I have been the costume designer and builder for the Lakeshore Light Opera for a little over ten years. It all began when we needed twelve Yeomen of the Guard (Beefeater) costumes for a concert performance at The Lakeshore Hospital Foundation Gala. The company had been invited to provide entertainment on the theme of London town. We tried to rent costumes but the cost was sky high. Since I had always been a keen amateur seamstress, who made my own clothes and skating-dresses for my figure-skating daughters, I boldly stated that I thought I could make them. The rest, as they say, is history!
What I soon realized was that, with a lot of hard work and some imagination, we needed never to rent costumes again–I could do it myself. But I had to have a source of materials! So I began to comb thrift shops and bargain racks in fabric stores, and managed to find the necessary supplies at affordable prices. As luck would have it, I soon began to be recognized in the thrift stores and, in the most recent years, found allies who now help me find materials and notions that are suitable for my costume creations; they seem to enjoy the challenge of the hunt as much as I do. I also often find baggies of tapes, laces and buttons in those same stores–all for amazingly low prices. Big thanks go out to the Thrift Shops for Nova West Island in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue for being one of my biggest suppliers.
Though I had found my sources for fabric and notions, I soon began to realize that building a crinoline from scratch was a lot of work, and could be very expensive. Then serendipitously, I realized that outdated wedding gowns often have crinolines built in. Eureka! So, now I have begun collecting old wedding gowns, dismantling them, and harvesting the crinolines. What a time and money saver! Thanks again to the Thrift Shops for Nova West Island in Kirkland and Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue for their help.
Often I reuse the fabric from the body of the wedding gown too and, after dyeing it, I turn the material into Victorian or medieval costume pieces. I have made regency tailcoats from garish two piece suits–the trouser legs become the tails. Our recent production of Patience was costumed with reclaimed sari fabrics and crinolines, as well as a lovely three piece suit which I repurposed by recutting, and then trimming the lapels with bias tape. A major general’s uniform from a very outdated cream-coloured suit, with added safari style pockets and reclaimed brass buttons, helped him cut a very dashing figure.
Of course, all of this is a lot of work, but I love the challenge and the hunt for materials! I also love the fact that I now have a few partners in crime and a band of dedicated seamstresses and apprentices who are eager to help out and learn this craft.
None of us wants to think of this sad idea, but there are babies (Angel Babies) who never make it home from the hospital: some are born too soon, while others have difficulties that cannot be overcome. To do my share in easing the suffering of the afflicted families, I recently began a new project: I turn some of those old recycled wedding gowns into outfits for the Angel Babies. I first heard about the need for such items from a nurse who worked in the birthing centre of a large hospital. She told me of the dedicated nurses and volunteer photographers who tenderly dress these little ones and photograph them so that their parents have a beautiful and lasting, visual memory. Indeed, there is a whole online community of people who spend hours creating exquisite items for these families. So I began to use some of the beautiful fabrics left over from the dresses, as well as some of the laces and beading, and now I too, construct little robes for these sweet babies so they have something beautiful to wear for their photos.
Thank you, Thrift Shops for Nova West Island for helping me help others.