at it, you’ve come to a snag and you’re frustrated, and you’re trying to figure out, ‘How the hell does that work?’ and then you finish it, and you see it on stage, and ‘Wow, that looks pretty good, I can’t believe I did that.’”

There is nothing to add to these words of dedication, daring, and joy of creativity, except thank you.

The School for Scandal is an elegant and fitting eighteenth-century comedy by Richard Sheridan. You can see it at The Guild November 16­19 and 23­26.

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